by Leigh Durphey
The opioid crisis. Election protests. A student’s death. One-to-one technology transition.
Crown Point High School’s Inklings newspaper staff and Excalibur yearbook staff covered all these controversial topics without any administrative interference.
Thanks to Principal Chip Pettit, who has been awarded IHSPA’s 2017 administrator of the year, CPHS journalism students and advisers have been able to “thrive in an era of increasing censorship,” according to the Inklings editorial board that recommended Pettit for the title.
“Allowing our publication to convey pressing topics has given us a platform as student journalists to grow and develop while reporting legally and ethically,” the board said in its recommendation.
Pettit, a former CPHS student himself, said while the administration’s support of student journalists is important, the publications could not succeed without their advisers.
“I’m thankful that our two advisers thought enough of our relationship, and our relationship with students here at Crown Point, to consider me for the award,” he said. “I do recognize that the success of our program is really on the shoulders of our advisers and also the students that do the work. We’re truly here in a supporting role.”
Both Julie Elston, Inklings adviser, and Lisa Keene, Excalibur adviser, praised Pettit for his commitment to leaving the decision-making process to the advisers and students, avoiding prior review tendencies and granting First Amendment Rights.
“I’ve heard stories chronicling environments of prior review and restraint, as if that is the norm and nothing could be done to change it. In other schools, students are unable to make decisions or cover topics of importance,” Elston said. “In working with Chip Pettit, I realize how fortunate my staff and I are to have an administrator who values true learning, responsibility and the First Amendment.”
All publishing decisions should be made by the adviser, not administrative staff, Pettit said.
“That added layer of review just isn’t appropriate or practical when you have a good adviser,” he said. “To us, it isn’t about something that may paint the school in an unfavorable light or something that can’t be challenged. That’s part of learning to be a journalist.”
Giving students opportunities to learn about professional journalism is one of Pettit’s top priorities.
“Philosophically, we want our students to experience what they might experience in the workplace,” he said. “We hold them to those standards, and, as a result, we allow them to tackle real world issues. That has been a large part of the success of both of our programs.”
By nominating Pettit for the administrator of the year, Keene said she hopes it will help other Indiana principals recognize “his attitude of trust and mutual respect.”
“As administrators at times, we need to have thick skin,” Pettit said. “We need to continue to recognize that we’re teaching and how we interact with students even though we’re not the ones directly providing instruction in the classroom.”