2020 JEA election candidate statements

2020 JEA election candidate statements


Sarah Nichols, MJE


For 21 years, Sarah Nichols, MJE, has been teaching journalism and advising student media. Whitney High Student Media (Details yearbook, The Roar newsmagazine and Whitney Update website) is a nationally award-winning program in Rocklin, California. Nichols has been involved in JEA’s leadership since 2009, serving with Scholastic Press Rights, Digital Media and Certification and as a state director before six years as vice president and three as president. She also helped develop the JEA Curriculum Initiative in 2014 and became a mentor in 2019.

Beyond conducting critiques and teaching at workshops and conventions, Nichols has authored curriculum and teaches an advising course in an online scholastic journalism masters program.

Locally, Nichols has been a board member of the Journalism Education Association of Northern California (JEANC) since 2005, coordinating outreach and adviser development. She previously served on the California Journalism Educators Coalition (Cal-JEC) and was named its Teacher of the Year in 2011. From 2001-2004, Nichols served on the board of the Indiana High School Press Association.

Nichols has been honored with JEA’s Carl Towley Award, Medal of Merit and H.L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the Year Award as well as the NSPA Pioneer Award and CSPA Gold Key.

Why I want to serve:

I’m big on questions, and with the opportunity to serve a second term as JEA’s president I hope to ask this one often. (If you’re looking for “answers” — whatever those are — I stand behind every word in my 2017 candidate statement.) I’ve been listening, experimenting, reflecting and pushing to meet the growing demands of this organization. And I’d love to continue.

As a list-maker, I’m ready with outlines, proposals and ideas. As someone who loves learning, experimentation and problem solving, I’m excited by the opportunity. Serving JEA matters more than ever.

Because yes, America needs journalists, and it doesn’t happen without journalism teachers. Those journalism teachers need JEA. Our membership ranges from veteran teachers of robust, thriving programs to untrained advisers thrown into the position. For every adviser of an award-winning program, countless others fight to recruit staffers, develop curriculum, battle censorship and secure resources to publish.

With the honor of leading JEA, I aim to build upon the work underway to meet members where they are and to strengthen support for teachers and advisers everywhere — from the ones reading this statement to the ones who don’t know about us yet.

My goals:

Do more.
Do less.
Do better.

Simply put, those are my goals for the next three years serving on JEA’s leadership team. With nine years of experience on the board of directors, I have gained a solid understanding of the organization’s inner-workings across each program and initiative and have had the opportunity to pitch and implement many of my own. Through observation, reflection, data analysis, laptop coffeehouse sessions and countless conference calls, I have developed a foundation to apply moving forward.

As president, I will do my best. I look forward to continuing important work underway and collaborating to support, sustain and strengthen all aspects of journalism, education and association.

PEDAGOGY remains a core value of the organization. You can’t teach what you don’t know. Curriculum will be a major focus, from allocating additional resources toward development and leadership to improving promotional strategies within and outside JEA. I will emphasize curriculum coaching, mentoring and certification so journalism teachers at all levels have dynamic lessons to use in their classrooms along with enhanced support for implementation. At the same time, I will continue to support methods of reaching teachers and advisers — and their students — through in-person Partner Project programs and online with virtual workshops.

ADVOCACY efforts are essential. While JEA should use every opportunity possible to promote the value of a free and responsible student press and emphasize the benefits of scholastic media education, we also must work more strategically in doing so. We can and will do better joining forces with the Student Press Law Center, National Association of Media Literacy Educators and National Council of Teachers of English in particular to make headway on efforts supporting student voice, media literacy and civic engagement. We must find new ways to partner with administrators to support students as decision makers free of censorship as an essential piece of their learning experience navigating a complex world as media producers and consumers.

INNOVATION in the digital age is constant, but often we’re slow to adapt. I will empower leaders to experiment. I will continue to ask questions and explore possibilities with the National Scholastic Press Association so our partnership remains strong and enables us to pursue new ways to teach, practice and interact at our conventions.

To innovate requires seeing things in new ways. I’m not afraid of change and will streamline programs and positions to be more effective. Sometimes we need to step out of a space in order to focus on a bigger need or reallocate resources.

COMMUNITY is the best part of JEA. Widening the professional network — our family circle — is important to me, from reaching new teachers and increasing the number of mentors and mentees to welcoming a new team of leaders to the board. I will continue outreach to diverse and underserved populations and will allocate resources to grants and programs that help meet teachers where they are.

I want to bridge the gap between struggling and thriving programs, draw in private and independent school programs, continue advocating a “journalism is journalism” mentality and provide support for advisers in schools faced with prior review.

EXCELLENCE means more than awards and recognition. We can celebrate outstanding work by members, students and volunteers while elevating the caliber of our own work. Continued collaboration with a wonderful executive director to make data-driven decisions will be part of that process, along with developing a communications strategy with the new assistant director. Maintaining high expectations of elected and appointed leaders, I will provide encouragement and feedback.

And always, I will lead our team to do what’s best for kids.

Vice President

Valerie J. Kibler, MJE


Valerie J. Kibler, MJE, teaches at Harrisonburg (Va.) H.S., where she advises the print and online newspaper and the yearbook. She taught 10 years at Marion Senior High School where she began advising. She earned her B.A. from Virginia Tech in 1988 and her Master’s in journalism education from Kent State University in 2014. Kibler currently teaches the Advising Student Media course for Kent State’s online master’s program. She was local chair for the 2009 and 2014 JEA/NSPA conventions in Washington, D.C. She currently serves as the JEA Vice President and has been the State Director for Virginia as well as President and Treasurer of the Virginia Association of Journalism Teachers and Advisers. She was a NSPA board member for three years. Kibler helped begin jCamp and jDay in Virginia and helped found the JEA Partner Project to reach underserved regions. She was named the 2010 Dow Jones News Fund’s National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year and has

received NSPA’s Pioneer Award, JEA’s Medal of Merit, CSPA’s Gold Key Award, and SIPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Kibler was the initial writer of the leadership module for the JEA curriculum.

