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Montville — At the June 17 graduation ceremony for the Montville High School Class of 2014, Joan Miller, 18, walked as valedictorian and Lacia Japp, 18, walked as salutatorian.
Three days later, guidance counselor Ted Phillips called the Japp family to inform them that Lacia actually had a higher grade point average than Miller based on an end-of-year calculation, according to Lacia’s mother Anita.
“The difference is pretty miniscule,” said Montville schools Superintendent Brian Levesque on Tuesday. “They’re both outstanding students, and we should be able to say that they were both really, really good students.”
He said that to his knowledge, Miller’s status as valedictorian would not change.
Montville High Principal Jeffery Theodoss said Tuesday that the school had a new policy this year of declaring who would walk as valedictorian and salutatorian at graduation by the end of the third quarter, so as to notify colleges and allow time to prepare for the ceremony.
He said the school had released final calculations right before graduation for the Class of 2013, only to face the same situation as occurred this year: the person slated to walk as salutatorian turned out to have a slightly higher GPA than the person slated to walk as valedictorian.
Declaring class rank ahead of time is typical of most high schools, according to Connecticut Association of Boards of Education Deputy Director and Staff Counsel Patrice McCarthy.
“I think what Montville does is the standard practice in terms of determining who the highest-ranking students are in the graduating class at the time of graduation,” she said.
Levesque said he wasn’t sure of the exact difference between the two girls’ GPAs, but he recalled a similar situation at Rockville High School when he was principal there. He said that one student had achieved a GPA that was five one-thousandths of a point higher than the other student’s GPA, and so Rockville High named the two co-valedictorians.
After receiving notification that Japp had the highest rank in her class, she and her family wanted to make the accomplishment known.
“It’s a mistake no one wants to admit, but it’s one of the things that I think people should just realize the reality of the situation,” Japp said.
The high school corrected the situation by sending Japp a sticker declaring her valedictorian to paste over her salutatorian sticker on her diploma, according to Anita Japp. The school also sent final transcripts to the universities that both Japp and Miller are set to attend, notifying the schools of the change in rank, according to Anita and Theodoss.
Lastly, the school requested that the state amend the citation the assembly awarded to Japp for high academic performance to reflect her actual rank in the class.
Anita said that the one thing she wanted the school to do, which it did not do, was contact the press about the change in rank. She said it bothered her that her daughter was still cited as salutatorian on websites such as that of The Day.
“I did some scrapbooking. Everything I have says salutatorian,” she said.
The change ultimately didn’t affect Japp’s college plans. She had already elected to attend Hofstra University in New York and had already received the university’s presidential scholarship, which she said covers roughly half her tuition and is based on overall academic performance as opposed to class rank.
Japp said she believed that in theory, another student in the same situation could face an impact such as a change in scholarship award.
But colleges sometimes require information about class rank for admissions and scholarship applications before the final calculation is possible.
The University of Connecticut, for example, requests that schools notify them who the valedictorian and salutatorian is in February, according to university spokeswoman Kristen Cole. Both ranks are eligible for the Presidential Scholars Program for Valedictorians and Salutatorians, which offers students who rank in the top two of their high school graduating class a grant of $2,500.
Cole said the university works with schools that say they need more time to share rankings. She would not state a latest date by which schools must notify the university.
The university begins sending out admissions decisions for fall applicants in March.
Japp said she is friends with Miller and that the two had a reputation at the high school for being close in rank academically. She said she found it ironic that her final GPA, at 4.57, turned out to be slightly higher than Miller’s because Miller had always been known to have a slight edge on Japp academically.
Phillips acknowledged that he called the Japp family but declined to comment further. Miller’s mother Sandy said her family would not be commenting.
Miller plans to attend Providence College, according to Levesque.