Dear CCSD Board Members,
For just a few moments, I invite you to suspend any stereotypes that you might have about libraries, those where libraries are very quiet spaces closely guarded by a shushing librarian with a bun and glasses.
Instead, I invite you to think of a library as a productively, buzzing place with multiple lessons taking place simultaneously as individual students come to research, checkout books, read, and meet with mentors. It’s a space where multiple kinds of adults lead lessons from the media specialist to classroom teachers to the media paraprofessional. It’s a space where students become creators of information and story rather than just consumers. It looks something like this:
http://www.schooltube.com/video/29b463bcb37c4365ba49/ & http://www.schooltube.com/video/10fe2a659eea4ea6b727
Our media center is the hub of the school. We serve all students, teachers, and families in PreK-5th grade. In the current school year, we have seen in excess of 45,000 students, checked out more than 24,000 books, and engaged in collaborative, innovative projects with every grade level in the school multiple times. Here’s just a snippet of the standards-based projects we have offered this year:
- PreK students used studio equipment to write and film their own weather forecasts
- Kindergarten (and other early grades) used the PebbleGo database to research various topics and write informational reports.
- First grade created movies about the four seasons through a collaboration with the art teacher and media specialist
- Third grade used databases and pathfinders to research plants and animals of Georgia before designing a new state park inhabited by native plants and animals.
- Fourth grade students worked in collaborative groups to study the works of specific authors. They used Glogster and Animoto to create interactive posters and book trailers advertising their authors to rising fourth graders.
- In collaborative groups, fifth grade students used databases and pathfinders to explore standards from 3 massive social studies units. They created Glogster interactive posters to teach the other fifth grade students the social studies standards.
- A group of second-fifth graders used a budget and goals to purchase new books for the media center.
In the upcoming years, our district has plans to move toward having 1 to 1 technology as well as becoming a model for 21st century learning. These plans do not include additional support for technology infrastructure, professional learning, or professional support. On top of this, our state is rolling out the Common Core Curriculum, which our current budget does not support. Our media center programs could be one of the primary leaders of this new endeavor if they are nurtured with trained media specialists and media paraprofessionals who engage in professional dialogue and collaboration with one another and other teachers.
As the library media specialist, teaching is one of my major roles. I rarely shelve, catalog, or checkout books. Instead, I collaborate, teach, enrich, and support. I offer professional learning to teachers on the latest technology. I attend district meetings to contribute to the discussion of 21st century learning. I know every grade’s curriculum. Even though our district has instructional technology specialists and technology technicians, they are spread between multiple buildings making it difficult to support the amount of technology related projects needed at each school. I am the primary person who models and works alongside teachers in using technology with students. Because of these things, our school is recognized as being an exemplar for 21st century learning.
At Barrow, our library media program has received the top honor in the state of Georgia: Exemplary Elementary Library Media Program. As the media specialist, I have received Library Media Specialist of the Year for Northeast Georgia, the Foundation for Excellence Instructional Leadership Award, and was named a district finalist for Teacher of the Year. In the past year, I’ve presented at the American Association for School Librarians National Conference and the School Library Journal Leadership Summit in Washington DC. Our media center blog (http://barrowmediacenter.wordpress.com) is internationally read. The GA DOE has invited us to use their 21st Century Model Classroom to teach and film an exemplar lesson that can be used in professional learning. My library is not the only one in the district to receive prestigious honors. Clarke Middle has also been named an Exemplary Library Program and Burney Harris will very likely be named Exemplary soon after being named Exceptional two years ago.
CCSD has some of the best library programs in the state. 21st Century instruction is already being modeled in our libraries throughout many of the schools in the district. Instead of celebrating these programs and asking “what can we do to help you excel?”, our district recognizes our programs by cutting one of the most vital pieces, our media paraprofessionals. Cutting paraprofessionals will leave a gaping wound in our library programs that cannot simply be fixed with the band-aid of parent volunteers. Relying on parent volunteers to fulfill a paraprofessional’s role is asking them to assist students in locating materials and research, pull resources for teachers based on standards, lead instructional centers during lessons, shelve hundreds of books per day, assist students with self checkout, catalog all books, run multiple kinds of reports, run the media center each time the librarian is at a collaborative meeting or fixing technology, weed outdated materials, reorganize the library for better patron use, and more. What’s also disturbing, is that even though our paraprofessionals work with students, teachers, and families everyday in a variety of ways, they are not considered the same as classroom paraprofessionals and have no opportunity to find another job within the district if they are indeed cut.
Cutting paraprofessionals forces every library in our district to make difficult decisions about our programs. Do we quit collaborating with teachers on standards-based, innovative lessons incorporating technology? Do we quit fixing broken technology? Do we tell students that they can only checkout books during certain hours of the day? Do we quit offering professional learning for teachers and parents on 21st century tools and skills? Do we quit offering reading incentives and special programs? Do we close the media center every time we have to be away for planning, meetings, and events? The list goes on and on. We can’t realistically continue to offer the programs that we currently offer. I fear that our libraries will slip into some of the stereotypes that we have worked so hard to break.
I know that we are in extremely tough budget times, but how can you justify cutting a program that has done so much for our students, our teachers, our families, and our district? How can you cut a program that serves every stakeholder in the school?
I hope you will look at the many suggestions offered through the forums, Myra Blackmon’s collection, and other letters to closely consider alternatives to cutting paraprofessionals. Even though Dr. Lanoue has said that professional learning will not be cut, I ask you to closely look at how much our district spends on professional learning. Do we really need to spend thousands of dollars to hire outside consultants to offer professional learning? Why don’t we look at the exemplary work taking place within our own district and learn from one another for free? Why not harness the power of social media and teach our teachers how to develop their own professional learning network tailored to what they actually need to learn about? Rather than have instructional technology specialists that are spread between multiple schools, could we look to our media specialists as leaders in technology within each building and support them each with a full-time paraprofessional? Could our current technology specialists be a primary source of professional learning for our district rather than bringing in technology consultants such as the UGA ETC? Could our instructional coaches be the primary professional learning for common core?
If you make this cut, I fear that next year, the district will continue to cut our library programs until there’s nothing left but a room full of books and computer checkout stations. Students will enter the room without the support of a trained professional who can help them navigate and evaluate the overwhelming abyss of digital and print information. I fear that we will have a plethora of technology for our students to use but no true model or support in how to use it. We will have lost the heart of the school. Please save our paraprofessionals and our school libraries.
This letter was published in the Athens Banner Herald.