Why I want to serve:

My parents taught me to finish what I started. For the past three years, I have loved working as part of a collaborative team with the JEA board, but much of the work we have begun is still a work in progress and I want to see it through. Many initiatives center around giving back to advisers, and that has always been a mission of mine. The more I’ve done with the Partner Project, Virtual Workshops and Mentoring, the more apparent it’s become to me that there are so many more teachers who need our assistance. Providing the help that’s needed is more than one person can do. It’s vital we continue to make these programs our top priorities. We have changed the mentoring model to include more mentors and growing that program is addressing the increasing help being requested by teachers. I’d like to see more involvement in JEA by advisers of all experience levels. We’ve added virtual training workshops to help teachers and students who are unable to attend conventions for any number of reasons. As Vice President, I deal specifically with state directors. I want to continue to work on advancing collaboration between directors in adjoining states.

My goals:

Having served as an original curriculum leader for JEA, I firmly believe this collection of lesson plans and resources is one of the greatest benefits of JEA membership. One of my goals as a board member will be to continue to highlight the curriculum and its updates as well as develop a marketing strategy that helps promote one of our greatest strengths to all members.

Working to promote a free and responsible student press should be one of our consistent priorities. We need to build on the momentum of the New Voices movement begun in several states. There is much work to be done in forging relationships with administrator associations on the state and national levels.

The crux of what we do as teachers remains constant. We teach kids how to tell stories, but we have to adapt to the different vehicles for storytelling that come with ever-changing technologies. As the leader in our field, we need to guide our members through that changing landscape. We need to constantly evaluate our programs/initiatives and add new initiatives or drop ones that are no longer effective. It’s important that we’re all open to new, innovative ideas. We need to continue to examine our convention model making sure we involve more participatory journalism activities. I’d like to explore our budget and introduce programming that is fiscally responsible and helps us remain financially healthy. Our partnerships with other professional organizations should be mutually beneficial.

As journalism educators, we have a closely-knit community. In our classrooms, we have the same types of communities growing every year. Relationships we forge last a long time. The essence of our job as journalism educators is to foster this sense of community in our schools, our towns, our states and our country. It continues to be my goal to make sure we educate the teachers, administrators, school boards, local, state and national government leaders about what we do and the citizens we’re producing. I’d like to see us grow our community of scholastic journalists in our states and across the country by fostering a sister school system to encourage collaboration among students and advisers more in depth throughout the year.

The student journalist of the year competition is one of our premiere ways of highlighting amazing scholastic journalists across the country. One of my goals is to increase participation in this competition in each state and to increase the number of states who submit a candidate for the national competition. We do a superb job of recognizing journalism educators and administrators on a national level. I’d like to see that same level of recognition happening in each state so that we might bring more attention to supporters of scholastic journalism on local and state levels.

Scholastic Press Rights

Kristin Taylor, CJE


Kristin Taylor teaches scholastic journalism at the Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles, where she advises newspaper and yearbook. She’s proud Archer has earned the First Amendment Press Freedom Award the past four years. Born and raised in New England, she began her teaching career at a public school in Connecticut in 1997 and moved to California in 2005. Her career has included public, private, religious, secular, co-ed and single-sex schools, which gives her a unique perspective on education in varying situations. Taylor is a JEA member and a 2014 ASNE Reynolds Fellow; she is applying for MJE status this spring. She has been a member of the Scholastic Press Rights Committee since 2016. She earned her Master’s in Education in 1998 but went back for second Master’s in Journalism after her fellowship at Kent State University. She presented her Kent research on press freedom at AEJMC in 2019. Taylor has led workshops at numerous National High School Journalism Conventions and served in other capacities, including being a write-off judge, coordinating featured speakers for a convention, being part of SPRC’s Tools for Truth team, blogging and co-hosting SPRC’s podcast. She is also a Nationally Board Certified English teacher.

Why I want to serve:

I believe students’ voices matter. Entering the world of scholastic journalism more than a decade into my teaching career was a revelation. Where else do students have the power to truly experience the First Amendment and understand the crucial role journalism plays in a democracy? When I took over the journalism program at my school, it was a lunch club that met once a week and produced 1-2 printed papers a year. With the guidance of my incredible mentors — Candace and John Bowen, Susan Tantillo, Sarah Nichols, Mark Goodman and more —I reinvented our program and worked with my students to develop a truly free, robust and ethical student press. Joining SPRC increased my passion for scholastic press rights and my determination to help all students, regardless of their school’s location or public or private status, to strive for true press freedom. If elected Director of SPRC, I will strive to continue the work of my predecessors to support journalism educators and empower journalism students across the country. We owe it to our students to treat them as citizens and not get in the way of them seeking truth and reporting it — even when it makes those in power uncomfortable.

My goals:

Scholastic press freedom is at the heart of JEA’s mission to “support free and responsible scholastic journalism.” If elected director of SPRC, my professional goals will mirror JEA’s core values of pedagogy, advocacy, innovation, community and excellence.

First and foremost, we are a community that exists to support our journalism education community, and my primary goal is to continue outreach to journalism educators across the country through SPRC’s website and panic button, podcast, presence at national conventions and ability to have individual conversations with advisors. To foster a free student press, advisors must be grounded in press law and ethics —understanding how benchmark First Amendment cases, New Voices laws and school status impact their students’ rights — and that can feel overwhelming. My goal is to make all that information less overwhelming. The committee includes experts in every aspect of scholastic press freedom and decades of experience dealing with everything from responding to a request for prior review to passing New Voices legislation. I want to connect advisers with questions to existing SPRC materials, members on our committee or the Student Press Law Center so they know they are not alone. As part of this goal, I want to help to revamp the current SPRC website to make it more user-friendly. This crucial website has a wealth of information and resources which are currently difficult to find; my aim would be to simplify and clarify the site’s layout.

My second goal is to continue the committee’s history of empowering students, celebrating press freedom and educating the larger community through publicizing the First Amendment Press Freedom Award, all the materials for Constitution Day and — in coordination with the Student Press Law Center — the progress and passage of New Voices laws. Celebrating excellence and spotlighting key legislation encourages more schools to participate and increases awareness of student press freedom.

