The Burke County Board of Education voted to continue recognizing high school valedictorians and salutatorians during Monday’s meeting at the Olive Hill Resource Center.

The move was a “compromise” to its board manual policy 3450, class rankings, whereby the system’s high schools will recognize valedictorians and salutatorians in the next two graduating classes, this year and in 2021.

After that point, the board plans to institute its policy of not recognizing a valedictorian or salutatorian in the June 2022 class and instead honoring students with Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude and Summa Cum Laude distinctions.

However, the board can revisit this policy to make changes to it, as this two-year period will serve as what board member Sam Wilkinson called a “trial period.”

“If the policy doesn’t work, we can tweak it and change it again,” Wilkinson said.

Board chair Buddy Armour and a number of other board members accepted responsibility for the board’s lack of communication with the public regarding the policy.

“This gives this entire community two years to let us explain to them what this policy is about,” Armour said.

Before the vote, three speakers showed up for public comments to advocate for the school to designate a valedictorian and salutatorian in the high schools. Those advocates included Doug and Susan Hall, the parents of three current or former Patton High School students — two of whom were former Patton High School valedictorians and the other is a current Patton High senior.

Casey Hildebran, a mother of an East Burke High School senior who is contending to be the school’s valedictorian, also addressed the board to tell them why she supported recognizing a valedictorian and salutatorian.

“I think most of the (students) who are here to be awarded (as fair and speech contest winners) and recognized tonight probably got a letter telling them to be here and be recognized,” Doug Hall said. “We didn’t get any such letter about something this important as doing away with a valedictorian and salutatorian. I think that’s been an issue with you all before, with your accreditation — not keeping stakeholders informed. We get (automated) calls constantly — about bus driver training, kindergarten open houses and everything else under the sun. But we didn’t get a call about this.”

He then thanked the school board for their service.

“I know it’s a thankless task to sit on boards like this,” Doug Hall said. “I appreciate it.”

Susan Hall then addressed the board.

“These kids are an inspiration to these other (students), too,” Susan Hall said. “These kids have come up to my two children (who were honored as valedictorians at Patton High School) and said, ‘I want to go to the university that you went to.’”

Armour and fellow board members thanked the speakers for coming to address the board.

“We appreciate the Halls and Ms. Hildebran for coming and speaking to us on behalf of not only their children but other children who excel in academics,” Armour said. “As a board, we are all about academics. One of the things this policy wanted to do was make sure we recognized all seniors who do well.

“I don’t think we should leave out anyone — whether they are the valedictorian, or whether they’re the ones who did their very best in school but maybe had to work to support their family and didn’t get to make it to be the valedictorian or salutatorian.”

“This is a policy-making body,” Armour said. “That’s the main job that we do. We have to be able to look at things from all different viewpoints and I think we’ve done that. Our ability to make that known, we didn’t do it right. We are going to try to make that right.”

Also during the meeting, the board recognized recent winners of the Middle School Science Fair and Middle School Speech Contest winners.

Director of Secondary Education Felicia Simmons presented certificates to the winners of the fair, which was held on Nov. 21 at Liberty Middle School.

The winners were:

» Kaleb Pearson from Table Rock Middle, who won first place in the biological science A category.

» Callie Stinson from Heritage Middle, who won first place in the biological science B category.

» Dalton Buff from Liberty Middle, who won first place in chemistry.

» Bryant Arrowood from Table Rock Middle, who won first place in earth science.

» Shelby Brittain from East Burke Middle, who won first place in physics.

» Dakota Strohl, Zoie Sharpe and Graycie Carswell from Liberty Middle, who won first place in physics.

Simmons also recognized the winners of the Middle school Speech Contest held on Dec. 11 at Old Rock School in Valdese.

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Winners of the Burke County Public Schools Middle School Speech Contest, which was held on Dec. 11, were honored at Monday's Board of Education meeting. 

The winners were:

» Hope Sellers and Adriana Hernandez from Table Rock Middle, who won first place in the duo category.

» Ivy Steele from Liberty Middle, who won first place in the original oratory category.

» Lauren Head from Liberty Middle, who won first place in the recited oratory category.

» Natalie Head from Liberty Middle, who won first place in the poetry category.

» Jonah Griggs from Liberty Middle, who won first place in the prose category.

Lastly, Simmons recognized the winners of the Burke County Public Schools Elementary Speech Contest, held Dec. 12 at Old Rock School.

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The four Burke County Public Schools Elementary Speech Contest winners pose with their certificates. 

The winners were:

» Elliot Wilson from Mull Elementary, who won first place in the original composition category.

» Puckett Hudson from Oak Hill Elementary, who won first place in the notable speeches category.

» Abigail Gladden from Icard Elementary, who won first place in the prose category.

» Leah Hamilton from Mull Elementary, who won first place in the poetry category.

Other recognitions included those received by school employees from the N.C. School Public Relations Association.

Superintendent Dr. Larry Putnam recognized Cheryl Shuffler, BCPS public relations officer, and Jonelle Bobak, marketing and communication specialist, for winning 11 awards at Friday’s NCSPRA annual Blue Ribbon Awards event in Greensboro.

The NCSPRA seeks to promote excellence and professionalism in school communications and public relations through the Blue Ribbon Awards program, its website said.

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“Out of 115 school districts, Burke County Public Schools brought home 11 awards for the public relations department,” Putnam said.

Shuffler and Bobak won two bronze awards in the digital media engagement and publications categories. They won three silver awards, including two in the electronic media category and another in the excellence in writing category.

Shuffler and Bobak won six gold awards — one in the electronic media category, four in the photography category and one in the special events and programs category.

The next school board meeting is tentatively set for March 9.

Johnny Casey can be reached at or 828-432-8907.

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