Columbia Scholastic Press Association

CSPA is an international student press association, founded in 1925, whose goal is to unite student journalists and faculty advisers at schools and colleges through educational conferences, idea exchanges, textbooks, critiques and award programs.

2019 National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year Announced

Honoring High School Journalism Teachers

Melissa Falkowski chosen the National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year
Four Distinguished Advisers and Three Special Recognition Advisers also named

NEW YORK, N.Y. (January. 28, 2019) -- The Columbia Scholastic Press Association is pleased to announce Melissa Falkowski is the 2019 National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year. 

The National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year Awards program is managed and sponsored by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association and co-sponsored by Dow Jones News Fund, with support from the Poynter Institute for Media Studies and The Wall Street Journal.

The awards will be presented at the CSPA Spring Convention at Columbia University in New York City on Thursday, March 21, 2019.

Falkowski, an English teacher and media adviser from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, FL, was selected from among 15 teachers nationally.

Additional honorees include four Distinguished Advisers: Erinn Harris, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, VA; Debra Klevens, Parkway West High School, Ballwin, MO; David Ragsdale, Clarke Central High School, Athens, GA; and Julia Satterthwaite, Monta Vista High School, Cupertino, CA.

Also named as Special Recognition Advisers are Tom Hayes, Ben Davis High School, Indianapolis, IN; Liz Palmer, duPont Manual High School, Louisville, KY; and Michael Reeves, James Bowie High School, Austin, TX.

The selection panel for the honors included: Tom Gayda, 2018 Teacher of the Year from North Central High School at Indianapolis, IN; Jeff Browne, executive director, Quill and Scroll, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA; Mark Goodman, Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism at Kent (Ohio) State University; Linda Shockley, managing director, Dow Jones News Fund; and Edmund J. Sullivan, executive director, Columbia Scholastic Press Association.

Edmund Sullivan described Melissa Falkowski as “a courageous and gifted adviser who rose to national prominence after the tragic shooting deaths of February 14, 2018 at her high school. Her ability to make sense from a chaotic situation and inspire her student staff to report through the tragic aftermath represented the best practices among high school advisers. The Columbia Scholastic Press Association is honored to recognize her as the National Journalism Teacher of the Year for 2019.”


Sullivan noted, “Falkowski’s experiences have heightened her sensitivity to the critical importance of freedom of expression for students. With her focus on student publishing media, she looks forward to being a champion for that during her time as National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year.

Falkowski said, “It is so important that student media programs are student driven, student run and free of administrative censorship. Student publications are often thought of as public relations tool for the school - a place for only positive or happy news. However, that is not the purpose of student publications, which serve to explore student issues, expose school-related issues, and serve as an opportunity for students to question their “government,” which in this case is school administration or leadership in the school district. Teaching students to think critically and question decisions from their “government” is exactly what will prepare them for going out and doing that within American society. As The Washington Post’s slogan says, “democracy dies in the darkness.” Teaching students to report only happy, positive news does not prepare them to go out and defend our democracy as citizens.

I teach my students the five core principles of ethical journalism - truth and accuracy, independence, fairness and impartiality, humanity, and accountability.”

She continued: “I think one of the most pressing concerns that student journalists face is censorship, not only censorship from school administration, but also self-censorship. Students often have ideas for great stories but are afraid that they will get in trouble for them or that their publication will be censored. There are school administrators who insist on previewing student publications before they go to print. I think our scholastic journalism community has to continue to work state-by-state or school district-by-school district to achieve protections for student journalists. As journalism teachers, we are empowering youth to use their voices to report on important issues and events. If students are censored, then they are not empowered.

As Teacher of the Year, I would love to work with the Student Press Law Center on their New Voices campaign. I think the work they are doing to protect students journalists is so important.”

Melissa Falkowski advises The Eagle Eye newsmagazine at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. She has been advising publications for 13 years and teaching for 15 years. She has a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Kent State University. Falkowski co-edited the book with Eric Garner, “We Say #NeverAgain: Reporting by the Parkland Student Journalists,” published by Random House Children’s Books.

The CSPA also named four Distinguished Advisers. These honored teachers will award $500 scholarships for graduating seniors and subscriptions to courtesy of the publishers of The Wall Street Journal.

Erinn Harris advises Techniques yearbook, tjTODAY newspaper, tjTODAY Online and TJTV at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, VA.

Harris pushes her students to choose the information they report and publish carefully, to know that trust is rarely given and almost always earned but can be lost in a single keystroke.  She writes, “‘Why?’ is such a simple word. A short word. But it is the most powerful tool in my adviser’s toolbox because if I can get a student to clearly articulate the answer to that question, and I can no longer follow up with, ‘Why?’ I know they’re thinking clearly, responsibly and truthfully.”

Her staffs have earned CSPA Silver Crowns, NSPA Pacemakers, Gold Medalist and All-American critiques and many state and local awards. She is MJE certified from JEA. The organization also named Harris a 2010 Rising Star, 2014 Special Recognition Yearbook Adviser and 2016 Distinguished Yearbook Adviser, and she received a Gold Key from CSPA in 2016.

Debra Klevens had been advising the PAWESEHI yearbook at Parkway West High School, Ballwin, MO for 20 years as well as the Pathfinder newspaper since 2012. She is a member of CSPA, NSPA, JEA, Missouri JEA and Journalism STL.

Klevens believes her students must remain active as they are the next generation of journalists working to protect our First Amendment rights.