My final goal is to increase our outreach to school administrators. We know that the people most likely to oppose New Voices legislation are school leaders. While some may be intractable, I believe others would support free and responsible student publications if they understood more about them and saw what is possible. Quill and Scroll would like to partner with SPRC to update the “Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism” online, which is an important step. I would also like to gather testimonials from administrators across the country who do not participate in prior review and restraint and feature these supportive administrative voices online and on the podcast. Finally, I plan to reach out to school leaders’ magazines and conventions to find ways to showcase why school leaders should empower, not censor, their student journalists.

Educational Initiatives

Shari Adwers, MJE


Shari Adwers, MJE is currently a Curriculum Coordinator for JEA. She spent the first 20 years of her career in Michigan, where she taught English and journalism, advised a bi-weekly broadsheet newspaper, yearbook, online media and literary magazine in Grosse Pointe. She has advised both small and large staffs (and one as a middle school club), and her young journalists have won countless awards at state and national levels.

With degrees in education and English and a master’s degree in curriculum, instruction and assessment, Adwers understands the place journalism has in the Common Core curriculum. She worked with district administrators in Grosse Pointe to implement and grow new programs and ensured students received English and arts credits for those courses. In her final two years there, her students were awarded JEA’s First Amendment Press Freedom Award.

Now in her second year in Virginia, Adwers advises newsmagazine, online news and broadcast journalism — a program in its first year at her school. Her broadcast students are part of PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs.

Adwers has been teaching at state and national conventions since 2006 and served on the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association as trustee, first vice president and president. When not at school, Adwers loves to travel, cook, read and spend time outdoors with her husband, Ryan and their two dogs.

Why I want to serve:

I became involved with JEA’s Curriculum Initiative at its inception in 2013 because I wanted to become more involved in and give back to the organization that has helped me throughout my advising career. I am passionate about journalism’s place in academics and the benefits of a strong, meaningful, appropriate journalism curriculum. There are simply lifelong skills students gain from our programs that they don’t get anywhere else.

Over the past six years, I’ve watched our curriculum develop and worked with the Curriculum Initiative team on what was initially conceived to be a living curriculum, constantly evolving as media and our needs as educators change. We’ve worked to ensure it’s not only user friendly for our members but relevant to students and aligned to national standards. We now have new challenges, and I want to ensure we continue to serve our membership through JEA’s education initiatives by providing the resources, mentorship and professional support they need in a climate where journalism and journalism educators face growing criticism.

My goals:

Help teachers thrive
Our organization’s top priority is teachers, so our pedagogy must support them at every level. Through mentorship, administrative outreach and expanding training opportunities, we can strengthen journalism educators’ skills and the role of the adviser, thus helping them avoid burnout and turnover. Everything we do should help teachers to better support scholastic journalism and promote the unique skills a journalism curriculum brings to the academic arena.

Promote scholastic journalism
The future of our democracy depends on media literacy and a quality journalism education. We must advocate for student press rights, journalism’s place in a rigorous curriculum, media literacy in the classroom, quality teacher training and mentorship. turnover.

Provide for all situations
Our educational initiative must be forward-thinking to bring resources to teachers and advisers in ways that support the future of education, whether that is Project Based Learning or Personalized Learning, in or out of the classroom. We know all programs are different — from clubs to multi-year programs, yearbook to broadcast, small schools to large and staffs in single-digits to those of over 100. Through tailored mentorship, curricular coaching and educational partnerships, we can address every unique situation and support our members.

Build new partnerships
Our JEA community has built some strong and beneficial partnerships in the academic and professional journalism community. It’s critical to continue to expand our network to support our educators, their students and the role of journalism in our democracy. It is equally important to bring new advisers into the JEA fold as active participants at every level. New voices with fresh ideas will help us innovate and serve our membership and the students we teach.

Maintain excellence
What is impressive about the JEA membership is the high bar its members set for themselves and their students. We must reflect those high standards through the educational initiatives and resources we provide our members. Our offerings must be able to compete with the other journalism educational opportunities of schools and corporations nationwide. My vision is to expand offerings to allow a more flexible use of our resources and update materials and examples to keep them fresh and relevant. In addition, we must support advisers and teachers through curricular coaching, mentorship and educational opportunities to help them grow their skills and expand journalism and media literacy in their schools.

Directors At Large

Barbara Bateman, CJE


Barbara Bateman, CJE, has been a journalism adviser for ten years. Bateman is a Reynolds High School Journalism Institute/ASNE Fellow and attended the 2013 Summer institute at UT-Austin. She was Youth Journalism International Educator of the Year for 2015. In 2016, she was co-Adviser of the Year for the Alabama Scholastic Press Association. In the Spring of 2017, Bateman was the recipient of JEA’s Diversity Award. She is currently the vice president of the Alabama Scholastic Press Association. Bateman has presented numerous sessions at JEA/NSPA conventions and ASPA covering topics about diversity, team building, small staffs, and working with administration. She has been published in several trade publications. Bateman currently teaches at Daphne (Alabama) High School, where she advises the yearbook, newspaper, and literary magazine. She is also pursuing her Ed.D. through the University of Southern Mississippi and expects to graduate in December of 2022. A devoted Harry Potter fan, Bateman also is the Gryffindor Head of House for Daphne High School’s Quidditch team, the Daphne Dementors. In her free time, she enjoys kickboxing and taekwondo, and she is on the slow track to earning her black belt. She was 2018 State Champion in Traditional Sparring, Forms, and Combat Weapons.

Why I want to serve:

I can honestly say, the only reason I have been able to help my students successfully create and publish their publications is because of the support I have received from JEA and its members. I have always believed that as educators we need to model the behavior we want from our students. If I want my students to step-up and become leaders on their publications, I need to step-up and volunteer to become a leader as well. After ten years of advising, I believe it is time for me give back to JEA. There have been times where I sat back and observed what was happening, either on the listserv or at membership meetings during conventions, and I realized that smaller programs often don’t have as strong as voice as larger, established programs. I would like to help give voice to those smaller programs. As we struggle to bring more diversity to newsrooms across the country, it is important to remember that those small programs without a strong voice, are often in areas that are not represented in newsrooms.

