Advisers, best friends share 2006 Yearbook Adviser of the Year

Written by Evan Blackwell, CJE

For almost 15 years, Dan Austin and Pete LeBlanc have been best friends.

Much of that friendship centers around a shared profession. Both are award-winning yearbook advisers at high schools in the Sacramento area. Even more of it is based on shared philosophies of teaching journalism.

But how did it begin? It began with a simple concept that guys everywhere can relate to perfectly.

“We shared a lot of things in common – movies, books,” said Austin. “But mostly, it was a love of football.”

That’s right. Football. It was one of the first bonds the two advisers discovered they had, once they met and became friends while hanging out at the national scholastic journalism conventions.

“Yeah, but I’m a Patriots fan, and he’s a Broncos fan,” said LeBlanc.

So, maybe there are some differences. But the similarities can’t be missed.

Austin, the yearbook adviser at Casa Roble High School in Orangevale, Calif., and LeBlanc, the adviser at Center High School in Antelope, Calif., have both created successful yearbook programs at their respective schools. And they’ve done it, in part, by leaning on each other for help and advice.

“We just synergize,” said Austin. “When you get two people that feed off each other the way we do, it just works.”

That is why it made sense that the two friends were honored together by the JEA in December, with both being named 2006 Yearbook Advisers of the Year. It was only the second time in history that two advisers shared the award in the same year.

“It’s all very humbling,” said LeBlanc, the adviser at Center High School in Antelope, Calif. “You never really expect such a huge honor.”

Austin and LeBlanc actually both submitted their application portfolios for the award a few years ago. Even though they did not win, they were kept in consideration. This past year, the two finished 1-2 in the voting. The JEA, fully aware of the relationship between the two and their proximity to each other, chose to honor both.

On the same day in December, the JEA held its traditional award ceremonies for Austin and LeBlanc at their schools, surprising them at faculty meetings. In a unique situation, the Sacramento area was already home to several past yearbook advisers of the year, including Paul Ender, Jim Jordan and Casey Nichols. All were in attendance to honor Austin and LeBlanc.

“When you see guys like that who have been doing this job so well for such a long time and have established such a strong tradition, it was really overwhelming,” said LeBlanc.

Even before they became co-Yearbook Advisers of the Year, Austin and LeBlanc became quite a teaching tandem, holding sessions together at local and regional workshops. Their classes utilize their specialties – Austin’s knowledge of copy writing and LeBlanc’s expertise at design and packaging.

The ideas about writing, design and putting that whole package together that Austin and LeBlanc now teach to their students were born from discussions the two had years ago when they were both the new, young guys in the business just getting started.

Austin said both of them were anxious to become advocates of bringing about some progressive changes to yearbook.

“We both had specific ideas about yearbook. We thought it was a little bit stale in the community,” said Austin. “That’s why we started creating our presentations that were more interactive, especially in coverage where we tried to teach more creative storytelling.”

It didn’t take long for their unique views and skill sets to blend together, and for their sessions to become extremely popular. The way LeBlanc describes it, his presentation with Austin is all about “the marriage between copy and design, and the dependence of that relationship.”

Most importantly, both Austin and LeBlanc said what they love about working with high school publications is the real-world experience and creativity they get to foster with their students. According to LeBlanc, pushing the kids into creating a product that they really care about is a unique experience in today’s high schools.

“One of my things is always trying to make sure we’re pushing kids in original directions, so they’re not just doing a book that looks like every other school,” said LeBlanc. “I hate it when I see kids looking at last year’s book for ideas.”

Austin and LeBlanc will be honored together during the same awards ceremony at the Spring National High School Journalism Convention in Denver next month. And that just seems fitting.

“These are the people – the yearbook community – that I have so much respect for. To be honored by them, it’s very affirming and very humbling,” said Austin. “That I get to share an award like this with my best friend makes it even better.”

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Evan Blackwell, CJE

Evan Blackwell, CJE, is the Marketing Automation Supervisor for Walsworth. He's been a writer, editor and web content specialist for Walsworth for the past 15+ years, and is the author of the Yearbook Suite's "The Art of the Interview" unit. Prior to joining Walsworth, Blackwell spent five years as an award-winning newspaper and magazine journalist. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.