Mail Code 5711
New York, NY 10027-6902
Phone: (212) 854-9400
Fax: (212) 854-9401
CSPA is affiliated with the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in the City of New York.
Skip to navigation
Student Press Review
Mississippi Newspaper Adviser Wins 2003 Journalism Teacher of the Year Title
DJNF names Beth Fitts of Oxford (Miss.) High School as its top award recipient for 2003
Editor's note: Originally published: January 16, 2004
Beth Fitts, DJNF 2003 Newspaper Teacher of the Year
Photo : DJNF
Wayne Dunn and Betsy Pollard Rau, DJNF 2003 Distinguished Advisers
Photo : DJNF
Marc Russell and Helen Smith, DJNF 2003 Distinguished Advisers
Photo : DJNF
Tom Gayda, Cindy Pshigoda and Carol Ziemian, DJNF 2003 Special Recoginiton Advisers
Photo : DJNF
PRINCETON, NJ (Sept. 30, 2003) - Beth Fitts was not asleep when she heard she had been named the 2003 National High School Teacher of the Year. But she felt as though she were in a dream.
Richard Holden, executive director of the Fund, reached Mrs. Fitts at her home. The veteran journalism teacher and adviser at Oxford (Miss.) High School recalled, "When Rich told me I said, 'Can you say that one more time?' God is so good. I'm so excited."
She was chosen from a field of 20 nominees by a panel of professional journalists and educators in early September. The panelists were: Richard Johns, executive director of Quill and Scroll Society, Iowa City; Donald Bott, 2002 National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year, Amos Alonzo Stagg High School, Stockton, Calif.; Jeff Cohen, Editor, Houston Chronicle, and chairman of the American Society of Newspaper Editors High School Journalism Education Committee; Diana Mitsu Klos, Senior Project Director, ASNE; and Julie Dodd, journalism professor at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and outgoing head of the Scholastic Journalism division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.
The other honored teachers are Distinguished Advisers: Wayne Dunn, Lakota West High School, West Chester, Ohio; Betsy Pollard Rau, H.H. Dow High School, Midland, Mich.; Marc Russell, Lee's Summit (Mo.) High School, and Helen Smith, Newton North High School, Newtonville, Mass.
Special Recognition Advisers are: Tom Gayda, North Central High School, Indianapolis; Cindy Pshigoda, Perryton (Texas) High School, and Carol Ziemian, Dedham (Mass.) High School.
She will be a main speaker during the March conventionof the Columbia Scholastic Press Association in New York City, ASNE in Washington, D.C. in April, and at the August meeting of AEJMC in Toronto. She will write a column in the Fund's free newsletter, Adviser Update. In addition, a senior at Oxford High School will receive a $1,000 college scholarship to study news-editorial journalism in her honor.
The Newspaper Fund is pleased to announce that American Airlines is providing airline travel for the Teacher of the Year. Kathy Andersen, Administrator-AMR/American Airlines Foundation, said, "American Airlines is extremely proud to support the National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year with airline transportation as she addresses important issues of student press rights and responsibility."
Mrs. Fitts will receive a plaque and a pin from the Fund and an IBM ThinkPad computer from Expert Server Group of Bedford, N.H. Through a special arrangement with the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, she will be able to register for one of its skills or issues seminars during the coming year.
Mrs. Fitts was also a main speaker at the Advisers Luncheon on Nov. 22, 2003, at the annual conference of the Journalism Education Association/National Scholastic Press Association in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Bott, the previous teacher of the year, selected Mrs. Fitts for her accomplishments and character. "Her compassion for the individual student is obvious, but she also is a moral leader - something that students and parents appreciate."
Mrs. Fitts, like Mr. Bott, with an award-winning newspaper in her high school, has mentored other high school advisers to strengthen their school papers while continuing to advance the Oxford publications program. "It seems she is never satisfied with where the program is; instead, she pushes to make it better, all the while with students' best interests at heart," Mr. Bott said.
Nineteen years ago Mrs. Fitts transferred to Oxford High School. She'd come to teach English equipped with her master's degree and a B.A. from the University of Mississippi. She said the principal neglected to tell her advising the newspaper would be part of her job and also remembered another important detail - she'd need to get certified but it would only take about 12 credits.
"I think it was an accident on purpose," she said. "I didn't intend to go into journalism. I believe that God directs us to the areas that are going to be our heartbeat and journalism was mine. Once I got a taste of it, I absolutely fell in love with it."
When the teacher isn't certified, the students don't get credit for the course. What started as a simple quest for nine additional credits continued for years as the state raised the requirement periodically topping out at 32. With that many, Mrs. Fitts completed additional credits to get her master's in journalism from her alma mater in 1990. Seeing a blessing in most things, she philosophized that had she not continued pursuing certification, she would not be as knowledgeable about journalism.
