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Graduation solution urged

Published 7:21pm Thursday, January 17, 2013

Suffolk Public Schools has been urged to wrestle again with an issue that has plagued graduating seniors and their families in recent years: inadequate audience capacity at commencement ceremonies.

At last week’s School Board meeting, King’s Fork High School parent Lori Haymond appealed for the issue to be placed on the agenda for next month’s meeting.

“With the current graduation day venue arrangements, the day becomes one of achievement and celebration to one of choosing who to give the privilege of viewing the ceremony first-hand,” Lori Haymond told board members.

The issue arose in June, when ticket-holders were turned away from Nansemond River High School’s event because the gym was full.

Nansemond River and Lakeland high schools both accommodate 1,150 in the bleachers and 500 on the floor. Some of the floor space is taken up by staff, the graduates themselves and wheelchairs. Ceremonies are televised for another 785 in the auditorium, according to district Deputy Superintendent Jacqueline Chavis.

King’s Fork High has the largest capacity, its gym holding 1,800 in the bleachers and 500 on the floor, while the ceremony is televised for 800 guests in the auditorium.

Haymond, whose son is a senior, said graduation day marks the end of hard work and struggle for students.

“They can walk across the floor in front of family, friends and community to accept their diplomas,” she said.

“I remember, as I’m sure you do, the pride and sense of accomplishment as I sat in my commencement ceremony with my family and friends around.”

Haymond wants the board to consider three options, the first being to move commencements to a larger offsite venue with the option of charging seniors “a minimal amount” toward the cost.

The second option differs from the first by selling advertising space to local businesses to cover the cost.

Haymond’s final option would have commencements held outdoors in high school stadiums, with the current ticketing arrangement for the gyms retained as a rain option.

Chavis stated in an email that the number of tickets per student depends on the size of the graduating class.

“For the last couple of years, each student received six tickets, four for the gym and two for the auditorium,” she wrote, adding that principals are able to approve requests for additional tickets.

While Chavis noted Suffolk’s lack of an offsite facility large enough to support the ceremonies, Haymond said after the board meeting that going outside the city should be considered.

“I think we would probably have to do that,” Haymond said.

The next step will depend on what the board decides, Chavis says. The board has not acted on information reported by a committee formed last year to look at other venues as a result of the Nansemond River fiasco.



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