My goals:

First, and foremost, my most important my goal is to support new and struggling advisers. The curriculum that JEA members have created and shared with all members is without a doubt the best reason for advisers to join. The unfortunate problem is that new advisers often do not know about JEA and its resources. One of my goals is to reach out to areas where JEA membership is low to showcase the curriculum and all it has to offer.

As news outlets around the country are under attack, I believe it is our place to showcase the need for strong, fair, accurate journalism and its place in society. Through strong, purposeful student-led publications we can demonstrate that the skills our students learn are lifelong lessons on how to communicate and be critical thinkers. Student publications allow for student voices to be heard. We must advocate for them, because if we don’t them have a voice now, when will they find it?

The basics of good journalism stays the same- accuracy, impartiality, accountability, and humanity. What has changed is the way journalism is created and published. It is imperative that JEA continue to adapt to new journalism media. To do that, we need to consider ways to expand our partnerships not just on a national or state level, but simply within our districts and schools. This year I have recruited students from drama and chorus to my program because those are students that have poise, vocal skills, and work ethic. We should not limit ourselves to only partnerships with journalism and English organizations.

By choosing to look beyond the English classroom during our recruitment drives, I am opening doors with educators and club sponsors. Every time I speak to another faculty member is another opportunity to build a relationship between the programs. Every time a journalism student is on assignment, is another opportunity to highlight the community. Every time we tell someone’s story, we are building our community. Journalism tells people that their stories matter. It is my goal that JEA help programs build their community as we continue to build ours through outreach and innovative partnerships. There is no simple way to do this as every program has different needs. I would like to find a way for advisers to better network based on their specific needs.

As a small publication adviser, this one is a struggle for me. My students and I attend conventions and see work product that is excellent. Those students who are recognized routinely come from phenomenal programs and deserve every bit of recognition they receive. I do want to find ways to better acknowledge smaller, struggling programs. I wrote an article about leveling the playing field in scholastic journalism competitions. I would like to find a way for JEA to recognize the small staffs. The journalism student who doesn’t get to specialize in writing, photography or design, but does all three of those on a regular basis is often over-shadowed at conventions and competitions by students who, because of their program size, are able to focus on a specific skill set and truly develop it. I understand that we should not have our students focused purely on awards, but in my district, that is how the worthiness of any program is measured. I am not advocating every student get a trophy. I am advocating that we acknowledge 1A schools are competing against 7A schools or a staff of 4 is competing against a staff of 150. We need to acknowledge that excellence comes in many forms.

Phillip Caston


Phillip Caston is adviser of Wando High School’s Legend yearbook in Mount Pleasant, S.C. He has advised student publications for 14 years, but journalism has been a part of his life since high school. He later served two years as editor in chief of Clemson University’s student newspaper, and he received his Master’s in Journalism from the University of Maryland. Caston worked as a cops reporter for two years at the Charleston Post and Courier before transitioning into education. He began his teaching career as adviser of the J.L. Mann High School newspaper, where he and his students won the Joseph W. Shoquist Freedom of the Press Award for an investigation into the school administration’s misuse of Spirit Week charity funds. The administration unsuccessfully attempted to censor their work. Caston was named the 2012 South Carolina Adviser of the Year by the S.C. Scholastic Press Association, and he has produced four South Carolina Scholastic Journalists of the Year. In 2016, Caston’s yearbook students won a Platinum Hermes International Marketing Award alongside Time Warner, Pepsi, and Sony Pictures for a project they made for the Town of Mount Pleasant. Caston lives in Charleston with his wife and two dogs.

Why I want to serve:

I believe journalism education is more important now than it has ever been in American history. With an ever-changing variety of platforms, growing mistrust from the public, a decline in print media, the rise of fake news, and relentless attacks from politicians, we absolutely must produce sound, ethical, and fearless young journalists who are prepared to strengthen the profession. I believe this begins with program building. One of my passions in teaching scholastic journalism is helping other schools build their programs through strong recruiting and a culture that students love. The focus on program building is, in my opinion, paramount—once established, the emphasis on the mechanics of journalism will fall into place to create a solid product. With journalism classes falling on the chopping block and guidance departments pushing students in other directions, strong journalism programs are needed to lure talented students and cultivate an environment that will change their lives. If elected, I would work toward creating and improving these climates at journalism programs throughout the country, especially in coaching and guiding new advisers to build strong bases of recruiting, culture-building, and presence at their schools. When we load journalism programs with eager, talented students, their impact cannot be ignored.

My goals:

My goal for JEA is to strengthen scholastic journalism programs and reputation through strong recruiting, program-building, and fearless, ethical coverage. To translate this into JEA’s core values:

Pedagogy: Advocating more classes and workshops geared toward program-building at NSPA conferences. These classes would include adviser-only strategic seminars as well as courses that would teach student leaders how to boost membership and staff culture. JEA already does a superb job of providing sound technical journalistic resources; I would like to see additional focus on the structure, morale, and staff dynamics of scholastic journalism programs.

Advocacy: Cultivating outreach programs directed at school administrators to teach them the value of strong journalism programs at their schools. I would like to see JEA explore hosting select administrators from different schools for each NSPA conference, preferably at the request of their advisers. We could invite principals from schools where administrative support has been lacking for journalism programs. Bolstering administrative backing for our cause through positive outreach is imperative.

Innovation: Exploring unconventional ideas and strategies to attract students to journalism programs and carrying out their day-to-day operations for a unique environment. For example, exploring bold marketing strategies that are proven to catch students’ attention, such as athletic-style banners for seniors on staff. Or unusual competitive teambuilding activities that increase connectivity among staff members while also attracting more competitive students to the program. JEA could explore pilot programs at volunteer schools to implement these methods and then collect data on recruiting numbers and staff retention over a span of a few years to see what works. I track similar data points with my staff over the years to monitor growth, and would love to show other schools how to do the same.