The Charger newspaper at Oxford uses the maestro approach, a system that gives everyone on staff ownership in the paper's content. Her certification has allowed her to offer an array of credit courses and keep students in the journalism program for much, if not all, of their high school careers. The result is a highly experienced staff. She said her motto is: Raise the bar.
"I want this to be a real world journalism experience. The deadlines are absolute, you don't break them," she said.
The paper, which is also distributed in the community, has won the All-American rating since 1998 and National Pacemaker awards from the National Scholastic Press Association since 2001-2002. Progressions literary magazine, which she advises, has received Gold and Silver Crown awards from CSPA.
This year the district provided as many as 25 computers, she said, vivid contrast to the early years when she solicited for used computers from the hospital, local companies and the community. She estimated that as many as 60 of her students have become professional journalists.
Mrs. Fitts was a Distinguished Adviser in 1993 and a Special Recognition Adviser in 1992. She is the First Congressional District Teacher of the Year, the Oxford School District and High School Teacher of the Year, 2002-2003, and the alternate 2003 Mississippi Teacher of the Year. She has taught workshops and presented at the Southern Interscholastic Press Association, Columbia Scholastic Press Association, Arkansas Alabama, Texas and South Carolina press associations. She helped develop certification standards and journalism curriculum for the Mississippi Department of Education. She is an instructor and coordinator for the Journalism Diversity Workshop for High School Students Institute sponsored by the Newspaper Fund and for adviser institutes, both at the University of Mississippi.
"One of my aims has been to try to promote scholastic journalism in rural areas and in the southeastern areas because lots of people are not close enough to get a lot of training in journalism," she said. "In fact, I'm hoping that this honor will help with promoting scholastic journalism and will open up some pathways to help advisers and students feel like they are connected."
One student at each of the Distinguished Advisers' schools will receive a $500 scholarship to study news-editorial journalism. Distinguished Advisers, who were chosen as strong examples of excellent journalism teachers, will also write for Adviser Update.
Wayne Dunn advises the Voice and teaches Journalism I, II and III, which comprises the staff of 50 students at Lakota West High School, West Chester, Ohio. He had advised the Lebanon Light at Lebanon High School for 13 years before coming to Lakota in 1996 to create the newspaper for the newly established school. He called 2002-2003 a banner year for the paper with awards and honors including an All-American rating from NSPA, Gold Medalist from CSPA and scholarships and national prizes won by individuals.
He is president of the Journalism Association of Ohio Schools, a group he has served as a board member since 1986. A major accomplishment during his tenure was moving the operation of the organization from the Ohio State University to Kent State as independent and self-sustaining. He teaches workshops for several scholastic press associations.
He holds a B.A. from Wilmington College in theater and humanities and a master's in English from Xavier University. He was a Newspaper Fund fellow in 1985.
He wrote: "It is a great abuse if those in power think they are 'doing their job' by controlling the student press. Then students learn that their voices are inconsequential. A greater lesson can be learned if we guide students and trust them to apply the principles of the First Amendment. "
Betsy Pollard Rau arrived at H.H. Dow High School, Midland, Mich., in 1997 after teaching for 19 years at high schools and middle schools. She received her secondary teaching degree from Central Michigan University while majoring in journalism and English.
The Update is an award-winner with 17 Gold Circle awards this year and a Gold Crown, a Pacemaker and a MIPA Spartan. The Michigan High School Journalist of the Year has come from Dow High School each year since 1999. She taught 150 students in five journalism classes last year and had to hold off on adding a sixth section for this term. Mrs. Pollard Rau was a NSPA Pioneer award winner in 2001.
Ms. Pollard Rau is a prolific peer instructor having taught adviser workshops in Michigan and Texas. She judges publications and speaks at conferences. She has been a member of the board of the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association for most of her career starting in the 1970s as treasurer. She serves as Workshop chairman. Additionally, she directs the MIPA workshop, which entails overall coordination of the program with 40 faculty and 650 student participants.
She wrote: "I am an advocate of students' First Amendment rights and believe the newspaper is a student publication that teaches responsibility. The coverage needs to be theirs; the voice needs to be theirs."
Marc Russell started teaching at Lee's Summit (Mo.) High School after graduating from Central Missouri State University with a B.S. in education majoring in journalism and minoring in English. He received a master's in counseling psychology from the University of Missouri at Kansas City in 2001. The hi-life newsmagazine he advises is published every two weeks through the school year. His students produce a monthly page in the Lee's Summit Journal and two students wrote regularly for the Kansas City Star. He also teaches an independent study course on editorial leadership.
He was named state journalism teacher of the year by the Missouri Interscholastic Press Association, which he serves as president. He is the editor and chief writer for the organization's quarterly newsletter. The Journalism Educators of Metropolitan Kansas City recently elected Mr. Russell co-secretary/treasurer.
Mr. Russell developed varied techniques for recruiting minority students and to ensure diversity in the magazine's pages. "Each department of our newsmagazine is trained to look for ways to incorporate diversity into our coverage," he wrote.
