By Jonathan Phelps
---- — IPSWICH — Ipswich Middle School Principal David Fabrizio is standing by the school’s controversial decision to cancel the long-standing annual honors night.
The debate over the cancellation of what many call a tradition in town has gone viral across the country, being posted all over the Internet, discussed on regional talk radio and was even picked up by several national news outlets. Some claim the decision “dumbs down education” or is the “destruction of the American educational system.”
Fabrizio has said instead of an exclusive evening ceremony like in years past the honors students will now be recognized at the end-of-the-year assembly in front of the entire student body.
Fabrizio said he has a “file full of emails” in support of the decision.
“It is a sound educational decision,” Fabrizio said. “There are some people who disagree, but for the most part the emails I got are supporting this change.”
A petition started by several eighth-grade students swirled around the hallways in the days after the announcement was made to try to get the school administration to reinstate the special night. Fabrizio said he talked to the two female students who presented the petition to him.
“As a history teacher, I thought it was a great learning experience they collected the petition. It was well-written,” Fabrizio said. “They told me why they still wanted honors night. They love to be celebrated, dress up and be honored by their parents.”
He said after meeting the two students warmed up to the changes.
“We told them why we wanted it changed, and they liked the idea. They saw the usefulness of being honored in front of peers,” Fabrizio said. “I think the problem with the kids was they didn’t think they were going to be honored anymore.”
The details of the assembly are still being worked out and Fabrizio said parents will be welcome to attend to see their kids awarded.
Parent Matthew McElwain, who has a daughter in the eighth grade, questions the logistics of such an event and being able to fit everyone into one space for such an assembly. He said many parents won’t be able to make it during the day because they have to work.
He said the night is a time for families to celebrate together and many were already looking forward to attending the annual event when the announcement was made.
“With a decision like this I would expect it to be made over the summer or for the following school year, not a couple months before graduation,” McElwain said.
He also disagrees with Fabrizio’s statement that most people are in favor of the move.
“Everyone we know is against this,” he said. “I don’t know anyone who supports it.”
Much of the controversy swirls around the wording of a letter Fabrizio sent home to parents, which stated that concentrating on grades, “as strange as it sounds, can impinge upon the learning process.”
“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.
In a follow-up letter to parents, Fabrizio sad he has no intention of bringing down American education and is a true believer in competition.
“We believe in high achievement and the honoring of such achievement, but just in a different forum that takes into account all of our students’ differences and needs,” he wrote.
McElwain said there are still a lot of questions to be answered about the decision.
“I don’t know how canceling it will help,” McElwain said. “And nobody has been able to explain it.”
Fabrizio, who is in his first year at the school, emphasized that the decision was made by the faculty and school council, which includes several parents. He said the decision was made after much research and discussion. He said most of the negative comments he has received are not from within Ipswich or even Massachusetts.
“People don’t like change,” he said. “All our decisions are student-centered, they are hard decisions, but we think they are right ... sometimes you have to make a big change to move forward.”
Superintendent Rick Korb said he supports the school’s decision and explained the intent was to set an example of excellence for students. It is not to support an “everybody gets a trophy” mentality, he said.
“The honors assembly was not canceled,” Korb said. “It was simply moved to a daytime ceremony so students could be recognized and honored in front of their peers.”
He would not comment on the discussions sweeping across town and on the Internet about the changes.
“People are entitled to their opinions and I respect that,” he said.
Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.