By JONATHAN PHELPS
---- — IPSWICH — John Gillis has two students at the middle school who have worked hard to make the honor roll this year, but they won’t be able to attend the school’s annual honors night to celebrate their achievement.
That’s because the school administration has decided to end the long-standing tradition in favor of recognizing students during an assembly attended by all students. During the assembly, students will be given awards for academics, sports, arts and everything in between.
“We took it from an exclusive nighttime ceremony where only honors students were invited and rolled it into our end-of-the-year assembly,” Principal David Fabrizio said. “That way, everybody can celebrate their and their peers’ achievements.”
In a letter sent home to parents last week, Fabrizio said that it is the school’s job to monitor both academic and social emotional growth. Concentrating on grades, “as strange as it sounds, can impinge upon the learning process,” he wrote.
“The honors night, which can be a great sense of pride for the recipients’ families, can also be devastating to a child who has worked extremely hard in a difficult class but who, despite growth, has not been able to maintain a high grade point average,” Fabrizio wrote.
Fabrizio emphasized that the school hasn’t ended honors recognition and that it believes in high achievement in all aspects of students’ lives.
“We are still honoring success, we are just doing it in a different form,” he said.
However, the idea of ending honors night isn’t sitting well with many parents.
“I think the school should be committed to excellence and not mediocrity,” Gillis said. “I was shocked because to get on the honor roll, you have to work hard. They shouldn’t cancel (honors night) because somebody’s feelings could be hurt. Life is a competition, and they should start competing.”
Kevin Whooley, who has a daughter in eighth grade, said many parents are “dumbfounded” as to why the honors night needed to be canceled.
“They have had honors night here for years, and there is no reason not to continue it,” he said. “It is like having a sports banquet for those who play sports. Not everyone makes honors. You can’t be politically correct about everything.”
Whooley noted that honors night was an event for the whole family, and many parents won’t be able to make an assembly during the day.
Debbie Williams, who has a daughter in seventh grade, said that ending honors night sends the wrong message to students.
“It gives my daughter a chance to shine,” Williams said. “She is not good at sports. She is an exceptionally academic student, and it makes her proud.”
Fabrizio said that only a couple of parents have reached out to him in opposition to the plan, and the reaction he’s received has been mostly positive. He said the idea was faculty-driven and supported by the School Committee and Superintendent Rick Korb.
“The Ipswich School Committee stands by the decision of our administrators and staff to celebrate the achievements of all students in a manner consistent with our school culture of inclusion,” Chairman Hugh O’Flynn said in a statement.
“Based on research and collaborating with colleagues, we think this will be better for our students than the past ceremony,” Fabrizio said.
Fabrizio said there are many misconceptions about the move.
“They think I am giving everyone a trophy, and that is so far from the truth,” he said. “I know it is a tradition here, but sometimes we have to change things for the better. By seeing their classmates succeed, it may motivate some students to move forward.”
Honors night would involve speeches by high school students and other guest speakers.
“It is the students who are struggling who need to hear the inspiring speeches of the high school students and see that they, too, can succeed,” Fabrizio wrote in a follow-up letter to parents. “This does not happen if we have a night where they are not invited to attend.”
Jeff Blizard, who has two boys at the school, said honors night has always been a special night for the family, and they would make it into a celebration. His eighth-grader has been recognized at honors night the past two years.
“My sixth-grader used the honors night as a goal to be onstage like his brother in years past,” he said. “But he won’t have that opportunity.”
Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.