NEWBURYPORT — Using extensive community input, a Newburyport High School task force has proposed keeping with tradition in naming  valedictorians and salutatorians, but will seek a new process to pick class speakers for graduation.

The School Committee voted unanimously Monday night to approve the first reading of the proposal after suspending a rule that requires two readings of a proposed policy before a vote. The committee was supposed to hear the first reading of the proposal Dec. 2, but the meeting was canceled because of poor weather.

The proposal will still receive a second reading and was accepted as a work in progress. Principal Andrew Wulf and Associate Principal Michael Testa will work with the task force to confirm more details regarding the class speaker selection.

“We say Newburyport schools is where tradition and innovation intersect; this is exactly what this is doing,” said School Committee member Nick deKanter, lauding the student task force for its work to create the proposal.

“We are bringing together innovation — thinking about recognition in a new way — while respecting the tradition,” he said.

In December 2016, the committee heard a proposal to no longer rank students by academic achievement at the high school. It launched a conversation about what it means to name valedictorians and salutatorians, and whether those chosen should be speakers at graduation.

In May, the committee voted to keep the titles with the understanding that high school administrators would work to define how they would be used.

On Monday, students on the task force shared their findings following an online survey, a community dialogue Nov. 5, a student council advisory Oct. 25 and multiple conversations with people in the city to determine how to proceed with valedictorian and salutatorian selections. 

Using this feedback, the task force proposed to “retain the former definitions of valedictorian and salutatorian as defined in the 2018-19 Clipper’s Compass,” which is the schools student-parent handbook.

In addition, the task force proposed to “recognize the student valedictorian, salutatorian and the students with the top 5% highest GPAs” at the honors celebration in April. This event, which celebrates academic achievement, would be an opportunity for the students with the two highest grade-point averages to deliver speeches.

Finally, the task force said it wanted to “use the values of academic achievement, leadership, character, service and intellectual curiosity to develop criteria for graduation speakers.”

Students who are named valedictorian and salutatorian do not automatically speak at graduation, but may apply to be speakers. The task force proposed that a committee of teachers and administrators choose three students to be class speakers via an application process.

Seniors interested in applying to be speakers will explain how they “exemplify scholarship, leadership and service,” list interests they have explored over their high school careers, and share what theme or idea they would focus on in their speech if chosen.

Students on the task force were Peter D’Ambrosio, Sierra Leahy, Max Foltz, Cole Olson, Lucas Daignault, Julianna Martin and Emma Buxbaum. 

In addition to those on the task force, other students trained by Cambridge-based Essential Partners to lead the dialogue Nov. 5 included Caroline Bortz, Anna Brittan, Annemarie deKanter, Sidney Ficht, Julianne Heath, Kate Herndon, Delaney Janvrin, Brendan Kealey, Katherine Larson, Maddie Marshall, Cameron McDermott, Elinor Meinhart, Norah Morrissey, Carmela Murphy, Annemarie Noe, Summer Noonan, Chris O’Donnell, Cam Richmond and Tucker St. Lawrence.

The School Committee’s business meeting Monday was bittersweet since it was deKanter’s final one. He has served on the committee for 12 years and as member Sean Reardon pointed out, deKanter had a way of always reminding fellow members of “the bigger picture.”

In closing his tenure, deKanter told the audience, “Being truly involved with your children’s education is so, so, so important.”

He challenged other parents to do the same.

“Get involved with your schools,” deKanter said. “Join the PTO, work the cookie table, whatever it takes.”

He said being involved means taking action and not just commenting on social media.

“I am so thankful that I was asked to run for School Committee and so, I am now asking you to please, if the opportunity comes up, please run. Serve your city. You won’t regret it. I was asked, and now you are, too.”

Staff reporter Heather Alterisio can be reached via email at or by phone at 978-961-3149. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.

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