Stadium graduation decision could be short-lived

Published 9:28 pm 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.

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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.”