NSPA honors 6 as 2023 Pioneers

Six journalism educators have been recognized as recipients of Pioneer Awards, the National Scholastic Press Association’s highest honor for journalism educators.

“This year’s class of winners are all incredible educators, and they give their time and talents to help not just their own students, but to help students and advisers across the nation,” Laura Widmer, NSPA executive director, said.

Tina Cleavelin, Karl Grubaugh, Debra Klevens, Matt LaPorte, Rebecca Potter and Becky Tate will be recognized at the adviser awards luncheon at the Fall National High School Journalism Convention, Nov. 4, in Boston, or at the Spring National High School Convention, April 6, in Kansas City, Missouri. NSPA sponsors both conventions with Journalism Education Association.

NSPA Pioneers are individuals who make substantial contributions to high school journalism programs and scholastic journalism education outside their primary employment.

NSPA displays a plaque of all Pioneer winners at its headquarters in Minneapolis. Candidates were nominated by previous Pioneer winners and NSPA board members. A four-person committee reviewed the nominees and selected the honorees.

“They have earned the respect and admiration of students and colleagues. These Pioneers represent the best in the country,” Widmer said.

Tina Cleavelin

Tina Cleavelin’s career as a journalism educator has been marked by hard work.

In his nomination letter, NSPA Pioneer Bobby Hawthorne said, “I’ve known Tina since she taught at an Oklahoma City middle school. She built an outstanding program and then went to work for Jostens, where she climbed up the corporate ladder by working harder than anyone else.”

“I know people who worked as hard, but I’ve never known anyone who worked harder than Tina,” Hawthorne said.

In her role as the Jostens creative accounts manager, Cleavelin works with advisers and staffs to produce and market their publications. She goes out of her way to help others, Hawthorne said.

“I’ve worked with and for her in all kinds of capacities, and I’m always amazed at how far she goes out of her way to serve advisers and the cause of yearbook journalism,” he said. “And I’ve never seen her deny anything to any adviser or student because of a yearbook contract. She serves all comers.”

As an adviser, Cleavelin helped journalism students and advisers by serving as fall convention director for the Arizona Interscholastic Press Association. She continues to remain actively involved in state and national journalism organizations as a speaker and judge, and she has been recognized for her service as a Friend of Scholastic Journalism from the Journalism Educator Association, as well as the Friends of Journalism award from the New Mexico Scholastic Press Association.

Karl Grubaugh

Karl Grubaugh changes lives, NSPA Pioneer Chris Waugaman said in his nomination letter.

“I can emphatically say that Karl is a game changer in the lives of students and advisers everywhere,” Wauguaman said.

After spending almost 40 years in K-12 and college classrooms, including 25 years teaching middle school, high school and college journalism, Grubaugh retired in May 2020. He spent the last two decades of his career at Granite Bay High School, where he taught journalism, government and economics and advised the Granite Bay Gazette student newspaper and, eventually, the student news site GraniteBayToday.org.

“People asked me, as my retirement was looming, what I was proudest of in my teaching career,” Grubaugh said. “At the top of the list? Twenty-five years of helping young journalists tell stories that mattered to students, faculty, parents and the community. Twenty-five years of advising ambitious student publications produced by some of the finest young men and women in America. Twenty-five years of students learning how to go out and do good journalism.

“And I got to go along for the ride,” Grubaugh said.

Since retiring, Grubaugh’s been an adjunct journalism professor at Sacramento State University and a writing coach and adviser for SacSchoolBeat.com in Sacramento. He also serves as a JEA mentor. He was the Dow Jones News Fund National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year in 2008, and he received a Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Key in 2013.

“Having Karl as a mentor and leader in helping up-and-coming journalism advisers is so valuable,” Waugaman said. “He not only communicates with advisers who are just beginning their journey in the classroom, but he also has a wonderful way of listening.

“If you watch him work, you wouldn’t think he has retired from a 30-year career, but rather you would imagine he is just getting started.”

Debra Klevens

For 23 years, Debra Klevens shared her passion for nurturing students at Parkway West High School in the Pawesehi yearbook and PWestPathfinder.com publication programs.

During her tenure, Klevens worked with students to earn NSPA Pacemakers and Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold and Silver Crowns.

“While I realize only some students will become journalists, every student can be successful in a journalism program,” Klevens said. “Finding student’s passions in journalism has impacted my career the most. I love watching students blossom and find success. There is no greater gift than that light bulb moment where they see what you have always seen in themselves.

“I also enjoy that journalism is always changing,” she said. “The challenge energizes me to stay on top of the new trends to prepare students for our ever-changing world.”

In 2023, Klevens embraced a new challenge as the newspaper adviser at Clayton High School (Missouri), where she continues mentoring young journalists on the Globe staff.

Her dedication to the field extends far beyond the classroom, and Klevens’ nominators highlighted the many ways she supports the greater journalism community in St. Louis and beyond.

She has served as an NSPA Pacemaker judge for yearbooks and online newspapers, was a founding member of the Missouri Journalism Education Association, presents sessions at workshops and conventions, writes for student media publications and blogs, judges critiques and contributes to NSPA’s Online Pacemaker Master Class.

In 2023 Klevens was named the National High School Teacher of the Year by CSPA.

NSPA Pioneer Ann Akers said Klevins is the epitome of energy, empathy and efficiency.

“She is an adviser who thrives on creating systems to diminish challenges, empowering her students to achieve more than they imagined possible and connecting people with others who will make a difference in their lives,” Akers said.

Matt LaPorte

NSPA Pioneer Joe Humphrey cites how much work Matt LaPorte does behind the scenes. 

