Site council votes to abolish valedictorian

On Friday, May 20, 2022, Principal David Sondheim released an official message via ParentSquare to underclassmen students and parents regarding valedictorian and salutatorian status for the upcoming school year. The email stated, effective 2024, that Redwood will be abolishing valedictorian and salutatorian awards given to graduating students, which are granted based on grade point averages (GPA). Sondheim explained the goal of this decision is for future awards to be representative of a higher percentage of the graduating class and objectives for the Redwood community to achieve. Depending on the site council’s decisions, the school community representative body for determining the focus of the school’s academic instructional program, future alternative awards that celebrate one’s characteristics could be implemented as early as next year, in which case they would accompany the valedictorian and salutatorian awards until they are accordingly removed.

This discussion first surfaced several months ago during a site council meeting with administration, parents, teachers and student representatives. Sondheim explained how he believes it is important for Redwood to recognize character rather than GPA, something the valedictorian award lacks. 

“[The valedictorian award] does not focus on learning, character development, [and] other important skills that we want students to [have, such as] collaboration, creativity, perseverance and overcoming obstacles. We feel that the awards we give and the recognition we give should represent all of those different kinds of values,” Sondheim said. 

In addition to these qualities typically unacknowledged by the valedictorian title, Sarani Puri, the site council representative for the class of 2024, attended these meetings. Puri further elaborated on the perspective that site council members had involving equity. 

Speaking during her graduation in 2021, Sima Alavi takes pride in being valedictorian which will be one of the final valedictorian awards given out at Redwood. (Photo courtesy of Anna Royal and Chloe Bishop).

“[Some students] do not have to work a job after school [or] take care of their siblings,” Puri said. “Not everyone can spend money [on] tutors to help them do well [academically]. [Those perspectives] were brought up and evolved [during] the debate about who wants to get rid of valedictorian.”

While a majority of the administration, parents and faculty on site council offered their personal perspectives on the topic, student representatives expressed the opinions of the student body. Michael Geloso, a junior and elected site council representative for his class, voted neutrally in the meeting to reflect his grade’s view. The site council vote was conducted using a thumb meter, and neutral votes counted as a vote against maintaining valedictorian. In order to gage his class’ stance on the topic, Geleso conducted a junior class survey of 20 students’ opinions on abolishing valedictorian, which illustrated that 60 percent of his grade did not support the removal of valedictorian. 

“It was a 60-40 split, so there was still a majority of people that were in favor of keeping the valedictorian award,” Geloso said. “But it wasn’t totally overwhelming, and I saw that from other people I talked to.”

Colby Binder, the representative for the freshman class of 2025, explained how the site council representatives across all grade levels effectively expressed the opinions of their peers.

  “We want to make sure the voices of the people we represent are heard, so [the other site council members and my] opinions were based on people we represent. We did share our own opinions at the meeting, but if the opinion differed from the student body that we represented, we made that comment,” Binder said. 

Although several site council representatives advocated for abolishing valedictorian, leadership teacher David Plescia offered an opposing argument. 

“I think there is [a] warranted position for a valedictorian because it is a statistically generated number that can’t be disputed or argued, so I definitely appreciate that. It’s something that is generally shared across most schools and so I think that has a worth in it,” Plescia said.

Actively discussing valedictorian in leadership, associated student body president Gavin Green guides the class to voice their opinions. (Photo courtesy of Aanika Sawhney).

As Redwood continues to grow, the site council has discussed alternative awards to give students at the end of their high school career. Geloso commented on the achievements the additional awards may celebrate. 

“The idea is that rather than awarding somebody for their GPA, we’re going to award people for more specific things — which in my opinion is a better representation of a person’s accomplishments,” Geloso said. “[This would include things like expanding] department awards or bringing light to a student that is first generation.”

The decision to abolish valedictorian took several discussions, immense deliberation and time. Sondheim acknowledges the dedication site council members had when debating on this topic and expresses his gratitude towards their commitment. 

“I’m really grateful to the site council for looking at what are the key values we want to recognize and award at Redwood and for thinking outside the traditional box of GPA-based [awards],” said Sondheim.

On Monday, May 23 during lunch, an open forum will take place allowing freshman and sophomore students to openly express their opinions involving valedictorian and whether or not it should be discontinued. The insight will be relayed by Sondheim to the site council in Wednesday’s meeting, where the site council will decide if the complaints warrant a reevaluation of the year that valedictorian and salutatorian will be abolished, and may include a revote. Visit room 182 to express your thoughts on this decision and provide new perspectives to the Redwood community.