I was a drama major in college when I first became familiar with a Japanese play called “Rashomon,” written by Akira Kurosawa. It had a thought-provoking, curious message offering that any important incident or event is given different interpretations or descriptions, depending upon the individuals involved.
Back in early June I wrote a column about valedictorians and salutatorians.
I had heard tell of a principal in North Smithfield, R.I., who wanted to do away with those two honors of distinction; and it got my old-school, believer-in-tradition, Irish up. Well, “come to find out” (as they say in northern Rhode Island), we got his Irish up a bit as well! Coincidentally, the guy really is Irish, and one helluva guy at that. The gentleman in question is Daniel Kelley, the very proud, very dedicated principal of Smithfield High School, a past winner of the state’s Principal of the Year honor in 2012, and former president of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, so he knows a bit about being singled out for excellence.
I received two immediate responses to that column. One from Mr. Kelley himself, who penned in part, “there’s a lot more to our work than just the val/sal (sic) discussion.” He went on to tell me several Sun readers had forwarded the column to him, and he would welcome an opportunity to connect so I could learn a bit more about their work and community discussions. I jumped at the chance, inviting Kelley to be on our radio show ("Mann About Town," heard each Wednesday from 3-5 p.m. on WBLQ). Happily, he accepted; however due to a death in his family and a protracted trip to the Midwest, we had to put it off a bit. That program aired a week-and-a-half ago. You can find the podcast (Aug. 14th) on the station’s Facebook page or at wblq.net.
The other response came from Westerly’s Virginia Currie, whose granddaughter just so happened to be Smithfield’s valedictorian this year!
Westerly High School’s Principal, Mike Hobin, who followed Kelley as Rhode Island’s Principal of the Year in 2013, joined our radio conversation, which turned out to be an excellent exchange of thoughts, ideas, and differences. In just a few short years, Principal Hobin has brought his unfailing willingness to listen, an ongoing passion for what he does and for whom he’s doing it, and a fierce love and belief in the kids he serves.
Dan Kelley met with a committee of educators, parents, and even the students themselves in redesigning a system that had often stressed students on their way to chasing rank in order to achieve unattainable perfection. Instead, beginning in 2023, Smithfield High School will eliminate the valedictorian/salutatorian ranking in favor of the Latin cum laude system. This will entail individual courses being given different weight so that those students who take the more challenging, advanced honors courses will earn more credit toward their grade point average. An Advanced Placement course or Early Enrollment (EEP) course taken by highly motivated students will be afforded greater weight than a typical college prep course. Graduating seniors may attain honors of cum laude, magna cum laude, or the highest, summa cum laude. Kelley feels that by using this Latin cum laude system more students representing a broader spectrum will have their accomplishments recognized. While Mike Hobin did not feel that the Latin system was a good fit for Westerly High School at this time, he clearly embraced the concept and saw its value.
The thing about differences is that it does not necessarily make one party or idea right and the other wrong. It merely means there is a difference of interpretation, but often each is pointed in the same direction. A bit like “Rashomon.”
One thing clearly emerged from all this. Hobin and Kelley are firmly rooted on the same course, that of securing the very best for our kids. They have a passion for what they do, and it’s what powers them each day to come to work. They want to make certain that the education each of their schools provides is fully geared to the individual needs of every student and what that student requires to jump headlong and competitively into their future.
From northern Rhode Island to our own shores, the system is working based on a simple principle from two extraordinary principals ... they love our kids.
Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 18 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at email@example.com or 401-539-7762.