“It’s fitting that their website is called the Shadow, because LaPorte is famous for staying out of the spotlight,” Humphrey said. “He thrives behind the scenes, a quiet but steady presence who works hard to make those around him better.”

LaPorte has taught and advised at Southwest Career and Technical Academy, Las Vegas, since its groundbreaking in 2009. Since then, the Howl yearbook and Southwest Shadow news site have been recognized for excellence by NSPA, CSPA, Quill and Scroll and the local journalism organization, Southern Nevada Society of Journalists, an affiliate of the Society of Professional Journalists.

LaPorte is a frequent speaker at national conferences and summer workshops, an outstanding evaluator of publications and co‐creator of SNSJ.

“Matt is the consummate professional,” NSPA Pioneer Mitch Eden said. “At workshops, he is early to present and ready to stay after to help anyone who wants to discuss the topic at hand.

“His commitment to students and journalism is not only evident at Southwest Career and Technical Academy, but also statewide through the Southern Nevada Society of Journalists and nationally through JEA, NSPA and CSPA,” Eden said. “As the NVJEA state director and co-president of SNSJ, he is always looking for ways to give back, whether that be starting and curating his state’s journalism contest or helping to pass the Nevada New Voices campaign.”

LaPorte said media advising has made his teaching career.

“This is the point in the day where real connections are made, where textbooks disappear in exchange for authentic, student-driven exploration and learning,” he said.

“This is the point of the day where I get to sit back and watch the students brainstorm the surprising story ideas, make the hard decisions on a story’s direction, and celebrate hitting ‘submit’ on a spread or posting.”

Rebecca Potter

Rebecca Potter’s career in journalism education spans more than 25 years. She spent 21 of those advising the newspaper and yearbook at Texas High School, Texarkana, Texas.

“Being a student media adviser has been the most rewarding journey of my career,” Potter said. “I am most proud of teaching students that their voices matter and they have a right to be heard. It’s about helping them understand the transformative power of words and inspiring them to stand up for what they feel is important.

“But beyond that, it’s also about instilling in them the significance of telling other people’s stories. Through journalism, we not only empower ourselves but also elevate the voices of those who may not have the opportunity to be heard,” she said.

While at Texas High School, her publications won numerous NSPA Pacemakers, CSPA Crown Awards and Texas Interscholastic League Press Conference Star Awards.

Potter received the JEA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2023 and was recognized as a 2022 CSPA Distinguished Adviser. She was named the Max Haddick Texas Teacher of the Year in 2018 and was a recipient of the Texas Association of Journalism Educators Trailblazer Award. She served as the treasurer for the Texas Association of Journalism Educators and has taught at the Gloria Shields NSPA Media Workshop and Texas’ Interscholastic League Press Conference summer workshops.

Potter’s nominators cited the numerous ways she gives back to the journalism community. 

“Rebecca mentors newer advisers in the area and keeps other veteran local advisers sane,” NSPA Pioneer Paul Ender said. ”She teaches workshops, serves on boards and is an advocate for student journalists and their rights. She is willing to help in whatever capacity is needed. For decades, Rebecca Potter has been a steady force in Texas student media.“

Potter is now communications director for the Atlanta Independent School District (Texas), where she not only oversees communication strategies but also serves as a mentor to the district’s yearbook program. In addition, she teaches dual credit and college journalism courses for Texarkana College.

NSPA Pioneer Jeanne Acton described Potter’s selflessness.

“Because for her — it’s never about her. It’s always about someone else — her kids, Texas teachers, TAJE, ILPC, JEA, NSPA and the list goes on. For two decades, she stood quietly on the sidelines sharing knowledge, encouragement, skills, PowerPoints, lessons and more,” Acton said, “and she never expected anything in return.”

Becky Tate

Every day is Groundhog Day for Becky Lucas Tate.

Tate teaches at the same high school from which she graduated and also student taught. From 1980, Tate has spent all but seven years at Shawnee Mission North High School, Overland Park, Kansas, where she advises both the newspaper and yearbook staffs.

“While the awards that North students have earned are amazing accomplishments, it is Becky’s significant contributions to scholastic journalism outside her classroom that make her a worthy Pioneer Award recipient,” NSPA Pioneer Mary Pulliam said. “Becky shares her time and talents in many ways.”

Tate has served as secretary of the Journalism Educators of Metropolitan Kansas City and an area representative for Kansas Scholastic Press Association. She received a Gold Key from CSPA and Medal of Merit from JEA and was named a Special Recognition Adviser in newspaper by the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund and in yearbook by the Journalism Education Association. She received the Jackie Engel Award, from the Kansas Collegiate Media, for the top Kansas high school publications adviser. Additionally, she was named the H.L. Hall National Journalism Adviser of the Year in 2019.

She now serves as KSPA board president and president-elect of the NSPA Board of Directors.

”Since joining the NSPA board, she has brought her critical eye for detail and her passion for scholastic journalism to improve all things NSPA,” Past President Jeanne Acton said. “Just like she pushes her students, she pushes the board to think creatively to solve our issues and problems. She’s not afraid to ask the tough questions and act in the best interest of students and teachers.”

Working to advise and support student journalists was something Tate fell in love with after watching her own high school teacher, Nancy Hall, and college adviser, Dave Adams, teach their own students.

”Advising publications has allowed me to learn so much from every student who has worked on a staff,” Tate said. “Each bring their own addition to what it means to tell stories.

“I love seeing where the skills they honed as a publications staff member take them — their career paths are so varied. Be it medicine, law, economics, public relations, engineering, education or journalism, students take to heart what it means to work together, meet a deadline and communicate with others,” Tate said.