Community: Creating more resources members can access online for these purposes, such as marketing guides created by professionals in the field (scholastic journalism programs need to utilize marketing more), recruiting plans and strategies, templates for staff structure and hierarchy, teambuilding resources, staff contracts and editor in chief selection/training processes, etc. JEA has an awesome program of connecting experienced advisers with advisers and staffs who need guidance via web conference; I would like to include more of these topics in those seminars.

Excellence: Recognizing programs and advisers who have seen substantial growth in their program’s numbers, accolades and awards, and diversity. We could explore creating an award and recognizing these programs/advisers at NSPA conventions. Advisers who work actively to build up a journalism program should be recognized for successful efforts. Programs could apply for the award by submitting concrete data (numbers, awards won, etc.) and also submitting a portfolio of concepts used to build the program.

Brenda Field, MJE


Brenda Field, MJE, teaches at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, Illinois where she has advised the yearbook for the past 18 years. She spent the first five years of her advising career at Riverside | Brookfield High School in Riverside, Illinois. She has served as the JEA state director for Illinois since 2014. She is also a board member of the Illinois Journalism Education Association, and she coordinates the yearbook contest for the Northern Illinois Scholastic Press Association. In 2016, she helped spearhead the effort that resulted in the passage of the Speech Rights of Student Journalists Act in Illinois, and in 2018 she was the local chair for the fall JEA/NSPA national convention in Chicago.

Field earned a B.A. in journalism, English and education from the University of Iowa and an M.A. in English from Northeastern Illinois University. She regularly teaches at summer workshops for both students and advisers.

Field has been honored with JEA’s Medal of Merit and NSPA’s Pioneer Award. In 2017, she was the National Yearbook Adviser of the Year. She has also received the James Tidwell Award for Excellence in Scholastic Media Education from IJEA and has been inducted into the IJEA Hall of Fame.

Why I want to serve:

As an adviser, I’ve been really lucky. When I was an undergrad at the University of Iowa, my student teaching supervisor connected me with JEA. I attended my first convention a couple months into my first year of teaching. Right out of the gate, I had incredible formal and informal mentors. I knew where to turn when I had a question or problem.

I know, however, that my story is uncommon. For myriad reasons, many advisers feel disconnected. Some don’t know about JEA. Some do, but they can’t imagine ever making it to a convention. Some have been involved with JEA for years but don’t recognize what they have to contribute. It’s easy to feel alone as an adviser no matter your experience or access. I would love to serve in this position because I want to give back to an organization that has been a lifeline throughout my career, but especially because I know there are advisers out there who need the sort of support and encouragement I’ve enjoyed. I’d like to do what I can to connect advisers with our organization, with each other and with their own potential.

My goals:

On the first day of school and again at open house, I tell my students and their parents that I can’t imagine having a teaching job that didn’t include advising. I’ve been a publications adviser for as long as I’ve been a teacher, so that’s part of it, but it’s also that I can’t imagine a more fulfilling teaching role. Guiding students through the process of working as a team to create something lasting and meaningful for a real audience allows advisers to witness moments of authentic connection and learning. There’s nothing else like it.

Still, many advisers struggle to find support. Many administrators don’t get it.

One of my goals as a director-at-large would be to advocate for New Voices legislation as well as to provide support for programs where press freedom is being suppressed. Working to pass legislation in Illinois has taught me that it’s only the first step. Ongoing education of stakeholders is imperative. Laws on the books are important, but they don’t represent the end of the process.

I would also like to continue to build on what JEA has been doing to reach out to advisers who struggle to connect with the organization’s mainstream programming. I love how the Partner Project allows JEA to reach out to underserved communities, but I believe there’s more we can do here. I would love to see this program expand.

As an organization, JEA is always looking forward. I’m challenged and inspired by the work JEA advisers do, and I would love the opportunity to help drive the organization’s innovation moving forward. Other goals I have relate to questions I’d love to ask. How can we build and expand our adviser community? Leading a local committee for a national convention taught me how much potential there is out there. How can we draw more voices into the conversation? How can we prevent advisers from feeling alone by connecting them with resources and mentors, both formal and informal? How can we inspire and promote excellence?

Our democracy depends on journalism, and it’s never been more important than now to build a strong foundation of understanding for students. Support for students begins with support for advisers.

I’m an observer and a listener. These traits would serve me well as a director-at-large. I want to be a conduit for ideas. JEA is an incredible organization, and I’d love the opportunity to help it grow even further.

Michael Malcom-Bjorklund, CJE


Michael Malcom-Bjorklund, CJE, is the journalism adviser at Columbia High School in Lake City, Fla., where he advises both the Columbian yearbook and Columbian Media Television. With a degree in journalism, master’s in education, and a dozen design awards under his belt from his 16-year career in the media industry, Malcom-Bjorklund proudly serves as both the JEA director-at-large and District 2 director for the Florida Scholastic Press Association. Additionally, Malcom-Bjorklund earned the distinction of becoming a JEA Mentor and local committee member for the 2020 fall convention in Orlando. Malcom-Bjorklund is completing his MJE project to secure his status as a Master Journalism Educator this upcoming spring in Nashville. Over the years, Malcom-Bjorklund served as a lead judge for National Student Media Contents, volunteered at Quiz Bowl, served as an expert for Break with a Pro, critiqued publications both at national conventions and various state associations, contributed to the Journalism Education Today and acted as session speaker. Last fall, Malcom-Bjorklund assisted in restructuring the CTE journalism framework at the state level. As a journalist, Malcom-Bjorklund worked as a reporter, editor, copy editor, design editor, and web producer at the Sun-Times Media and Scripps Howard news organizations.


