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In My Opinion: Best isn't good enough for Grapevine High

The Grapevine and Colleyville schools are teaching a wrong lesson.

School officials say a boy made the best grades in Grapevine High School.

He didn’t.

A girl, 16-year-old Anjali Datta, made the school’s best grade average ever: 5.898.

Yet school officials named 18-year-old Tyler Franklin of Colleyville the “highest-ranking graduate” and valedictorian at 5.64 — simply because Datta finished in three years.

Worse yet, leaders are making a bad decision for the wrong reason.

If Franklin weren’t named valedictorian, his family might be able to sue, because long-ago trustees ruled that the honor would go to the graduate with the best grades after “four years.”

Blame the school board for sloppy writing. But blame officials, too, for hiding behind literal-minded lawyers.

In a hollow gesture, Grapevine has named Datta as the “valedictorian — three-year graduates,” a title that does not include the same state-funded scholarship.

Thomas R. Guskey, a Georgetown, Ky., college professor and expert on honors studies, burst out laughing.

“So does that mean she’s both first and last in her class?” he asked, laughing again. “That’s incredible. If you are going to give an academic award, base it on academics. Don’t punish a student for taking less time.”

Superintendent Kay Waggoner said past trustees must have meant to honor only four-year graduates.

“I wasn’t here,” she said. “But the policy conveys some intent to consider the years.”

School board President Charlie Warner, a Seiko Corp. executive and a six-year trustee, didn’t return a call. But he said something puzzling to our Colleyville Courier.

“I don’t have a say over the policies,” he was quoted as saying. “The board sets the policies.”

If he won’t defend the policy, then who will?

If nobody will, then maybe Waggoner should have read it differently.

Ten years ago in the West Texas town of Snyder, school officials read a similar policy and chose the three-year graduate as valedictorian anyway. A superintendent said the rule didn’t mean calendar years.

Some other Texas districts have passed rules completely barring honors to accelerated students. The explanation is that the younger students were not originally in the senior class.

But many districts — including nearby Carroll — treat three-year graduates equally.

Grapevine City Council member Ted Ware, 75, was the Class of 1950 valedictorian.

“They’re caught in a trap,” he said by phone Thursday. “That rule should have been fixed a long time ago. Now, they’re wrong no matter which way they go.”

I called Mike Upshaw of Colleyville, father of 2004 valedictorian Sean Upshaw. He sided with Franklin.

“My son could have graduated early, but he didn’t,” Upshaw said. “I don’t think a student coming up from another grade should be valedictorian. If they all go four years, that’s the great equalizer.”

But both Datta and Franklin had the same chance.

Last year, Rebecca Nashett of Saranac Lake, N.Y., was a three-year graduate and would-be valedictorian. But instead, the school board did away with the title.

Her father, Larry, a state environmental official, said she was the target of “nastiness and pettiness.”

He has a message for Anjali Datta:

“I feel for you,” he said. “Believe me, you’ll do well. You will outperform and outshine those other students for the rest of your life.”

No matter what anybody said in high school.