Kingston board weighs changes to ‘touchy’ graduation gown system

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The 2016 graduating class of Kingston High School stands for a group photo earlier this year. Students in white have a grade point average of 3.0 or higher and students in red or black do not. The colored gowns at Kingston High School caused a long discussion at the Kingston Community Schools Board of Education meeting Monday, and if the varying gowns leave some students out. (Facebook photo).

The Kingston Community Schools Board of Education is considering changes to its system of identifying how well graduates performed academically by color of gown during graduation ceremonies.

The board discussed the issue at its meeting Monday.

Currently, white gowns are worn by students who earn a grade-point average of at least 3.0 while others wear red or black.

Board Trustee Scott Neff brought up the matter based on a complaint by a Kingston High School student’s grandmother.

“Frankly she was quite offended by something and the more I listened to her, she had a point and did some homework,” said Neff. “Unlike every other school I’m told in our county, Kingston has for a long, long time had three colored gowns. And frankly I never even noticed … but for some people it’s a really, really big deal.”

The question about gown color first came up in 2013.

At the time, some parents felt that if there were going to be changes, it shouldn’t be imposed on the class of 2013, but with a new group of students from the seventh-grade class or incoming ninth-grade students in upcoming years.

Neff suggested a committee review the gown issue. Neff said hypothetically in a class of 40 students, if 80 percent received a 3.0 GPA and received a white gown, the kids wearing black or red would feel left out.

“It’s obviously a very touchy subject with a lot of people,” Neff added. “Most schools just have two colors – the guys wear one color and the girls wear one color. I know there’s the tradition thing – Kingston’s always done that – just because you’ve always done it doesn’t necessarily make it right.”

Board Trustee Jason Koehler said maybe the school should update to include graduation cords or some other kind of item to identify the honors students.

“I can’t remember any classes where we had more than 50 percent (over 3.0),” said Koehler. “I can think back a couple of years ago that we were right at 50 or maybe slightly over, but don’t think we’ve ever had a situation where we only had four or five kids in red and four or five kids in black.”

Kingston Dean of Students Jay Green said two years ago the high school had only 32 graduates with close to half making a 3.0 GPA or higher. But on average there is a range between 25 and 50 percent of students in white.

“A lot of schools do do it differently,” said Green. “I remember my main comment (in 2013) about it was, ‘What’s graduation about?’ It’s about graduating from school. But ultimately they’re all getting the same diploma.”

Following a lengthy conversation, the board took no action, but asked Kingston Community Schools Superintendent Matt Drake to research the issue further.

Drake said whatever the board decides to do, a policy change wouldn’t be in effect for the current class. Further, any changes would likely include input from the public.

Also during Monday’s meeting:

The board learned its students in elementary, middle and high school grade levels have grown in areas such as English and math.

Using information from MI School Data, Dean Jay Green presented to the board the data from the 2015-2016 school year that included testing from Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (MSTEP) and the SAT scores to examine student growth.

“It’s important that we understand that we’re looking here at growth,” said Green. “We’re not looking at overall test scores … it’s how much this student grows between when they took the test the previous year and (now).”

One of the examples he used was the English Language Arts levels for fourth, fifth, seventh, eighth and 11th grades.

At the fourthgrade level, students had an above average growth of nearly 26 percent, an average growth of about 50 percent and a below average growth of 24 percent. Green said in all grades the growth was over the 50th percentile range, which is better than the state level.

The search shows how Kingston Community Schools had an overall student growth in ELA of more than 51 percent in the district. That is greater than the Tuscola Intermediate School District at 49.8 percent and the state average of 49.7 percent. More can be found at http://bit.ly/2gG1PyK.

The board also approved 5-1, with Jeff Phillips voting against, to make changes to the junior/senior high school student handbook. The changes were with regards to student suspensions, and not allowing home-schooled students in the district to participate in sports.

Debanina Seaton is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at debanina@tcadvertiser.com

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