Why I want to serve:

Just about 30-months ago, I received a phone call from JEA President Sarah Nichols that changed my scholastic journalism life forever. To understand, you must first know the why. See, I was part of a massive Sun-Times Media purge in 2010. I lost my job, my passion. I never thought I would ever be a part of the journalism world again. Then, I found JEA. It was a reawakening — a rebirth. Let’s be clear — America needs journalists, and I need journalism. The media world gave my life meaning, guidance — hope. Since then, I’ve made it a personal mission to give back. To share my experiences. To assist those new to the association. To aide the next wave of journalists through speaking, critiquing, judging, and volunteering at every possible chance. To mentor those who feel lost, confused, or alone. My wife thinks I’m crazy for the amount of time and energy I spend serving the incredible advisers, students, and staff of both the Journalism Education Association and Florida Scholastic Press Association. I call it giving back. Long ago, I promised myself that after my professional career was over, I wanted to share my experiences as an educator because if it weren’t for my teachers shining the light for me, I wouldn’t see my path. Journalism isn’t a job or even a career — it’s a calling, and in this position, you want someone who believes deeply in the mission, goals, and most importantly, the people of this association.

My goals:

When I think about the progress this current board has amassed over the past three years, I smile. The goals we set and what we’ve been able to accomplish is pretty special. However, I know to maintain the expectations and quality

For me, I’d like to continue strengthening JEA Link. It’s a project that is near and dear to me. As I/ve expressed over the years, when I first joined JEA and attended my first convention, it was overwhelming, and I didn’t know anyone. I needed a buddy, a guide, or someone that could help navigate me through the programming. With the addition of Link at conventions, we’ve expanded the reach of matching first-time convention attendees and JEA veterans. Additionally, I have aspirations of developing LInk to other facets of the organization. A primary goal of this organization, providing consistent and robust guidance, allows our new members the opportunity to strengthen their skills while navigating through their first years of advising.

Next, as a broadcast adviser, a second goal I would like to initiate is the expansion of the broadcasting presence within the organization. Although secure, I believe we can still expand our offerings to our members, whether that be in the form of curriculum and research materials. We have some of the most fantastic broadcast advisers in the country as members, but for some programs, our convention isn’t the one they mark on the calendar. I believe it’s an area we can strengthen.

Lastly, as a former middle school adviser, I would like to develop further the curriculum push initiated by Curriculum Director Megan Fromm with regards to differentiating our already-amazing curriculum for middle school students. Although middle school students only make up a small but mighty portion of JEA’s attendees at annual conventions, many advisers need assistance in building their programs daily, whether it be in a journalism class or after-school club. We truly must help cultivate our young scholastic journalists before arrival at the high school level. So, we must continue to look at our initiatives, programming, sessions, and contests while including the expertise from our talented, award-winning advisers.

Katie Merritt, MJE


Katie Merritt, MJE is the Media Arts Adviser at Darlington School in Rome, Ga. She holds a B.A. in Communication from the University of South Florida (Tampa) and multiple certifications and endorsements. She advises Darlingtonian.com, the Jabberwokk yearbook, and Inkslinger literary magazine. Prior to her move to Rome, she taught Intro to Journalism, Speech and Debate, Social Media and advised six volumes of the award-winning Odyssey yearbook at Steinbrenner High School (Lutz, Fla.), where she was selected as the 2016-2017 Teacher of the Year. The same year, she was nominated for the District 4 Florida Scholastic Press Association (FSPA) Teacher of the Year. Merritt served on the board for FSPA, the Florida local planning committee for the 2014 Fall National Convention, as a judge for NSPA, CSPA and FSPA and has led sessions at local and national workshops. Along with building award-winning publication staffs, Merritt created and implemented an in-house photography studio and curriculum for beginning and intermediate photographers to handle all school portraits and photography. Merritt lives on campus with her three cats, serves as a residential faculty member for boarding students from around the world and likes to throw axes in her free time.

Why I want to serve:

Attending the 2014 Fall National Convention changed my life as an adviser. No longer was I alone in my little journalism world as the only person at my school doing what I do. Since then my goal has been to bring advisers together for support, education and camaraderie. After relocating to another state I realized how much I missed my local journalism family. Working through my new state scholastic press association, local publication reps, local secondary institutions and while attending workshops I was able to connect with advisers nearby to start building a network of new and experienced advisers from multiple levels of publications in an effort to strengthen the local journalism community. Support from other journalism advisers is incredibly important to continuing our pursuit of scholastic journalism. Without the mentorship of experienced advisers there will be a continual turnover of potentially great advisers. Meeting new advisers is one of my favorite parts of conventions because I want to provide them with the same support I needed and got by joining JEA.

My goals:

As educators we cannot do our job without support. When you are the only person who does what you do, finding people who can understand and support you is of the utmost importance. If elected as a Director-at-Large, my primary focus would be helping new advisers understand the importance of scholastic journalism and a free student press as well as how to deal with administration and parent or community involvement. Often times it is an “informal” education we learn as advisers, especially when scholastic journalism is not always a priority in many schools. By welcoming new advisers and providing a digital “starter kit” along with mentorship, we can make the transition from teacher to adviser easier and assist new advisers with the inevitable speed bumps they are bound to encounter.

Secondly, I would focus on continuing education for experienced advisers. Many advisers, a few years into their role, feel that they have hit a wall and don’t know how to become stronger advisers. By arranging a mentoring progression, these advisers can transition from a new adviser mentor to a mentor with varying experience who can help them continue to improve themselves and their publication staffs, whether they wish to focus on building a larger program, managing their grading or creating an award-winning program.

Finally, I would focus on working to prevent burn-out of more experienced advisers who may be nearing retirement and ready to pass on their programs. This would circle back to new advisers and a gradual release of programs. Many of us have been in the position of taking over a program from a beloved adviser and dealing with the turmoil of frustrated students. Using these events as an opportunity to build trust between students, advisers, and administration can strengthen programs to continually excel.

Creating an outreach network of advisers of varying levels, beyond just social media groups would provide the opportunity for advisers of all levels to continue their scholastic journalism education, support their students’ growth by encouraging them to submit their work for competitions and contests and embrace diversity within their programs and their communities, despite their school population.
Support and professional growth requires a village of educators from varying backgrounds and experiences. By working beyond our own programs, we can continue to support the growth and development of all advisers and help them on their path to success in scholastic journalism.

