Weber made most of her shot as Knight adviser

Creative, hard-working adviser finishes 2022 yearbook before departing for new job opportunity


Dave Winter

On her penultimate day on the job, yearbook adviser Jena Weber opens a farewell gift from the newspaper staff at the pizza party Weber threw to celebrate the completion of the 2022 Knight yearbook. The newspaper staff gave Weber a decorative matching set that included a coffee cup for her and dog bowls for her beloved Carter and Truman.

Kittredge Grimsley-Ridenour, Mac photojournalism

On a typical spring day in Room 136, yearbook students are working hard. As the deadline approached in mid-March, they were busier than ever, putting their blood, sweat and tears into a product that will immortalize an entire school year. At the center of it all was advisor Jena Weber. This was her first year managing the yearbook alone—and her last.

I’m very creative, but I’m also super organized. I think those two really play together and you need both to be able to juggle all the different pieces and make it all come together.”

— yearbook adviser Jena Weber

The week before spring break, Weber announced to yearbook students that she would be leaving her job once the yearbook was finalized. On Thursday, March 31st, after finishing the yearbook, Weber said goodbye to McCallum.

In fall of 2020, Weber came to McCallum from Austin High, where she advised the school’s newspaper, The Maroon. After developing a passion for photojournalism in high school, she majored in Journalism at UT, and began a 20-year-long teaching career.

“My journalism teacher in high school inspired me,” she said. “I was on both yearbook and newspaper staff all through high school. I didn’t want to go out and be a working journalist, I wanted to do yearbook.”

Weber said her favorite thing about the yearbook is the novelty of it.

“It’s a new, completely different thing every year,” she said. “We come up with a different design, we come up with a different style. I think it just keeps the year fresh.”

This year, Weber thinks the yearbook will be one of the best McCallum has ever had.

“I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done,” she said.

Weber encouraged her students to embrace yearbook as she did.

What makes her so great is the new perspective and ideas she brought to the year. She’s so clever and smart.”

— senior Carly Johnson, yearbook editor in chief

“I think you have to teach kids to love [yearbook] as much as you do, to inspire them to want to do a good job as much for the publication itself as for me,” Weber said. “I don’t like to add stress to people’s plate. I don’t want to be a reason kids are stressed out [or] that their life is more difficult.”

However, it can be stressful when deadlines are coming up.

“The hardest part is getting students to understand [the] reality of a deadline set by a publisher,” Weber said. “If we turn it in late, it affects when we get the book back.”

According to Weber, before a yearbook deadline, she works from the moment she arrives at school to the moment she leaves, and then she continues to work after getting home.

“When we’re on deadline, I never leave my computer,” she said.

Weber has been commended for this work ethic, as well as her creativity.

“I think I’m equal parts left brain and right brain,” she said. “I’m very creative, but I’m also super organized. I think those two really play together and you need both to be able to juggle all the different pieces and make it all come together.”

Newspaper adviser David Winter, a long-time colleague of Weber, has observed her teaching method firsthand. They met on the bus to a conference for the Association of Texas Photography Instructors while Weber still worked at Austin High. After Weber came to McCallum for the 2020-2021 school year, they worked together on both newspaper and yearbook.

She’s really good at facilitating her students’ success. She’s always willing to jump in and help people take their work to the next level.”

— newspaper adviser David Winter

“She’s really good at facilitating her students’ success,” Winter said. “She’s always willing to jump in and help people take their work to the next level. [I’ve] seen her do that with the yearbook kids, obviously, but also with the newspaper kids that we worked together with.”

This year, the two split jobs with Weber advising yearbook and Winter advising newspaper.

“I would say this year she’s really come into her own as people understand that yearbook is her area of expertise and her thing,” Winter said. “I have a lot of respect for her. I think it’s kind of challenging to come in and take something that has had success and then take ownership of it and make it your own, and she’s done that.”

According to Winter, last year’s yearbook and the upcoming one both reflect Weber’s creative vision. Earlier this school year, the 2021 Knight, the first Mac yearbook that Weber took the lead in advising, became only the second book in school history to be named an National Scholastic Press Association Pacemaker Award finalist and a Columbia Scholastic Press Association Crown Award winner.

Weber gets a warm goodbye hug from first-year yearbook staffer Gabrielle Maydozian. (Dave Winter)

No one understood and appreciated Weber’s instrumental role in pushing the yearbook program to the next level more than 2022 editor in chief Carly Johnson.

“We’ve spent a lot of time together this year,” Johnson said. “What makes her so great is the new perspective and ideas she brought to the year. She’s so clever and smart. I know [the 2022 edition] will be a successful book. I’ve felt confident all year that this is the best book I’ve been a part of, and I credit that to her. Her work ethic and drive made this book happen.”

With Weber leaving, the school will have to find someone new to manage the yearbook. Winter says this will be a difficult task—her replacement will have big shoes to fill.

This is all I’ve ever done. I’ve been a teacher for 20 years; I love teaching, … [but] I can’t afford my life. There really is no other option.”

— Jena Weber

“In some ways, it felt like she just got here,” he said. “[I’m] happy for her because this is a good new opportunity for her. That’s the most important thing. I do think it [will] be hard to find somebody who’s as good as she is at the role she was playing. She’s a really good yearbook advisor. She’s not going to be easy to replace.”

Now, Weber is taking a job outside of teaching. She’s delayed this transition due to her dedication to the yearbook and her students. “I’ve known about the new job since January, but I told the new company that I’ll be working for that I could not leave before we finish the yearbook,” she said.

Weber said the decision to leave was a difficult one, but one that she had to make.

“This is all I’ve ever done. I’ve been a teacher for 20 years; I love teaching,” she said.

But, like many other teachers, Weber can’t afford to keep teaching. The cost of living in Austin has become too high for many, especially those like Weber who live off a single income.

“I can’t afford my life,” she said. “There really is no other option.”

Reflecting on her time at McCallum, Weber has had a positive experience.

“It’s just been great,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. Even though it’s been during the pandemic, which has been really hard, it’s still been good overall.”

Weber said she’ll miss her students most of all.

“I try to build relationships with all the kids,” she said.

Weber’s students have praised her for her kindness as a teacher. Now, after 20 years of teaching, she won’t be working with kids anymore.

Despite knowing that they’d soon be losing their yearbook adviser, in Weber’s last weeks at the school, the yearbook staff worked seemingly undeterred. With a deadline in their minds, Weber’s students worked to finish what they’d started—for Weber, and for the sake of the yearbook itself.

Weber may have left McCallum behind, but her short-lived career advising the school’s yearbook has left a legacy that will be difficult to live up to. And, with the yearbook still awaiting release, her final gift to the school will keep on giving long after her students have graduated.

Yearbook and newspaper staffers gathered after school on Wednesday March 30 to celebrate the completion of the yearbook and to say their goodbyes to adviser Jena Weber. (Dave Winter)