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August 1, 2014

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Many grads make the grade

The valedictorian of a high school senior class is typically the student with the highest grade - point average. At Coronado High School this year, 19 students are tied for that distinction.

It wasn't exactly supposed to turn out that way.

Because the number of valedictorians has swelled into the double digits on many campuses, the Clark County School District had introduced a new formula for calculating who achieves the highest scholastic rank.

In the past, equal weight was given to honors and Advanced Placement classes; this year AP courses, which are based on a national standard and can apply toward college credit, will earn a higher point value.

That ought to thin the valedictorian ranks, district officials thought.

But that hasn't happened.

Coronado's 19 valedictorian candidates are two more than last year's. And at Palo Verde High School, the number of prospective valedictorians has increased to 16 this year from nine in 2006.

Las Vegas Academy has six valedictorian candidates, a drop of more than 50 percent from last year , when the school had 14. But Principal Stephen Clark said the drop had less to do with the change in the formula than the reality that every senior class is different.

"All it takes is one grade that's not an 'A' and a couple less AP and honors classes," Clark said.

The list of valedictorians won't be official until early June , when teachers turn in final grades; until then, they are candidates.

Whether having many valedictorians dilutes the honor is debatable, Coronado Principal Lee Koelliker said.

"I'd rather see us try to recognize as many students as we can, whether it's for academics or athletics or something else," Koelliker said.

But most of the Coronado honorees said the district's formula should be refined further, echoing the position of prospective valedictorians at other district schools.

"Nineteen is too many," said Sabrina Ragaller, who earned a full scholarship to the University of Georgia. "Less than 10 would be better."

Clark County students receive extra credit for only the first two AP classes they take and 14 honors classes. Lifting the cap probably would reduce the number of valedictorians, said Chelsea Stephenson, who is headed to Brigham Young University.

Moapa Valley has six valedictorian candidates this year, compared with nine in 2006, a dip guidance counselor Stephanie Howard attributed to a smaller senior class.

But it would be a mistake to lift the cap on extra credit, Howard said.

"You get into the valedictorian wars and we don't want that," said Howard, who has been at the school since 1997. "Students will take summer school and extra classes to try and get ahead of the others. It's not a healthy way to promote the honor."

At Coronado there's a buzz about the prospective valedictorians - but not because of the number of them. For the first time anyone can remember, all are girls.

That's set off a campuswide debate about whether girls are smarter than boys - at least this time around.

The roster of valedictorian candidates includes athletes, student leaders and musicians. Eight have earned full college scholarships and eight others have partial scholarships. The universities they will attend include BYU; the University of California, Berkeley; UNR, Michigan State and the University of Arizona.

To be sure, Coronado has plenty of outstanding boys in the class of 2007. Take Jerry Butler, the senior class vice president who will attend Utah State on an Air Force ROTC scholarship. But even Butler's impressive 4.3 GPA was no match for the perfect 4.7s earned by the 19 girls.

"I think I should have stepped up to the plate and represented us guys a little more," Butler joked.

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