Cindy Todd thought she was going to a faculty meeting during a staff workday to talk about an upcoming activities fair. When she got to the meeting, her principal said they were going to celebrate some accomplishments and recognize one of the teachers. Then she saw H.L. Hall.
“The minute he introduced H.L. Hall, I knew what was happening,” Todd said. “I couldn’t believe it. I turned to Deanne [Brown, newspaper adviser], who was in on it all along, and asked her if it was really happening. And, of course, I started crying.”
Todd, yearbook adviser at Westlake High School in Austin, was named the H.L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the Year Jan. 7. She will be officially honored at the Saturday Advisers Luncheon at the JEA/NSPA convention in San Francisco in April. In addition to a plaque, she will receive $1000 for her program and $1000 for herself.
Todd said to have her name on a plaque with Hall’s is “surreal.”
“Before I ever started teaching, I knew the name H.L. Hall. He was already a legend,” she said. “To be among a group of folks whom I’ve revered and respected my entire career is truly humbling. I believe this award is every bit as much about my students and the Westlake journalism program as it is me. I realize I’m fortunate to work in a distrit that supports scholastic journalism and allows us to take advantage of opportunities like state and national conventions.”
In addition to Hall and the Westlake faculty, JEA executive director Kelly Furnas, Todd’s family, some of her current and former editors, and some representatives from Jostens Publishing where there to help honor her.
“We journalism teachers are incredibly fortunate to have organizations like TAJE, JEA, NSPA, CSPA and Quill & Scroll that support and recognize us for our hard work,” Todd said. “To have JEA come into my school and honor me was truly special and unique. I actually feel bad for the other teachers who richly deserve but don’t get this type of recognition. I was happy I had a chance to express that to our faculty.”
Todd has been involved in journalism since she was voted by the student body to be editor of her juunior high newspaper.
“I worked on the newspaper staffs in high school and was paid to be the Associate Editor of the West Texas A&M (then West Texas State University) newspaper.”
“I was an editor on the newspaper staff in high school and always had an interest in journalism,” Todd said. “When I initially went to college, I was a married English and journalism major and planned to teach. Life intervened. I had a child, and I ended up dropping out of college after my son became ill. After life as a farmer’s wife for 10 years, at age 28, I headed back to college as a single mom of two to become a journalism teacher. I worked as an editor on the college newspaper up until the time I began my student teaching under Lana Jackson, an award-winning adviser at Tascosa High School in Amarillo. She advised both yearbook and newspaper, and that was my first exposure to yearbook journalism. After graduation from college, I was hired to teach English and journalism and advise the newspaper at Randall High School in Amarillo. Just before school started, the yearbook adviser decided she didn’t want to advise that publication any more, so I became the yearbook adviser as well.”
Todd moved to Westlake 14 years ago. She said in her classes, all levels of yearbook work together.
“Rookies learn from the veterans, and the veterans get a chance to mentor the new staffers,” she said. “When staffers have questions, I encourage them to ask an editor before they ask me. It makes the editors better and gives them a chance to create lasting leadership skills. I try to teach the skills they need and let them produce the book.”
Todd said she made sure her students know this award honors them, too.
“I think what has made me the most proud over the years is knowing I’ve provided an environment for shy, insecure freshmen to become a part of a group and thrive in a safe place and then watch them grow and mature into award-winning, confident editors-in-chief, succeed in college and work in rewarding professions,” she said.
Todd said the most rewarding part of her job is watching her students create something from nothing.
“I love seeing the pride they feel on distribution day when they crack the book open to their spreads they created, the photos they took, and the stories they wrote, and it occurs to them their work will last forever,” she said. “I love that yearbook provides a place for students to feel safe to take risks, form friendships and be a part of something much bigger than themselves. I also love it when former students tell me (and they often do) that the skills they learned from working on the yearbook are the ones they use most often in college and in their careers. I love that they still want me involved in their lives long after graduation.”
Todd said the job never gets old because each year is completely different.
“The personality of the editorial staff, the events that happen and the direction the book takes is constantly changing,” she said. “I don’t really experience burnout because I don’t take the photos, write the copy or do the pages–the kids do. For me, it’s fun because I get to contribute ideas (whether or not they use them), and it serves as a creative outlet for me. I’m just a big yearbook nerd.”–Rhonda Moore, Executive Director. Photo by David Oliver.