Thursday, April 18, 2013

BESE Reverses Decision to Amend Bulletin 741 for School Librarians

This is all about school librarians, not just school libraries. Let me start by saying that you could have a school library without a librarian but what would be the point. I am a professional librarian. I have over 20 years of experience, a Master's degree and awards to prove it. The years that I have spent honing my skills could never be replaced by a paraprofessional, clerical, or parent volunteer. You could have those people running a library, but it would not be the same as what a professional can do in managing the library, developing a program, collaborating with administrators and teachers, teaching lessons, providing reader's advisory, planning events to celebrate libraries and literacy, and on and on and on and on. I have no clue why lawmakers and school administrators think that librarians are not indispensable to an exemplary school program. There are numerous studies that have illustrated how students' test scores go up in schools with a certified librarian and easy access to quality library materials. 

Now let's talk about what just happened in Louisiana. The Board of Secondary and Elementary Education (BESE) decided that to achieve school reform, Bulletin 741, the handbook for school administrators, needed to be revised. The idea was to give more flexibility to district and school administrators. Section 1705 about school librarians was slashed from seven guidelines to two and staffing at the secondary level was recommended not required. There are no recommendations or requirements for staffing at the elementary and middle levels. I heard about this in December. I blogged about it in December and encouraged my students, parents and teachers to write letters to BESE in support of school libraries. I had to explain that librarians were not being eliminated, but the revisions allowed administrators a choice to staff or not staff the library. BESE was going to discuss these revisions at the January meeting. Nothing was decided in January. Then due to the outpouring of public comments about these revisions, the revisions were re-revised so that three guidelines were included and principals would be given "the authority to determine how resources and assistance are provided to students." Great, now principals could get rid of their librarians and ask a non-professional to offer assistance at a much cheaper rate. At least, with these additional revisions, staffing at the secondary level would be required. 

Again, we begin writing letters to BESE. The Louisiana Library Association (LLA) and the Louisiana Association of School Librarians  (LASL) were spearheading this campaign and asking all to voice their support of school libraries. I wrote and blogged and students in 7th and 10th grade English classes wrote persuasive letters in preparation for standardized tests. We sent the best letters on to BESE, but we allowed students to take the other side. Some chose it because they thought it was easier to write. 

On April 16th the Academic Goals and Instructional Improvement Committee of BESE met to discuss the proposed changes to Bulletin 741 regarding counselors and librarians. There were members of  LLA and LASL there to speak out about the problems with the proposed revisions. It seems that Mr. Walter Lee of district 4 in northern Louisiana did not understand why there had to be changes to the language concerning counselors and librarians if there were so many members of the public who were opposed to these changes. Superintendent, John White, finally reluctantly agreed to having the original language of the document reinstated. BESE chose to listen to the People. 

You can read all about it here in the Baton Rouge, Advocate. Which explains exactly what happened at the committee meeting. Or you can read about it here in the New Orleans, Times Picayune. Sarah Tan's article in the TP is a little ambiguous. When I initially read it, I couldn't tell if the committee had decided to return to the first set of revisions or return to the original language before any revisions were made, but BESE dropped all revisions. 

Now I want to talk about the People. That is the grass roots movement that pushed to make sure our elected officials did the right thing. This movement was powered along by LLA and LASL whose members wrote to BESE as well as to the editors of the local newspapers around the state. Many librarians and teachers asked students to write about what they thought were the educational benefits of a school library. I had a parent send me a copy of a beautiful letter that she composed to BESE about school libraries. Letters were sent from all across Louisiana illustrating that all districts were concerned about the implications of the proposed changes. This shows to me that apathy is not where you want to be when an issue that is important to you comes before lawmakers. What is also important to note here, is that both counselors and librarians compose a very small number of the total teaching force in the state. Even with those small numbers, we were able to rally forces to speak up about our role in the schools. When I wrote my letter to BESE, it was not about my small school and the students that I teach, but about all the students who attend public schools in Louisiana. Because every single one of them deserves an excellent education. An education which cannot be adequately provided when pivotal members of the instruction team are not there. Kudos to everyone who helped to win this battle. Though I don't think the fighting is over, librarians need to continue to be advocates for all library programs so all stakeholders understand the crucial role that we play in students' academic lives. 

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