Nationally recognized Illinois adviser to lose job

ILLINOIS — A nationally recognized journalism adviser has been told his school has no place for him next year because of staff cuts.

Stan Zoller is in his eighth year as Rolling Meadows High School’s journalism adviser but was told in a meeting Thursday that he would not be offered a position for the upcoming year as a result of cuts in staff, he said.

Zoller is the Journalism Education Associate State Director for Illinois and a member of the Chicago Headline Club. He was recognized by the Dow Jones News Fund for his work as an adviser two years in a row and was named a Distinguished Adviser in 2011.

Zoller spent about 20 years working in and with the professional media before becoming an adviser. He has freelanced for publications including The Chicago Tribune and worked for a number of other newspapers, including The Columbus Dispatch.

Zoller said his schedule has been increasingly cut over the last three school years. He went from teaching five classes, to four, to two, to one. But Zoller said he’s never gotten a satisfactory answer when he’s asked, “Why?”

“That’s the $64,000 question,” he said.

Eileen Hart, the school’s principal, said in an interview that other staff will be assigned to advise the journalism program. Hart declined to discuss Zoller and his job specifically, saying she couldn’t discuss personnel.

“We are allocating staffing for the program next year,” Hart said. “Our hope is that we see the program continue to grow.”

Administrators “pointed to the rubric” on his teaching evaluations but never gave Zoller a concrete answer for the lessening of his course load, he said. Zoller said he’s never received a bad evaluation.

“I just want to know why I was the one targeted for cutbacks,” Zoller said. “What’d I do?”

He’s found it hard to even know how the administration views the student newspaper.

“That’s such a great question, because there’s no feedback,” Zoller said.

In an interview, Hart said the paper was “excellent” and noted that the staff recently published a “really spectacular special issue” about the school’s women’s basketball team.

“It’s a wonderful use of public relations to make additional papers, to get them out to the community,” Hart said. “We place great value on our student paper.”

Zoller said doesn’t tell his students what to write. He has always allowed his students to cover negative news, he said, and “no one … suggested this was a problem.”

The newspaper has won many awards and is receiving a Columbia Scholastic Press Association Crown Award next week, Zoller said. During his time at Rolling Meadows, the paper has been a National Scholastic Press Association Pacemaker Finalist and has won Gallup Awards four years in a row from Quill and Scroll. Two students have been named Illinois Journalist of the Year.

Editor-in-Chief Brittney Frazier said she’s worried the change in advisers might be a sign that administrators are trying to take more of a handle on what the paper covers.

“Mr. Zoller does a phenomenal job of supporting us and backing us up right now, so I think right now we have a lot of freedom… to print news whether it’s positive or negative,” Frazier said. “I worry that next year without Mr. Zoller and his amazing journalism background that it won’t be like that.”

Former Editor-in-Chief Alexandria Johnson remembers Zoller’s advising style as an important part of her journalism education.

“What was rare and great about Mr. Zoller was he would always make suggestions to us… but ultimately we came up with the content for our newspaper,” she said. “We were able to go through the learning process on our own and he was there as he should be, as an adviser.”

Johnson, who graduated in 2011 and is a journalism student at Northwestern University, said she felt like administrators respected the students’ coverage of both positive and negative news during her senior year. Hart took over as principal in fall 2011.

“I would say that when I was a senior in high school specifically, the administration recognized… that news isn’t always going to be positive,” she said. “I guess I felt like we had advocates for the journalism program at the time but a lot of those administrators have left.”

By Sara Tirrito, SPLC staff writer. Contact Tirrito by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 124.