Taking Control of Recruitment
Written by Idea File Staff
Recruiting a top-notch yearbook staff is important to the success of a yearbook program – just ask advisers who have no control over the process.
Christine Gilroy used to be one of those advisers. But she took the yearbook program at Central High School in DeWitt, Iowa, and made it a viable journalistic endeavor, with students clamoring to be on the staff.
When Gilroy arrived at Central in 1990, the adviser of the Centralian yearbook was the chemistry teacher. The administration’s rationale was that chemicals were used in the photo lab to develop photos, she said.
Back then, the Publications class had no status.
“The class was a dumping ground for seniors needing an English requirement,” Gilroy said.
She said the 32 to 35 students in the class would roam the building, claiming to be on interviews, but were outside smoking or at Hardee’s for lunch.
Gilroy had a classroom for Publications, with a small office that had one Mac SE computer with an eight-inch screen. Pagemaker would take 10 minutes to open. The Centralian was a fall book then, and the editors and staff shared the computer during the 42-minute class, after school and on weekends. Gilroy describe it as “three full, long, tear-out-your-hair years of technological agony.”
Then the Publications class was moved to the other end of the wing to the drafting classroom, where the students shared eight computers. Noise from the adjoining woodworking room made it impossible to hear anyone talk when the planer or saw were in use. Also, sawdust made the computers go haywire.
Gilroy said the district would not change the classroom situation or the number of students in the Publications class, which does both the yearbook and newspaper.
“I had to engineer it so I could get the class I wanted,” she said.
From defeat to elite
Gilroy began by making the changes she could make herself.
“I started by giving awards to my editors and section editors at the awards ceremonies in the spring… to give it status,” Gilroy said.
She gave her students purple lanyards with staff badges that were hall passes for assignments plus their lunch card and activities ticket.
She began entering the yearbook in contests, which brought the publication prestige. And while critiques would come back with notations about design, photography and coverage, Gilroy had an idea to improve the yearbook that she figured would not show up on any critique sheet.
“I told the staff we were going to get every student in the book twice,” Gilroy said, counting the student’s portrait photo and one candid.
Each year they are closer to reaching that goal. They pack the book with photos including trail photos along the bottom or sides of pages. This goal has improved the image of the Centralian and increased sales. Gilroy said Central has 85 percent in sales – one of the highest sales percentages in eastern Illinois and western Iowa.
“They buy the book because they know they are going to be in it,” Gilroy said.
Gilroy, who teaches sophomore English and sophomore honors English, also started talking up the Publications class to her honors students. Gilroy knew she had a breakthrough when more students signed up for the class than would fit.
“It was a big joke when I started here… Now it’s the elite class,” she said.
She received permission from the principal to cut students from the class, which only accepts juniors and seniors. After two years, she received permission to start an application process, and she has made it rigorous.
Gilroy has made the application process difficult enough to ensure only those students serious about the subject are on the staff. Two years ago, 54 students signed up, and “only 24 had the assertiveness to fill it out.” Most years she does not have to cut anyone, but this year she did have to turn away some juniors.
In the spring after students turn in their requests for classes, Gilroy gets a list from the counselor of students wanting the Publications class. She sends them the two-page application. It asks about their grades, detentions and absences, and whether they are interested in newspaper or yearbook. Applicants must circle the position they desire from a list, submit a writing sample, explain how their skills will fit into the class, explain how well they work on a team and list any photography skills.
Once the staff is selected, they have two meetings before the end of the year. Positions are decided, and the incoming staff comes to a class or a work session.
In 1999, Gilroy made another change that improved her life by decreasing her time spent on the yearbook: the Centralian became a spring book with an April-through-June supplement. That solved the problem of the book being finished only by Gilroy, an editor and maybe another staff member during the summer.
“Now, instead of not finishing the book, they don’t finish the supplement – a much smaller problem.”
Today, the Publications class meets in the business classroom, with 25 computers – one for every student. That move from the drafting room occurred during a change in administration in spring 2004. Gilroy said she ran to the guidance office and begged to be put in the business lab. They got in, but that fall the staff struggled as their Pagemaker program was not compatible with the computers’ operating system. The district purchased InDesign, which arrived just before Christmas. Gilroy said she and the staff were thrilled.
An improved staff, improved work schedule, a better room and better equipment have led Gilroy to a great teaching position.
“I have 27 of the best, more wonderful students in the entire school. I am the luckiest teacher,” Gilroy said.
Work the system
Once Gilroy changed what she could, and the status of the class improved, she went after the system. Two key tactics helped in her quest.
“Keep a good line of communication with the counselor or whoever does the scheduling,” Gilroy said.
Gilroy said she has asked the guidance counselor to schedule Publications during a time that does not conflict with junior or senior required classes or electives. That is not always possible and Gilroy does lose two or three students each year at semester. But at least she has the counselor looking out to keep conflicts to a minimum.
Most importantly, Gilroy knew that in her school, “Whatever negatively affects delivery of curriculum is a problem that must be corrected.” She told the school administration that, under the present circumstances, she could not properly teach the students seeking careers in journalism and design.
“It didn’t hurt my cause, either, that the newspaper and yearbook were in the public eye as a reflection of the school,” Gilroy said.
For example, the school newspaper is published monthly in the DeWitt newspaper in the middle truck, for the entire community to see.
Gilroy recommends that advisers look in the district’s mission statement or the goals of the school or district and point out to the administration what would help you meet those goals on behalf of the students.
The accomplishment of improving the class has reaped benefits for the students. She said among Central’s graduates are a Washington Post writer, the owner of an Iowa City sports newspaper and a staff member of a college yearbook Pacemaker winner.
Gilroy has benefited, too.
“Now my life is more manageable,” she said. “I had to do it myself.”