Laura Negri, CJE


Laura Kenny Negri was born in Richmond, Indiana, the fifth has of seven children in a home filled with books, pets, music, PBS and humor. The family moved to Texarkana, Texas, when she was in fifth grade. She was editor of the Texas High School newspaper. She attended the University of Texas at Austin and earned a degree in the Plan II Honors Liberal Arts program and worked at Texas Architect magazine.

She and husband Thomas moved to Carthage, Texas, where she worked as a reporter and learned photography at the Panola Watchman, a twin-weekly newspaper. There she laid out pages, processed photos in the darkroom and reported on everything from board meetings to crime to oddly-shaped vegetables. After six years, she obtained her Texas teachers license and became an English and journalism teacher, first in Center, then at Carthage High.

Nineteen years ago, she moved with her husband and three daughters to Houston, where she advises the newspaper and yearbook at Alief Kerr High School, a nontraditional public school. She added career and technology classes to her course schedule 10 years ago.

She is active with the Texas Association of Journalism Advisers and the Association of Texas Photography Instructors.

Why I want to serve:

When I applied to fill an unexpired term on the board, I said I could bring a valuable perspective to JEA because most of my experience as a publications adviser has been at a Title I school with a small, diverse program; I understand the challenges provided by low enrollment, a lack of funding and little community support. Income disparity is, I believe, a very real factor in comparing journalism programs, and it is imperative now to ensure low-income and minority voices are represented in public discourse. I know the skills taught in our classrooms translate to the real world, and that we are equipping students with the tools for not just careers but also citizenship and advocacy.

After serving for a little over a year, I have learned even more about the value of JEA to advisers, particularly those who are new to the job and those who have gotten here by an unconventional route. This community of journalism teachers is so generous in sharing resources and experience, as well as providing guidance and mentorship in creating and maintaining journalistic standards for our students. I want to continue to represent and support members of this amazing community.

My goals:

As a director-at-large, I want to increase utilization of curriculum resources, particularly by advisers who do not come from a journalism background. JEA has set high standards for advisers and programs; the curriculum and guidance we provide are based on these standards. Advisers need to know what we have to offer, why it is important, and how to support those standards in their own publications.

I also want to continue to develop resources for Career and Technology programs. We have a start with the information on beginning a CTE journalism program; but the differences state-to-state in program and certification requirements means we have to provide more detailed information, working with our own state organizations and CTE organizations to connect our members with the right resources. Our members also need curriculum specifically aligned to CTE standards, whether by identifying existing lessons in our curriculum resources that fit those standards or by writing new lessons.

I want to increase the number of students and advisers taking CTE-related exams at conventions and JEA events. The exams are valuable for both CTE and language arts programs to demonstrate the technology skills that are used in publications classrooms; the Adobe certifications are industry recognized. CTE programs often require such professional certifications, and JEA offers them at a low cost. I believe more members would take advantage of the testing if they knew more about the purpose, content and utility of the tests.

I want to work with states, including my own, that are pursuing New Voices legislation. We need to educate administrators and community members that teens’ free expression should be valued and supported. We need to identify state lawmakers who will work to pass legislation recognizing that, as well as developing a base of student leaders to be the voice of this movement.

I would look for ways to create a “virtual convention,” to use video and the internet to bring some of the high-quality instruction available at a national convention to schools that cannot afford to attend. Sessions presented at convention could be recorded and posted for members with curriculum units aligned to the content. Each convention could add three or four lessons to a growing library of material for supplementary instruction, substitute plans or basic tools.

I want expand outreach to low-income and minority-majority schools. The Outreach Academy and the Partner Project are already reaching some of those advisers and schools; I would like to see those programs grow and to build membership in Title I schools through mentorships to connect those advisers with those other JEA resources.

Erin Sucher-O’Grady, CJE


Erin Sucher-O’Grady, CJE, teaches journalism and advises at Clayton High School in Clayton, Missouri. She has also served as the Missouri State Director for JEA since 2015. Sucher-O’Grady has participated as an instructor for the JEA Partner Project and JEA Virtual Workshops, as well as serving at JEA/NSPA national conventions as both a presenter and judge.

Sucher-O’Grady’s’ background in journalism started as a journalism student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and continued into the field as a writer and production assistant in St. Louis after graduation. Sucher-O’Grady earned her M.A. in Communication Arts and Education Certification from Webster University in 2009, and is currently completing an M.A. in American Culture Studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

Sucher-O’Grady’s students have been honored with numerous NSPA Pacemakers and CSPA Crown Awards for both their print and digital work, and have also been recognized twice with the NSPA Brasler Prize and the Robert Kennedy Human Rights Award.

Sucher-O’Grady has been honored with MJEA’s Teacher of the Year Award, JEA’s Rising Star Award, CSPA’s Dow Jones News Fund Distinguished Adviser Award and the JEA Diversity Award.

Why I want to serve:

It was a trip to Omaha, Nebraska that piqued my interest in running for the JEA Board. This fall, I worked as an instructor for the JEA Partner Project and returned home feeling uplifted. The opportunity to contribute and build connections with other JEA advisers felt good for the soul.

The chance to share knowledge and empower advisers, so that they can empower their students, this is why JEA exists.

And this is the lens that I would bring to the JEA board. Are the decisions we make in service to these goals? And when we are making decisions in service to these goals, I see myself as part of the team dedicated to figuring out how we can bring them to life, so that we can positively impact the most people within the organization.

Specifically, as a Board member, I would bring a keen interest in making sure that JEA continues to broaden its support to include a more diverse collection of students and teachers. Additionally, consideration for how our JEA curriculum might reflect a shifting state in journalism and media which demands cultural responsiveness, while also operating in a siloed landscape.

My goals:

My goal is to figure out how I can best be of service to the mission of JEA. JEA is an organization I believe is powerful it its’ ability to support journalism teachers throughout the country. America Needs Journalists. America Also Needs Journalism Teachers. Ones that feel powerful in their ability to positively impact their communities and give their students the tools they need to do so.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote that if he had to choose between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Jefferson knew that all governments, even the grand experiment of American democracy, if not checked by an educated citizenry, would inevitably become corrupt.

