In memoriam: Nick Ferentinos

JEANC is joining with the larger scholastic journalism community in celebrating the life of long-time NorCal adviser, mentor and friend Nick Ferentinos, who lost his long battle with cancer this week.

Image: Bradley Wilson; Graphic/text: Ellen Austin

In addition his 18 years advising Homestead High School’s award-winning student newspaper, The Epitaph, from 1976 to 1994, and mentoring of advisers in the two decades that followed, Nick will be remembered as among the most significant advisers in California history for his role as a champion of student press rights on the day that it mattered most: Jan. 13, 1988.

That is the day of the Supreme Court’s decision in Hazelwood School District et al. v. Kuhlmeier et al., 484 U.S. 260 (1988). The Homestead principal interpreted the decision as giving him the power to censor an Epitaph feature story about an HIV-positive student, but student staff — at the urging of the Student Press Law Center — called upon California Education Code 48907, which grants the California student press freedoms beyond those articulated in the Hazelwood decision.

The Epitaph’s victory in publishing the story established California as the first and most prominent anti-Hazelwood state and a haven for student press freedom. For the staff’s courage in combating the censorship attempt and publishing the story, the SPLC honored the Epitaph with its prestigious Press Freedom Award.

Nick retired in 1994, the same year the Dow Jones News Fund recognized him as the National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year. But his retirement from public school teaching was in no way the end of his involvement in scholastic journalism. Instead it was the beginning of two decades of mentoring journalism advisers in NorCal and beyond — indeed, Nick helped build the JEA mentoring program — and spreading his message of support for the student press at at workshops and conventions, indirectly impacting thousands more students.

“Nick set the standard for each one teach one, but he applied it to teachers,” said longtime friend and JEANC member Steve O’Donoghue.  “He was the ultimate selfless adviser mentor, he shared his wealth of experience with adviser who wanted help. Thanks to Nick we have a national mentoring program that supports journalism teachers.”

For many advisers, Nick’s friendship and support has been a key to their success and pride in their works in scholastic journalism.

Nick was there for me in tough times, when I faced my greatest challenges as an adviser,” said Paul Kandell, JEANC co-president. “I felt as though I had all the weight of the world resting on me but that I had a unique kindred spirit to talk me through it. Nobody else could understand what I was going through, but Nick did, and that gave me great solace. I will miss him most in those times — before we go to press, or after, when the principal has called for a meeting, when we’ve screwed up, when someone threatens to sue us. Although I’ll be sad that he won’t be there, we surely will be invoking his spirit again and again as we grapple with crisis and appreciate achievements in scholastic journalism.”

Truly, rarely has student journalism had a stronger advocate, and Nick’s absence will be dearly felt.

We offer heartfelt condolences to Nick’s wife, Dina, and family.

For more information about Nick, please explore the following:

Students band together to share a final gift with beloved former teacher” (San Jose Mercury News, Dec. 24, 2015)

Nicholas Denis Ferentinos, obituary,” San Jose Mercury News, Jan. 31, 2016

On the vanguard: Individuals whose lives have shaped the future,” video by Kaity Gee, Harker Aquila

2008 Charles R. O’Malley award citation, Columbia Scholastic Press Association

For Nick: A tribute from C53,” memorial page created by former Epitaph students

Robert Greenman and Nick Ferentinos speak together at CSPA,” Harker Aquila

Dow Jones News Fund Remembers Nick Ferentinos