Decision was a winner

Published 10:21 pm Friday, August 9, 2013

After a couple of years worth of fits and starts, it seems the Suffolk School Board has finally landed on a solution to the problem of graduation venues that is both sensible and popular — at least for the time being.

During its monthly meeting on Thursday, the School Board voted 4-3 to move graduation ceremonies out of Suffolk entirely for two of the city’s public high schools and to keep them in place for the other. In the end, the decision is just what the majority of rising seniors’ families wanted — and it will have the added benefit of saving the school system money.

For many years, Suffolk graduates have received their diplomas in the gymnasiums at their own schools. However, following a fiasco at Nansemond River High School a couple of years ago — when people with tickets for graduation were turned away after the gym was filled to capacity — a School Board committee began considering other alternatives.

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Last year, they decided as a temporary solution to hold the ceremonies on the football fields of the three high schools. But stormy weather the evening and morning before the event caused school officials to cancel those plans and move graduation back indoors, where students were limited to six guests — two of whom had to watch the event on closed-circuit television in the auditorium.

If the weather had cooperated, each student would have been allowed 10 guests. But even the best of Hampton Roads weather a couple of Saturdays into June can still result in a scorching-hot day in the sun, wearing caps and gowns or sitting on the bleachers watching the event unfold.

When they were surveyed for their thoughts on the matter, families from King’s Fork and Nansemond River high schools made it clear they wanted the best of both worlds — all the extra seating afforded by the football stadiums, along with the climate-controlled comfort of an enclosed gymnasium — and they’re willing to travel to Norfolk’s Ted Constant Convocation Center to find that perfect mix.

Interestingly, the majority of responding families of students at Lakeland High School said they were not willing to make the drive to Norfolk. But only 12 percent were willing to go back to the days of gymnasium graduations. So in 2014, the Cavaliers will be out on their own football field for graduation, assuming the weather cooperates.

The best part of all this for SPS families is that the School Board asked for their input, listened to it and then did what it had been asked to do. For taxpayers, the best — and, perhaps, most surprising part — was learning that holding the graduations in Norfolk will wind up saving the school system money over holding them at the schools. And since Suffolk has no venue large enough to accommodate the events, businesses here should not lose significant revenue.

The decision seems like a winner all around.