Nine valedictorians speak to quality, not just quantity


Mathew Brown offers one of three valedictorian addresses at Sunday?s commencement. Eight fellow valedictorians look on: (from left) Ben Bebermeyer, Lauren Just, Jessica Klose, Amber Loewen, Meghan Jost, Anna Woelk, Jandi Nikkel and Grant Schneider. Phyllis Richert photo.

What does it mean when 13 of the 63 members of a high school graduating classes carry the title of either valedictorian or salutatorian?

It simply means the class, collectively, was one of the highest academic achieving classes in school history, according to Hillsboro High School principal Dale Honeck.

A record nine seniors in the 2008 class at Hillsboro High Schools were honored as valedictorians during commencement on Sunday, for maintaining a perfect 4.0 grade-point average during their high school careers.


HHS grad-to-be Jayme Claassen receives a congratulatory hug from a friend prior to the start.

Four were recognized as salutatorians. They received one B in for years.

With 13 receiving ?top honors,? that means better than one out of every five classmates are considered at the very top of their class.

?This has been one of the most academically competitive classes we?ve had?and we?ve had a lot of strong classes over the years,? Honeck said.

Anticipating the raised eyebrows of skeptics, Honeck is quick to add is what the large number of higher achievers does not mean.

?Some people think it?s grade inflation or lower expectations,? he said. ?However, these nine students, if you look at their ACT scores, they are way above the state average and they?re way above national average.

?They are high-performing students on all state assessments as well as ACTs.?

To underscore the quality of the class, Honeck said three students achieved a score of 32 on the ACT out of a possible 36?another school record, at least during Honeck?s eight-year tenure.

A score of 32 places those students among the 99th percentile nationally.

?This is one heck of a class,? he said. ?One of those students with a 32 isn?t even among the valedictorians?she?s a salutatorian. She has had one B.

?We must really be tough,? he said with chuckle.

The 13 students also have been designated Kansas State Scholars, which means they?ve completed the Board of Regents? curriculum requirements, earned an ACT score of at least 29 and a composite grade-point average of 3.9.

?It?s not like they?ve been in easy classes,? Honeck said. ?They take the most rigorous required curriculum that the state says they must take to be state scholars.?

Achieving in the classroom is limited to just a few students within the class, Honeck added.

?If I showed you the number of kids who has a 3.5 (GPA) or higher the first three nine weeks of this year, among the freshman there?d be 10 to 12. Sophomores had around 14 or 16, and the juniors have a few more?there may be 20 in that group.

?These (seniors) had 33 students who were 3.5 or higher, so they?re called academic letter-winners, too.

?That whole class competes very strongly.?

Honeck said the noteworthy performance of the Class 2008 merely reflects a tradition of academic excellence at HHS.

?Hillsboro?s a good school district,? he said. ?Those students come to high school ready to learn, and our teachers are delivering. The kids are getting it, and they?re proud of they?re accomplishments.?

Honeck said good teaching prior to high school is as important as the quality of teaching during those final four years.

?I do believe, and educators do say, that third grade is the make-or-break year,? he said. ?If kids are ready to learn, and the teachers encourage it, at that point you can pretty well predict the kids who are going to rise to the top.?

Honeck said that unlike so many schools where?s he worked in the past, Hillsboro students generally aren?t battling the influences that can drag down the academic environment of a class or an entire district.

?When you have kids that are not interested, where there?s no parental support, and where they are challenging of authority and more vocal and bold, it tends to dumb-down the other kids,? he said.

?We really don?t have a lot of that in our classes here,? he said.

Having involved parents and a supportive community is the bedrock for academic achievement, he added.

?That?s what makes this thing work so good in Hillsboro,? Honeck said. ?There?s just a lot of support for kids?and not just in the school, but in the community as a whole. It?s a good community for educators.?

Honeck said whenever graduating classes have a high number of academic achievers, the topic of making the grading scale tougher is sure to surface.

?It comes up every year, but it?s not even a discussion item right now,? he said. ?We used to talk about it in site council, but parents usually say we want to keep it the way it is.?

The issue may be moot, anyway, he added.

?It doesn?t make any difference if you lower or raise (the grading scale),? Honeck said. ?You can go to 98 (for an A) if you make tests easier, or you can go to 90 and make them very hard. Ninety-four is as good an indicator as anything and better than most.?

He said the body of evidence?found in state and national testing?make a convincing case that having nine valedictorians and four salutatorians in one class may be unusual, but it?s not unwarranted.

?I?m proud of those kids, and I don?t think we?re lowering the bar to make it easier for them,? he said. ?I really don?t.?

Best of a very strong class

The following nine students were recognized during Sunday?s Hillsboro High School commencment as valedictorians for the Class of 2008, each one maintaining a perfect 4.0 grade-point average through four years:

  • Mathew Brown

  • Benjamin Heyen

  • Meghan Jost

  • Lauren Just

  • Jessica Klose

  • Amber Loewen

  • Jandi Nikkel

  • Grant Schneider

  • Anna Woelk

The four salutatorians were:

  • Amanda Faber

  • Courtney Fast

  • Julia Loewen

  • Maria Loewen

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