Maple Parkâ€”Dr. Charles McCormick was named Administrator of the Year by the national Journalism Education Association on Sept. 27.
According to Linda Drake, the JEA Awards Committee Chair, McCormick was one of eight top-notch candidates from across the country who the committee considered, and he was selected for his strong support of scholastic journalism education and students’ free speech rights. McCormick stood out particularly because of his open support of Tinker rights, which give student publications free speech without administrative prior review.
While the high school’s student newspaper, the Kaneland Krier, has always had Tinker rights in practice, one of McCormick’s final acts at Kaneland was to work with the District 302 School Board to officially change the publications policy to match the practice, thus codifying student’s free speech rights. The school board voted to implement a Tinker policy at Kaneland in April, 2010.
McCormick, who retired from his position as District 302’s superintendent on July 1, has also promoted a culture of openness within the district. Editors described McCormick as having an open-door policy, always making time to explain district policies to them, and creating an atmosphere of mutual trust between the administration and the various editorial boards over the years.
“He trusted the editorial board to make responsible editorial choices and therefore allowed us to continue with our Tinker practices, even when the School Board policy said we were Hazelwood,” Jessica Corbett, Kaneland Krier executive editor, said. “That level of trust, combined with his continuous support of all students in the district, pushed us to make ethical choices and encouraged us to capture the culture of Kaneland in the Krier. As he’s watched the Krier grow in his own time at Kaneland, he’s seen it evolve into a very professional atmosphere. He helped create that atmosphere by always encouraging other administrators and staff to welcome reporters into their offices, and his own office was always an open door. He always made time for students from the Krier to interview him. His consistent presence in our stories added to the quality of our work as student journalists. Not only did his quotes answer my interview questions, they challenged my own beliefs and allowed me to better grasp all the topics I interviewed him about.”
That open-door policy created learning opportunities for the students of Kaneland High School.
“Instead of having an adversarial relationship with the student newspaper, as so many administrators do, Dr. McCormick instead cultivated a strong relationship with student editors over the years, always extending a helping hand,” said Cheryl Borrowdale, journalism teacher. “He values studentsâ€™ journalistic rights, and he saw supporting those rights as a way he could enhance their learning, develop their judgment, and encourage them to think critically. He has been a model of the kind of strong relationship administrators everywhere should try to build with student journalists, and in doing so, he also provided extraordinary and authentic learning opportunities for the students of Kaneland.”
McCormick’s support of student journalism remained steady, even during times of controversy, which is one of the things both Borrowdale and retired Kaneland journalism teacher Laurie Erdmann wrote about in their letters of recommendation to the JEA.
In her letter, Erdmann praised McCormick for his unflagging support, even when news cameras appeared outside Kaneland High School after a cover photo considered controversial was published. Borrowdale also praised McCormick for helping students cover controversial content in responsible ways, rather than trying to inhibit it, by providing students with resources, putting them in contact with expert sources they might not otherwise be able to reach, and offering background and perspective during interviews.
“His philosophy was always to provide students with as much information as possible, under the idea that giving students access to background, facts and expert sources would inform them, challenge them and encourage them to make thoughtful and responsible decisions,” Borrowdale said. “It has been an extraordinarily successful approach at Kaneland, and it shows that Dr. McCormick was always, first and foremost, an educator who had students’ best interests at heart.”
McCormick will speak at the JEA’s national convention in Kansas City, Mo., on Nov. 13, where he will lead a session for advisers and administrators on how to support students’ free speech rights, critical thinking and responsible decision-making.