Our job of educating a citizenry, in an era of a fractured and siloed journalism, is more important than ever. It is essential that we provide our JEA educators with the knowledge to build trustworthy and disciplined newsrooms.

As an organization, we currently provide these tools in many forms: from excellent curricular resources, to mentoring, to student contests. We need to continue in those efforts as our media landscape continues to change and be ready to adapt to the needs of our JEA educators.

My staff has successfully addressed sensitive, serious and controversial topics in our community without a state law protecting them or myself. I bring experience guiding students through tricky legal and ethical situations, and until we are able to cure Hazelwood nationwide, I hope to bring that experience to the JEA Board so that we can help schools who must operate in precarious positions.

Among the issues that my staff has taken on have been topics addressing issues of equity and diversity. My current coursework at Washington University in St. Louis through the American Culture Studies program often centers around issues of American inequalities — through lenses of race, gender, socioeconomic status. These are the same issues we grapple with as an educational community. JEA is not as diverse as we would like for it to be, because our social and national structures have spread out access to educational opportunities in a way that is not equitable. And while our ability to dismantle this national structure is limited, we can make strides, through awareness, outreach and programs like the Partner Project or JEA Virtual Workshops, that can bring resources to schools and teachers who do not have them. We need more innovative ideas like these.

Ultimately, if we are to uphold our most fundamental role as a part of American democracy we must be constantly considering how we engage our members, and their students, to embrace these values and inform their communities. We must create student journalists that are prepared to serve in the difficult role of informing a distracted and fractured nation, and support the teachers that will take them there.

How do we do that? I don’t have the answers. I’m not sure any of us do, but I understand the importance of the role that we should serve and it is my goal to make sure that that is the lens at the forefront of the choices we make and the initiatives we promote as a JEA organization.

Sarah Verpooten, MJE


Sarah Verpooten, MJE, advises a converged program at Lake Central High School in St. John, Indiana, a suburb of Chicago. Working with two other advisers, she understands the magic that happens when collaboration and scholastic journalism live in the same space.

Sarah entered the JEA world as a high school senior attending the 1997 fall convention in St. Louis. After two years of college, she had a “quarter-life crisis” and, after immediately calling her own high school adviser Nancy Hastings, decided she really wanted to advise. She earned her degree in journalism, education and psychology, started at Lake Central in 2002 and hasn’t looked back. Best. Decision. Ever.

Sarah was honored as Indiana High School Press Association’s 2014 teacher of the year, was among the first group of JEA Rising Stars in 2006 and was a 2017 Special Recognition adviser. She has served as president of IHSPA, taught workshops around the Midwest, chaired JEA’s Day of Doing initiative, served on convention committees for Chicago and Indianapolis, judged for multiple states and was inducted into the Ball State University workshops Hall of Fame. Sarah also spends more time than she cares to admit fan-girling Harry Potter and stalking rescue dog websites.

Why I want to serve:

Quite simply, I want to serve on the JEA board because I love advisers and I love what we get to do every day.

Like many of you, it is my privilege to build a space in my classroom where kids can learn, feel at home and produce excellent work. There is nothing like a journalism classroom and I’m constantly amazed at all of us who build environments and systems that empower kids. We show up; we make room for their voices, and they use them — day in and day out. We’re so used to our routine that we forget how amazing this simple act really is.

I would take the same approach as a board member. I want to show up for JEA. I want to listen and open the table and make room for more people to feel at home. I want to give space to use each of our voices to make this organization, and ultimately, journalism classrooms across the country better. And while we’re in the trenches of budget reports and meeting minutes, I’d like to look around and remind us all that this is worth it, that JEA really is an amazing organization.

My goals:

I can find a Harry Potter reference for anything.

Throughout the series, the Defense Against the Dark Arts teaching position was cursed. Year after year, someone new would come in to teach the class and quit by June. The horrible teachers? Dead, hospitalized, and went to work for the government (ha!). The great teachers? Run off by parents and moved on to administration.

Hogwarts needed to work on teacher retention.

Across the country we face the same challenge in education, and even moreso in journalism classrooms. New teachers, untrained teachers, veteran teachers — we’re all at risk of burn out and stats show high turnover.

In some schools this job can feel like the cursed position. That’s a problem. We need to work to train and keep journalism educators in the classroom. To that end, each of my goals work toward developing quality teachers for each journalism program through connections, community and curriculum.

When I entered my classroom nearly 20 years ago, I didn’t realize the gift I was given in having another adviser next door; we have supported one another, laughed together and pushed each other. I know we can’t put two journalism teachers in each school, but we can work to make connections. I’d love to see PLCs put together of advisers in similar situations; virtual meetings could build both community and teaching excellence as well as provide a looser, more relational style of mentoring and relationship. Once established, advisers could meet up at national conventions, even just over coffee, to continue the conversation. While the sessions are invaluable, this intentional time together could be life-giving to advisers in crisis mode or to those who need a little push.

One of the key ways we can continue to make each other better is to evaluate programming. Through the lens of what makes teachers and programs stronger, we need to gather data on what JEA initiatives our members find valuable and what JEA could do to better serve. This is where bringing new voices and listening to all members is necessary. Not every program is the same and we need to cater to schools as diverse as the country itself. Every school deserves a vibrant journalism program.

With that in mind, I’d love to see JEA expand its outreach and advocacy to underrepresented areas with the message that journalism education is the best method to offer students every one of the 21st Century Skills that principals tout. We need to plant programs throughout the country and support them with teachers, mentor teachers and curriculum to give voice to students whose stories are not being told. JEA can partner with yearbook representatives, who are in schools every day, to pinpoint programs that are ready to grow.

Because simply expanding isn’t enough.
We need expansion paired with excellence to create sustainable programs with teachers who stick around and who get excited about the opportunities journalism provides to kids.
No more constant turnover.
No more cursed position.

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