April 15, 1999 / Spring 1999 / Staff Management

Playing the field

Written by John Nici

Advisers can prevent chaos with team concept to selecting staff

Choosing a yearbook staff can be the most important decision an adviser makes all year. Many yearbook advisers have faced the hazards of announcing over the public address system that anyone who wants to join the yearbook should meet after school. This approach often meets with various unwelcome responses, and perhaps no response at all. Often the result of such a tactic is the appearance of a clique, which has arrived to “do” the yearbook. It is at this point that the adviser is at the mercy of the students.

The process used at Forest Hills High School in New York City treats the yearbook staff more as a team than as a club. In every way, the selection is designed to give the students the impression that to join the yearbook staff is to join an elite organization, and that certainly not everyone who has applied will be accepted. At every turn, the concept of selectivity is reinforced.

The procedure begins with the graduating seniors, who after the current book has been put to bed sometime in March, visit all the junior English classes, soliciting students to join as possible editors. The presentations take a few minutes at the beginning of each class. The seniors have been instructed to stress certain aspects of yearbook production that set a proper tone. Often the presentation begins by holding up two yearbooks: one with a successfully designed cover and one with an unsuccessfully designed cover. Students are then asked to comment on what would lead to the production of “good” or “bad” yearbooks. Eventually the class comes around to the fact that “bad” books are the product of poor staffs.

During the presentation, the students stress the awards the yearbook has won recently. The image presented is one of a tradition of quality that must be maintained. It is pointed out that everyone is welcome to apply, but that working on the yearbook is serious business that requires commitment, and that only the dedicated will be accepted. Then, various positions are advertised, and interested students have the opportunity to apply.

If the student wants to join, he or she may apply by a certain deadline. This deadline is firmly adhered to, again to give the image that this is a business setting that does not allow for excuses.

Once the applications have been gathered, each applicant is assigned a date to come in for an interview. Usually, there is no shortage of seniors who want to interview the underclassmen. These interviews are arranged so that all candidates for the same position must appear on the same day. So, all potential photographers interview on Monday, all artists on Tuesday, and so on. When the photographers arrive at the same time and have to wait in line with many other applicants, it gives the impression that this is a select group and few will get the position.

Before any candidate is interviewed, the adviser has gathered some preliminary data on the junior class, including a list of every student’s rank, G.P.A. and attendance statistics. This information is shared with the interviewers but never mentioned to the candidates.

All candidates wait outside the office and they are interviewed on a first-come, first-served basis. When they enter the office, they are met by two or three seniors armed with a series of questions. Each applicant is asked the same battery of questions to ensure equality. Photographers and artists are sometimes asked technical questions. Writers are asked how to approach subjects like a losing baseball team or a poorly attended music show. Editor-in-chief candidates are confronted with a series of covers of previous yearbooks and asked which they would choose, and why. Photographers and artists must show examples of their work at the interview. Writers are required to bring their most recently graded English assignment.

All candidates must supply the name of a teacher who might recommend their candidacy, and a recommendation form is dispatched at the end of the interview.

At the conclusion of all interviews for a certain position, a preliminary assessment is made. Both the student interviewers and the adviser share their thoughts and make a decision. When the recommendation forms return, a commitment is made to certain individuals and they are invited to join the team.

On the day of the announcement, all students on the yearbook staff gather with their yearbook jackets in the room where the announcement is to be made. The jackets, again, give a sense of teamwork and solidarity. Each student is given a chance to make at least one announcement each, and the selected stand to receive applause. A reception is held in the yearbook office immediately after the announcement.

Students get the feeling they are a member of a choice organization on campus. And, hopefully, that feeling sustains unity and commitment through much of the year. Although this process is by no means foolproof, and will not stop those who seem to have a plethora of dying uncles or a spat of dental emergencies, it does set a tone that the production of the yearbook is serious business.

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John Nici