Missouri is the home of the greatest baseball fans in America, Mark Twain, Brad Pitt, and toasted ravioli. Toss in the fact that many fine journalists have studied at the Missouri School of Journalism and can be seen on countless national news outlets, I can’t help but look at my home state with a sense of pride.
Sadly, though, Missouri is notorious for a Supreme Court case (Hazelwood, anyone?) that silenced student journalists, struck fear into journalism advisers, and gave the “thumbs up” for administrators to practice the incredibly un-American act of censorship.
Clearly, I feel that student journalists should be able to report without fear. Sadly, thanks to the Hazelwood case, too many American schools seem to have driven fear into student journalists, and that fear comes from the top. They fear upsetting administration and having their voices silenced or their advisers fired.
In my 20 years of teaching, I have worked under several principals. My first one at a neighboring school district insisted he reviewed all student media before publication or broadcast. He would personally see to it that ANY information that painted the school in a negative light was cut. The students quickly learned to practice journalism in fear. I quickly learned I couldn’t work in such an environment.
I have been at Washington High School for 18 years since leaving my first school. While WHS Principals have come and gone, I can gladly say none of them had a negative impact upon me like that first one. Yet, I can also say most of them have made little to no journalistic impact at all. Why? Well, while my students haven’t practiced journalism in fear, often they feel incredibly unnoticed, overlooked, and underfunded.
My current principal, Dr. Frank Wood, is an exception. He has made a point to allow our students to report freely, and he often points out their efforts at Graduation ceremonies, school spirit assemblies, and more. He includes our journalism students with the top-rated sports teams when he makes public note of how great our school is.
I know he watches and reads student work. He’s aware of what WHS Journalism students do and trusts them to do the best they can. How far does that trust go? He let two Blue Jay Journal TV students follow him this spring for a “Day in the Life of Dr. Frank Wood.”
Beyond that, Dr. Wood has found ways to fund new computers, video cameras, and more for our program. He has thanked me repeatedly for being frugal and responsible with funds. To show his gratitude and appreciation for what my students do, he has found ways to help purchase items our program needs to stay on track. This isn’t easy in a school district notorious for not passing tax levies, and a community torn between supporting both a public and a private parochial high school.
A huge bonus is that Dr. Wood doesn’t micromanage or practice prior review. He doesn’t question us constantly when we tell him what kind of equipment we need, or stories we plan to tell. In fact, he’s asked me what he can do to help us and has often followed through when I tell him what we need.
As this school year came to an end, I learned that Dr. Frank Wood is retiring from WHS. I am excited for him (and slightly envious). As I look ahead to the next chapter for Blue Jay Journal TV at WHS, I am hopeful that it is as smooth as this past one. What I hope for is something we, as journalism teachers, are ALL hopeful for. We want an administrator that supports freedom of speech, champions our students’ journalistic efforts, has great trust in what we do, and works to find ways to find the funds necessary to stay on track.
Yes, I love Missouri, but I have to say that I love supportive administrators even more. I am sure I am not alone in that sentiment.