When Jericho High School senior Danush Sinnan was called to the co-principal's office a few months ago, he wasn't sure why.
But he saw he had company and quickly found out the news was good: He and the others had been named valedictorians of their senior class.
There were 15 of them in all.
“I knew there would be multiple,” said Sinnan, 18. “I didn’t expect to see it as big as it was.”
WHAT TO KNOW
- Jericho High School has 15 valedictorians this year, a record for the school in recent decades.
- One reason Jericho has so many: The school uses an unweighted formula that does not distinguish between the rigor of the courses students take over the span of their high school career.
- Students and educators say the high number reflects the excellence of its graduating class, but they acknowledged the question it raises: Does the growing number render the distinction, well, less distinctive?
While no one in Jericho was surprised that the high school has multiple valedictorians — there were eight last year — some were surprised to learn how many. It's a record, as far as anyone can remember. The number represents 5% of the graduating class of about 315. The valedictorians, who are all going to college, share the same unweighted GPA of 4.0. Jericho has no salutatorian.
Students and educators say the number reflects the excellence of its graduating class, but they acknowledged the question it raises: Does the growing number render the distinction, well, less distinctive?
It sparks another question: Who's going to speak at the commencement ceremony, set for Sunday morning? Answer: They all are. For 90 seconds each.
Overall, to have multiple valedictorians is highly unusual. In Long Island’s 124 school districts, only a few other schools have more than one this graduation season, including Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington (3); West Islip High School (3); Great Neck North High School (2); Commack High School (2) and South Side High School in Rockville Centre (2).
Last year's eight was a record-setting number for Jericho, at least since 1998, when there was only one valedictorian, according to Newsday archives.
The 'A-plus method'
One reason Jericho routinely produces multiple valedictorians is that the school uses an unweighted formula under which any student who receives a top score in all their high school classes receives that honor. Some call it the "A-plus method." Most other schools use weighted systems.
Hank Grishman, the school district's superintendent of 28 years, said Jericho has been using the same unweighted formula to select the valedictorians for as long as he’s been at the district.
"It's wonderful to recognize so many kids for their academic success over four years of their high school experience," Grishman said.
Students and educators said they were glad to celebrate the group of high achievers but agreed that the system does not distinguish between the rigor of the courses students take — for example, between an Advanced Placement course and a regular class. Some of the toughest courses a few valedictorians said they took were AP courses in chemistry, physics and calculus.
“When you have situations like what we're experiencing in Jericho, where we have such a vast number of students that are achieving at the highest levels, obviously the system is not making distinctions between their coursework,” co-Principal David Cohen said.
Four of the valedictorians Newsday spoke to said they were happy to share the top academic honor, as it acknowledged their years of hard work. But some concurred that the upward trend warrants another look at the selection process.
“I do think we need an updated system that takes into account of people who take more rigorous classes,” said Katie Tian, 17.
Joshua Ochalek, 18, agreed.
“Obviously, it's still an amazing honor to have,” he said. “It brings up a big debate about should it change, or does it work properly?”
Revised grade-weighting system in the works
The Jericho school board in January adopted a revised weighting system for its high school courses, to take effect in July, though the board has yet to decide whether to tie it, or something different, to its valedictorian selection.
School board president Jill Citron said the board will get input from students, teachers and parents in the coming year.
“We're going to look into whether we should continue to do it unweighted,” she said. “We will take opinions from all the different stakeholders, primarily the students.”
Should the process change, Citron said, it wouldn’t affect the 2024 graduating class and may take years to implement.
“It could possibly take four years to change it because all the current high school students have come in with a certain mindset — the ones who are trying to become valedictorians,” she said.
Students noted the competitive culture at Jericho High School, one of the best-ranked schools in the region as well as the state, and how that should play a role in considering a new system.
“There’s a lot of comparing and competing in Jericho, not just grades, but extracurricular activities,” said Tian, who has a younger sister in middle school. “I wouldn’t want to put more pressure on my sister’s grade.”
A few students said they are not sure whether it would be fair to differentiate one student from another by a small variation in grade from one class in high school, but they wondered whether having one valedictorian would lessen some of the pressure.
“Right now, every kid is focused on their grades,” Ochalek said. But school “is not just about the grades. It's about doing other things. It's about having fun as a child and all these different things.”
However, Samuel Kane, 18, said the current system helps foster collaborations.
“If you have one spot available and 15 or 20 kids are gunning for it, it creates competition,” he said. Under the current system, it’s “you versus yourself.”
With Dorothy Levin and Kimberly Yuen
Jericho High School valedictorians
Zara Fatima Qizilbash