A popular and nationally-recognized journalism teacher at Rolling Meadows High School was told he doesn't have a job next year, but school officials said the award-winning program he helped build will continue.
Stan Zoller, who has been the journalism adviser for student newspaper The Pacer at Rolling Meadows High School for eight years, was told last week that he would not be asked back for his position in the 2013-2014 school year.
"They told me it was a reduction in force," Zoller said, adding that he has been reduced from full-time to part-time without much explanation over the past several years. This year he is teaching only one class.
Zoller, the state director for the Illinois chapter of the Journalism Education Association, a board member of the Chicago Headline Club, said he wasn't surprised by the decision, but disappointed for his students and concerned for the future of the school's journalism program.
Kurt Laakso, associate superintendent for human resources at Northwest Suburban High School District 214, said there is a small amount of reduction in force this year, mainly because of fluctuations in enrollment. Most of the decisions are left up to individual school principals.
Principal Eileen Hart said she couldn't discuss Zoller's particular case, but added that the position will be filled internally.
"We fully support our journalism program. The Pacer will continue to be strong," Hart said. "I have never asked them to change a story or censored any story and I've always been available as a resource to the students."
Zoller, a former professional journalist who was recognized two years in a row by the Dow Jones News Fund for his work as an adviser, disagreed.
"I don't think they like aggressive journalism, but that's they way journalism needs to be done," he said.
The Pacer has been recognized by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association, the National Scholastic Press Association and has had two students named Illinois Journalists of the Year, among other awards.
"Mr. Zoller has done a great job teaching us about journalism, inspiring us and helping us put out such a great newspaper," said Rolling Meadows senior Brittney Frazier, the Pacer co-editor-in-chief. "I'm disappointed because he has one of the best journalism reputations around and it's not going to be the same without him.
"He encouraged us to cover all news whether it was positive, negative, controversial -- if it's news in the Rolling Meadows community it will be in the paper and it is because of Mr. Zoller that we have the freedom to do that."
"The Pacer is consistently ranked as one of the best high school newspapers in the country and that's a lot due to the work that Mr. Zoller does," added co-editor-in-chief Liam Brady.
As news of Zoller's departure began to spread, newspaper advisers from around the suburbs said they were surprised and would miss having him as a colleague.
"I'm dumbfounded for the district, the kids and for scholastic journalism," said Dennis Brown, newspaper and yearbook adviser at Huntley High School. "He is just this ball of energy, he is so excited and passionate about what he is doing."
Zoller said he is exploring options to continue teaching journalism in the area and plans to stay involved with the Journalism Education Association.