Archived Story

Stadium graduation decision could be short-lived

Published 9:28pm Monday, July 1, 2013

After a tropical storm forced the first planned outdoor high schools graduations in years back inside last month, and a survey showed a majority of rising seniors would prefer a large out-of-town venue, school district officials are once more debating the perennial venue question.

The survey was conducted June 13 — six days after stadium graduations were aborted at Suffolk’s public high schools, resulting in fewer family members witnessing the rite of passage first-hand.

“We didn’t leave messages — it was kind of like catch them when they were there,” district spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw explained at Monday’s annual School Board retreat.

The result was 342 responses from 792 attempted calls, Bradshaw said, adding only those phone numbers registered for the automated information system were contacted. The response rate was much better than the 10-percent such surveys generally attract, she said.

The script asked whether respondents would prefer their 2014 graduation inside the gym, with four tickets, and streamed live to the auditorium, with two tickets; inside the stadium with 10 tickets and option one as the bad-weather fallback; or at a larger indoor facility outside Suffolk.

The all-schools result was 52.6 percent for out of town, 32.5 for the stadium, and 14.9 percent for inside.

Broken down by high school, more Nansemond River students opted for out of town (58.1 percent), but fewer Lakeland students (45.5 percent).

Lakeland students also went much more strongly for the stadium (43.6 percent), an option Nansemond River students, at 24.2 percent, were least supportive of.

School Board members, arguing they want a fuller picture before deciding, directed administrators to repeat the survey by email and pen and paper.

Judith Brooks-Buck said the initial results were “pretty much consistent” with folks who have approached her on the issue.

“It was very crowded at some of the gymnasiums,” she said. “Getting additional input would be most appropriate.”

Suffolk is “a long way from Chesapeake and Norfolk,” when considering going out of town, Vice Chair Enoch Copeland said.

Chairman Michael Debranski said the stadium option, which was decided only in March after strong a lobbying effort, has not been given an adequate chance. “I think we need to give the stadium option a good shot before we go out of town,” he said.

Phyllis Byrum agreed, saying, “I think the stadium could be a good way to go for the coming year.”

District superintendent Deran Whitney said, “We’ll bring back the data, then you all can decide.”

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  • softspoken1

    As a parent that has sat through 2 graduations here of my kids in Suffolk, with 2 more to go, I say lets commute. I think those who don’t want to drive might not realize that 6 tickets for your child’s graduation is crazy! We had to chose between my son’s brothers and sisters or grandparents! Then 4 were in the gym. The other 2 had to watch tv from an auditorium. So the family has to split. What kind of choice is that to have to make? We have no decent venue in this city. In Suffolk, you can only eat, farm or buy mattresses! It’s ridiculous.

    Suggest Removal

  • mom22

    The outside stadium is the best option- with unlimited “tickets”. All of the high school stadiums can accomodate the crowd.

    Suggest Removal

  • KNRMCO

    Still the issue of WHO will pick up the tab on this fantasy. I understand that there will always be more relatives than tickets, however, I don’t think the citizens of Suffolk should be footing the bill. If students & their families can pay to have a graduation party after the ceremony, then the can pay for another venue.

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  • suffolklady

    I find it interesting that the time has been taken to make phone calls for a survey of students who don’t pay taxes for schools. Yet, it does not appear that the time has been taken to find out how much it will cost and determine who will pay. As a taxpayer in Suffolk, a parent of past and future graduates in Suffolk, and a teacher in Suffolk, I think these questions should be answered FIRST.

    If I were asked if I want a new car, of course, my answer would be “yes.” If I were then told that I would have to pay the loan and insurance on it, then I might reconsider. This is essentially how this issue has been handled.

    @truly, I also HAVE to be there and have no interest in driving all the way to Norfolk. And, for some students in our city, this would amount to an hour or more of driving time to get there.

    It’s time for the school board to make a decision on this issue, one way or the other, and stick with it. It will be impossible to please everyone involved. Given that we have so many other issues to deal with in our school system (see the front page for the story about math SOL scores), I am sick of hearing about this one.

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    • truly

      Great points @suffolklady. I agree. Stick with a decision. Not everyone will be happy, and I know that if I am told to be there I will suck it up and drive all the way out to wherever the ceremony will be held. I just don’t like it, and think it is silly to make all of the students and families commute.

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      • suffolklady

        I don’t like it either, but, like you, I will do what is required of me. It just needs to dealt with in the right order. First, figure up the true costs and inconvenience and who will pay for it. Next, present it to the public. Finally, make a decision about it. Surveying 17-year olds is a waste of time and resources.

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  • Lovebug

    From a parent who has sat through two of my own children graduating in Suffolk I say go out of town to a venue that will hold family members. It sucks when you have to pick and choose who can watch and who can not. If you have 4 tickets to be in the gym and you have other children as well as two parents and in some cases two sets of parents it leaves family members out including grand parents who are a very big part of these kids lives. Other schools do it and it works fine. People can get into an accident on the way to the high school and parents will be late no matter where its held thats their own problem. Its not like the day and time snuck up on them. Having it outside is great but you still have the weather to deal with and that again can push it inside where its so crowded its not even enjoyable. I’m all for moving them to a venue. I have been to graduations at the TED that are wonderful with plenty of room and I even arrived without an accident and 30 mins early.

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    • truly

      Sure, YOU didn’t get in an accident, but there is still the possibility. Isn’t it our job to protect these young people and their families by adding more of a variable on horrible roads? The stadium is equipped to hold many people. I think the tickets should not be limited to ten. However, there are space requirements inside. Those are capacity rules and a safety issue, much like driving all the way out of town. Like you said; It’s not like the day snuck up on anyone. Plan accordingly. I for one and not driving all the way to Norfolk for a Suffolk graduation. As someone that HAS to be there, I don’t want to do that at all! Keep it in Suffolk.

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  • KNRMCO

    Who’s dime would this be on? Did they ask the students that? If the students want to have it elsewhere, I think each & every student/parent must foot the bill. This shouldn’t be on the taxpayers since the stadium & gym are sitting there. This is a “luxery” not a neccessity.

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    • suffolklady

      I completely agree. Teachers have not have raises in years and there is very little money for teaching needs, yet there is no discussion of how much this will cost and how it will be paid. The students have no clue – how about asking the TAXPAYERS how they feel??

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  • truly

    Having an out of town venue is just as ridiculous as having prom out of town. This gives more parents the opportunity to be late, the opportunity to have crashes along the way, and opportunity to not get to say goodbye one last time to the high school that has shaped and developed these students over the years. Leave well enough alone. Give the stadium option another chance. Holding graduation out of town is simply ludicrous.

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