The use of only two librarians for three junior highs continues to be a major topic in local education as parents advocate for the return of a full-time librarian at Gorton Junior High School and those in charge fight to get the facts out.
Since school started in September, two librarians, or library media specialists, have been splitting time between their home school, Aldrich Junior High and Winman, and Gorton. During the six-day rotation of classes at the junior high level, they spend four days at their home school and two days at Gorton, meaning for two out of the six days, a junior high library does not have a librarian working.
Beth Furtado, chairwoman of the Warwick School Committee, explained that the removal of a full-time librarian at Gorton became a budget reduction during budget hearings over the summer. The previous Gorton librarian chose to retire at the end of last year, and the committee decided, looking down the line at possible consolidation, that having only two librarians was a feasible option for this year.
Furtado pointed out that contractually the School Committee can only lay-off 20 positions at the end of a school year, even if a school is closed.
“If we consolidate a school, three into two, where the final sizes are smaller, contractually we can still only lay-off 20,” said Furtado, adding that no consolidation plan has been presented, finalized or even discussed at the committee level yet, but it was considered last year and is predicted to come up again this year.
Furtado said she did her homework and looked at the library schedules before the decision was made.
“It’s all about scheduling,” said Furtado. “It’s all scheduled time.”
Furtado explained that when she learned classrooms scheduled time to go into the library based on when the librarian is there, the decision was made that a schedule with two librarians splitting their time between the three junior highs was possible.
According to Furtado, a library has coverage from a library media specialist 66.6 percent of the time; a clerk covers the remaining 33.4 percent of the time so students can still go into the library to use resources but not checkout books.
“It’s equitable distribution of the assets,” said Furtado.
But a number of parent advocates do not see it that way.
In addition to scheduled visits or being able to go into the library throughout the day with a hall pass from the teacher, students could visit the library before homeroom, after-school for volunteering or group projects, and during department nights offered by the librarian; according to parents, those opportunities have become far and few between because the librarians are not at each school every day. They also believe their children’s education is suffering.
Heather Murphy, the mother of an eighth grader at Aldrich, says when students have group projects to work on after school, they are unable to do so because the library is closed.
“The kids want to get together to work on it but can’t,” she said. She said that she does worry about the quality of her child’s education because she cannot access the library every day, especially since the librarians teach valuable research skills that students use in the future.
“It they [the librarians] aren’t in, there is no access to that knowledge base,” said Murphy.
In addition, Murphy’s daughter volunteered after school with the Aldrich librarian, Sandra Savella. A number of students would volunteer to stay after school and help sort books in the library once a week. That does not happen every week now, because Savella is not in the school on the same days every week.
“She is disappointed when she can’t do her volunteer work,” said Murphy.
Julie Dunn is the parent of an Aldrich student and used to volunteer with Savella once a week in the library.
“I’ve personally seen everything it takes to run a library,” said Dunn, adding that in addition to maintaining the condition of the library, assisting students with research, helping students find books and assisting teachers, the librarians also manage a transfer system to provide books to the other schools in the district. “It’s not just showing kids where their books are; it’s a full-time job.”
Dunn recalled when each of the three junior high libraries had both a full-time librarian and full-time clerk; now she says the two school librarians are expected to do a job previously done by six.
Dunn also pointed out that students are constantly encouraged to read; yet this decision has taken away access to books.
“They want kids to read books, but they don’t have the resources. They don’t have a book; they can’t go to the library to get one,” said Dunn.
Dunn also questioned how much the students at Gorton are suffering as they switch back and forth between two individuals, who are both fantastic librarians but probably have their own way of running things.
The Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) at both Aldrich and Winman are also speaking out to support their children and the librarians.
Tarin Byrne is the mother of triplets attending Aldrich and PTA president at that school. She pointed out that her family is a single-income family and her daughters share one laptop. They have the ability to stay after-school and use the resources at their school’s library, but now, twice a week, that is not an option.
“Not having a full-time librarian at school who can help them navigate the proper search engines is frustrating to all of us,” said Byrne. “I can’t imagine that we are the only family to feel this way.”
Byrne referred to the librarians as “library techs” because they have the ability to teach her children about proper search engines and proper, timely websites to use for research. She does not understand what these substitute clerks can do.
“The subs can’t really interact with the kids; I’m not exactly sure what can go on,” said Byrne.
Winman PTA president Arnie Geller doesn’t have children attending Winman anymore but has remained PTA president and still tries to find the time to volunteer in the library. He agrees that the librarians do so much more for the students than checkout books.
“They’re also educators. They teach the kids how to get through the Internet safely, be good online citizens and the right way to do research,” said Geller, adding that they also help teach students how to write research papers without plagiarizing.
Geller pointed out teachers are suffering without the support of full-time librarians.
“This directly supports all of the teachers there,” said Geller. “It’s a disservice for the teachers [to not have a full-time librarian] because they’re not getting the back-up they need.”
Most of the parents also said they understood changes will be made if consolidation occurs in the future, but they are worried about their children today.
“I understand the city, the School Committee needs to do what it needs to do,” said Murphy. “But we need to do what’s best for our children while the schools are open.”
“At least they could get someone a job for the next six months,” pointed out Byrne.
“It’s just not that expensive of a proposition, especially for what the kids are getting out of it,” said Geller, pointing out that a consolidation plan is fine but could leave this situation in place until the new school configurations are complete and operational. “Are we going to have two years of kids not having access to a library?”
In a phone interview last week, Superintendent Richard D’Agostino spoke briefly about the librarian situation, which was the subject of most public comment during last week’s School Committee meeting.
“All three schools are receiving library service,” said D’Agostino, pointing out that many positions have been shared throughout the schools in the past. He specifically mentioned members of the guidance office rotating throughout the schools in previous years.
D’Agostino also pointed out that at the elementary school level, librarians split their time between two schools.
Furtado said the only school that currently has a full-time librarian on the elementary level is Oakland Beach Elementary, because it is the largest. She also explained that library on the elementary level works differently because each class in each grade has a scheduled library class once a week. That is not the case at the junior high level.
The superintendent also brought up the fact that the library doors are not “closed” per say. Teachers are allowed to bring their students into the libraries to use the many resources available to them, including computer labs, even if only the substitute clerk is present.
“They can’t take the books out,” said D’Agostino when explaining the responsibilities of the substitute clerks, “but they [the students] can go in and use them.”
“It is absolutely inaccurate that they can’t get in,” said Furtado in response to comments that the doors to the library are locked and students cannot go in if the full-time librarian is not there. She even pointed out that principals have keys to the library and would be able to open the doors to teachers who wish to use the facility if that was the case.
Furtado also said she doesn’t like to hear comments that the committee is not looking out for the best interest of the children. She says “the silent majority” expects her to do her job, and that often includes looking down the road at a long-term plan, such as consolidation.
“We have to continue to consolidate to become lean and mean,” said Furtado, pointing out the shrinking school population and the positive changes consolidation can provide for the students. “The bottom line is it is all about the kids.”
She also spoke to attempts by committee member Eugene Nadeau to bring up a motion during the meeting. Furtado says because of state law, school committee agenda items must be on the agenda 48 hours prior to a meeting or the committee could face legal action. Until it is an agenda item, she cannot speak to it during a meeting.
“I think, the eventuality is, it will be an agenda item,” predicted Furtado.
There had been previous discussion that Nadeau would attempt to call a special School Committee meeting regarding this issue. Furtado said she believes that once a request is received, the special meeting can be scheduled anywhere from two to five days later and quorum of School Committee members must be present.