Helen Smith, Newton North High School, Newtonville, Mass., has advised the Newtonite since 1973 and the French language publication, Mirettes, since 1977. She is executive director of the New England Scholastic Press Association at Boston University's College of Communication. Mrs. Smith is also a board member of the New England Press Association, which represents more than 400 professional newspapers in the region. She's a past president of the Columbia Scholastic Press Advisers Association. Mrs. Smith has taught fact-based American style journalism in Hungary, Romania, the Republic of Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. The Newtonite has won Gold and Silver Crowns, George Gallup awards and writing awards from the National Federation of Press Women.
She holds a Gold Key from CSPA, a Pioneer Award from NSPA and was named to the Oklahoma Interscholastic Press Association's National Scholastic Hall of Fame. One of her editors, Ben Badler, was a Freedom Forum Free Spirit Scholar. The other, Julia Carney, won the first Spirit of Daniel Pearl Foundation Youth Writing Contest, named for the slain Wall Street Journal reporter.
Mrs. Smith explained her philosophy: "I try to support students as they dig in. Energy, thoroughness, humility and balance contribute to credible journalism. The crucial element is integrity."
Special Recognition Advisers
Special Recognition Advisers, chosen for their promise and service to students, will also write for Adviser Update.
Tom Gayda, has been teaching for only three years at North Central High School, Indianapolis, where he advises the Northern Lights newspaper and five other publications - the Score sports magazine; Etchings in Thought, literary magazine; The Northerner yearbook, Equinox interview and biography magazine, and Central Intelligence, news/feature magazine. The publications have won Best of Show ratings at recent JEA conventions and the newspaper won an All-American rating with five marks of distinction from NSPA.
With a $100,000 grant, he has converged the radio/TV program so that students are reporting hard news stories for the daily announcements with plans to add a Web-based publication.
Mr. Gayda earned his bachelor's from Ball State and is completing his master's there this year. He is also an adjunct professor of journalism at his alma mater where he instructs summer journalism workshops.
He will advance from vice president of the Indiana High School Press Association to president for 2004-2005. As co-chair of the service team he is responsible for state conventions, workshops and awards.
He wrote in his application, "I believe the rights of my students far outweigh the security of my job. If my students feel strongly enough about something, I will give them my total support, no matter what."
Cindy Pshigoda, formerly of Perryton (Texas) High School, advised El Sombrero for three years and the school yearbook, The Ranger, intermittently since 1994. Once assigned to the newspaper, though certified, she set out to learn as much as she could in order to be a better teacher. She convinced the principal to send her staff for training and she attended an ASNE adviser workshop. She secured a $5,000 grant from ASNE to partner with the Amarillo Globe-News to purchase two computers and a printer. The classrooms now have 10 computers, a scanner, large format printer and three digital cameras.
Ms. Pshigoda began teaching journalism, English and advising the Wildcat yearbook at River Road High School in Amarillo this fall. The school does not have a newspaper, but she said she would like to start one next fall. She holds degrees in accounting from Southwestern Oklahoma State University and in English from Panhandle Oklahoma State University.
Dorsey Wilmarth, managing editor of the Globe-News, wrote: ". . .in 20 years of professional journalism, I have never seen a high school educator work so hard for the benefit of our students."
El Sombrero won a 2003 NSPA Online Pacemaker Award. The print edition won several awards at the Interscholastic League Press Conference for journalism at Austin this year. The paper is subject to prior review but nothing slated for publication had been challenged, Ms. Pshigoda said.
She said, "My philosophy of students press rights is that the staff should be able to meet the informational and entertainment needs of their readers (the student body), by being accurate, fair and complete in its coverage."
Carol Ziemian advises the Dedham Mirror at Dedham (Mass.) High School where she teaches English and journalism. She won the Robert Baram New England Scholastic Press Association Teacher of the Year award for 2003. She is secretary of Yankee Pen and the Massachusetts director of JEA. Additionally, she writes a weekly column on the First Amendment, censorship and other issues related to scholastic journalism in The Daily News Transcript, a local newspaper.
She holds a B.A. in English from Westfield (Mass.) State College and an M.A. in writing from Northeastern University, Boston. She has also studied journalism at Boston University and English at Trinity College, Hartford, Conn. The Dedham Mirror and its writers have won numerous awards over the years from NESPA, JEA, Yankee Pen and the Greater Boston High School Newspaper Competition.
In praising Ms. Ziemian, Carole Remick of the University of Massachusetts at Boston said, "What makes her so special is that she is cooperative, willing to help when needed, engaging in a classroom, and genuinely nice."
The National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year Program was begun in 1960 to recognize outstanding high school journalism teachers and media advisers for coaching strong scholastic publications and inspiring students to pursue careers in journalism. More than 600 teachers have been honored through the program since its inception.
The Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, a nonprofit foundation supported by the Dow Jones Foundation and other newspaper companies, encourages students to consider journalism careers.
Prevents layout breakage if no content