NEWBURYPORT — Newburyport High School is seeking input, through an online survey and an in-person discussion, from residents about how it should define "valedictorian" and "salutatorian."

The committee heard the proposal on Dec. 19, 2016, to no longer rank students at the high school, but parents found the language confusing. The committee voted unanimously in May to maintain the titles with the understanding that school officials would work to define them.

This week, Newburyport High School Principal Andrew Wulf emailed students, families and alumni a link to a Google form for people to submit their feedback about the future of class ranks, and welcomes the community to have a say as well.

On Tuesday, 27 high school students received training from Cambridge-based Essential Partners so they may successfully lead a public discussion about class ranks. The dialogue will take place Nov. 5 from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the high school. Twelve teachers are receiving the training today.

With the help of Essential Partners, the students practiced skills such as formulating informed questions and learning to intervene when a discussion goes on for too long or off topic.

Nadiya Brock, program development assistant for Essential Partners, said the training is focused on getting students to a point "where they feel equipped" to lead the discussion Nov. 5. They can then go on to use these skills to initiate conversations on other controversial topics, such as race and immigration.

"Part of facilitation is simultaneous focus," Brock explained, on not only the person speaking, but the body language of others involved in the conversation.

"How can you cultivate an embodied sense of presence?" she asked.

John Sarrouf, co-executive director for Essential Partners, said it's also about how students ask questions in a discussion.

"The question that is often asked starts people in conflict," he said. So, it's important for the students to prepare what language they plan to use prior to the dialogue.

The event Nov. 5 will divide people into groups of eight to 10 with a mix of students, teachers and community members. 

On Dec. 16, school officials will present the proposed definition for "valedictorian" and "salutatorian" to the School Committee for a vote.

Community members may review the valedictorian and salutatorian survey through next week at forms.gle/RLSpKP28T9pBhsno9.

The dialogue Nov. 5 is designed for students, parents and guardians, teachers and alumni, but all community members are welcome to contact Wulf if interested in attending.

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

Editor's note: This story corrects an early version that incorrectly reported when the School Committee first heard the proposal.

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