Kleven writes, “As a journalism teacher, I continue to remind my staff that they are the community watchdogs, and it is their job to report the truth, minimize harm, act independently while being accountable and transparent. Gone are the days of relying on people to subscribe and order a daily print newspaper. In order to make our online newspaper relevant to our community, we have to drive our readers to our site versus waiting for them to find us.”

Klevens was named a 2017 Teacher of the Year at Parkway West High School.

David Ragsdale is in his 18th year advising student publications, which include literary magazine, newsmagazine, broadcast, social media platforms and website at Clarke Central High School, Athens, GA. He has served on the advisory board for the Georgia Scholastic Press Association and on the Executive Committee for the Southern Interscholastic Press Association.

Ragsdale began his journalism adventure at CCHS by reviving the literary magazine Iliad. He works to encourage his staff to represent their experience in its pages. Ragsdale wrote in his application, "As I often tell my students when we go to conferences, nobody looks or acts like us. Since taking over the publications I advise at CCHS, which is a Title 1 school with an 80% non-white student body, I have sought to build staffs who represent all segments of our school population across race, SES status, gender, sexuality, and country of origin."

Ragsdale was honored with the Elizabeth Dickey Distinguished Service Award by the Southern Interscholastic Press Association in 2015.

Julia Satterthwaite has been advising for 13 years and is currently the journalism teacher and adviser at Monta Vista High School where she advises the student newsmagazine and website.  She is a member of CSPA, NSPA and served on the boards of JEA, JEANC and MIPA.

Satterthwaite is an advocate for media literacy and believes all of her students not just her journalism students need to be fluent in what is truth and what is fake news. She writes, “As scholastic journalism teachers, we can and should be at the forefront of the media literacy movement. After watching the PBS Documentary ‘The Facebook Dilemma,’ I had a renewed sense of responsibility to teach not only my journalism students, but ALL of my students, friends and family members how to, as Newseum Ed puts it, E.S.C.A.P.E. junk news by looking for evidence, sources, context, audience, purpose and execution before hitting share on social media.”

Satterthwaite was awarded the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association’s Golden Pen (adviser of the year) in 2014.


Each Special Recognition Adviser will be presented a plaque at CSPA’s Spring Convention.

Tom Hayes Tom Hayes is an award-winning sports journalist who has taught high school journalism for 14 years. He currently advises newspaper, yearbook and arts magazine at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis. His publications have won numerous state and national awards from CSPA, NSPA, Women’s Press Club, IHSPA, ASPA and others. Prior to teaching, Hayes covered central Indiana sports for 20+ years.

Tom believes his students must provide responsible journalism through in-depth reporting and interviewing techniques. “As educators, it is our responsibility to teach students how to recognize fake news and how not to be drawn into that "report first, check the facts later" mentality of social media. One of my favorite classroom sayings is "it is better to be correct than it is to be first" and I think it is important to teach young journalists the importance of fact-checking and what it takes to research and develop quality journalism.”

Liz Palmer is the journalism and communication magnet coordinator at DuPont Manual School in Louisville, KY. In 2007 Palmer worked with her department chair James Miller on a 5-year-plan to turn around an underperforming magnet program. Among the goals achieved: Uniting classes and teachers under one magnet identity and mission; establish an active parent group; forge partnerships with local media; and launch two new publications.

“When I first began teaching in my journalism magnet, I would face skeptical parents of potential students, quizzing me about how valuable a journalism education could be in the era of failing newspapers. I would try to meet them where they were — journalism is changing, not going away, I would say. Besides, a journalism education would help kids in any career.” She continued, “People must study journalism. People must become journalists. For the longevity of our democracy, students must enter into programs and classes like ours and learn how to vigorously defend the people of this nation — and the planet — from those who would do harm to them for power or profit. Learning to tell truth from fiction has never been harder nor more important to learn.”

Palmer is a contributing writer for Insider Louisville and has masters from University of Louisville.

Michael Reeves has advised for 14 years and is currently teaching newspaper, journalism I, commercial photography, photojournalism, AV tech/broadcast, graphic design and illustration, advance graphic design and illustration, printing and imaging tech I and II, and journalism independent study, all part of the career and technology education at James Bowie High School in Austin, TX.

Reeves believes that the control and decisions must be made by his students and they will gather strength from the events that the professionals press has endured in the past year. He writes, “The fourth estate is well and good in 2018 America. It has a black eye and a few bruises, but in the long run the escape from breaking news as fast as possible in an attempt to scoop the opposition going away and quality, sound, researched writing where the sourcing and depth is there will win the day. Another topic facing scholastic journalism is the advent of standards based grading and how to incorporate that into a journalism classroom. Again, I think that teachers will find ways to meet these new requirements. New grading expectations are common across the years and teachers always find a way to survive. I think all of the above are important and certainly impact scholastic journalism.”

Founded in 1925, the Columbia Scholastic Press Association unites student editors and faculty advisers working with them who produce student newspapers, magazines, yearbooks and online media. Students come from public, private and church-related schools and colleges throughout the United States and from overseas schools following an American plan of education. The Association is owned and operated by Columbia University.

The Dow Jones News Fund is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that promotes careers in journalism in the digital age. Our vision is robust news media staffed by well-trained, innovative journalists who reflect America’s diversity and are dedicated to a free, strong and fair press. The News Fund is supported by Dow Jones, Dow Jones Foundation, other media companies and private donations.

The Poynter Institute for Media Studies is a non-profit school for journalism located in St. Petersburg, Florida. The school is the owner of The Tampa Bay Times newspaper.

The Wall Street Journal is an American business-focused, English-language international daily newspaper based in New York City.