Equity from a District-level Perspective

Blog Post by Chapter 1: Equity Co-author Suzanne Sherman“It is very important to our mission to ensure that the district’s school library services truly serve every student” (Searles and Moser, cited in Long and Sherman 2021, 14).(quoted from Long and Sherman 2021, 14)

Transition From a Building-level to a District-level Perspective
At the time Erika Long and I were crafting Chapter 1: Equity in Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, I was entering my 12th year as a school librarian at a large, suburban high school in Knox County, Tennessee. Providing equity had always been at the forefront of my thinking and while I like to think that I was seeing this from a broader perspective than just this particular school, the reality was that I primarily applied the principle to the 2,100+ students I interacted with daily. I attempted in my regular practice to ensure that my energy and accompanying resources in lesson design, collection management, and outreach efforts were all-inclusive and provided entry points for every student.

At various points in my career in Knox County Schools, I served in district leadership positions which allowed me from time to time to have a glimpse of the bigger picture and to see some of the challenges around providing equity on such a large scale. Those experiences were partly what led to my decision to apply for the Library Media Services (LMS) Instructional Facilitator position for the district. I was selected for the job and transitioned from the school library setting into the role at the district office in January, 2021. I knew at this point that my vantage point was shifting and suspected that my understanding of equity in school libraries would be as well.

Collectively Learning
I was extremely grateful for the professional development I received during my first week in my new position as it solidified my thinking about collective efficacy and the role it would play in shaping my work. When I saw that one of the primary goals is to help our department of 90+ librarians grow in their practice as a whole, I immediately saw equity in the equation.

As I undertook specific tasks such as continuing the work outlined in Chapter 1: Equity wherein my predecessor and supervisor collaborated with the Knox County Public Library to provide library cards for all KCS students and partnered with one of the preschools to organize and rethink those libraries, I was able to see firsthand the impact this was making in the community.

I was quickly introduced to planning for professional development (PD) and, again, I saw the power of equity on this larger scale. Through careful planning and thoughtful consideration of our different adult learners’ needs, it became clear to me that ensuring that the PD we offer the school librarians in our district is meaningful and relevant has to be at the heart of my practice.

Consistently providing the entire department opportunities to engage with research-based practices and grow in their understanding of what it means to deliver high-quality instruction and maintain current and relevant collections has the capacity to level the playing field for all students when librarians implement their learning in their individual schools. Exploring ideas pertinent to school libraries such as the ones we included in our 2021 summer PD sessions: on-demand access to materials, building inclusive collections, Universal Design for Learning, and Social and Personal Competencies, highlights for the librarians these principles of equity and ultimately has the power to positively impact their instruction and programming.

Achieving Empowerment
Our chapter concludes by saying, “The first step in working to achieve equity within schools is ensuring that all learners in every school have access to a certified school librarian or district leaders who advocate for resources and services within underserved schools where this is not feasible from a staffing standpoint” (15). We are fortunate enough in our district to be allocated the funding for both a supervisor and an instructional facilitator in the LMS department and this is not something that I take lightly or for granted.

The charge that comes with providing resources for all students and dedicated support for the school librarians points always to the pursuit of equity. Modeling the practice becomes a means of providing structures for the librarians and ultimately empowers them to deliver the same equitable services to their students, classroom teachers, administrators, and families.

To learn more about the role equity plays in planning for instruction and services, explore Chapter 1 in Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage (Libraries Unlimited 2021).

Reflection Question
“Brainstorm services your school community lacks. Develop out-of-the-box to meet those needs and create a timeline implementation. What barriers might arise, and how will you overcome them?” (16).

Work Cited
Long, Erika, and Suzanne Sherman. 2021. “Equity.” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. Judi Moreillon, 3-17. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Equity and Social Justice

Chapter 1 Co-authors
Since I, Judi Moreillon, have the privilege of writing this post, I am beginning by introducing Core Values in School Librarianship readers to the co-authors of the “Equity” chapter.

Erika Long, MSIS, is a school librarian in Tennessee. Among other professional activities, Erika served on the AASL Presidential Initiative Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and on ALA’s United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Task Force. Erika brings her teaching through the library program experience as well as her tireless advocacy for social justice to her writing in this chapter.

Suzanne Sherman, MIS, is a former English and Spanish teacher turned librarian. She was a school librarian for 15 years before moving into a coaching role as the Instructional Facilitator for Knox County Schools’ Library Media Services in Knoxville, Tennessee. At the district level, Suzanne focuses on supporting the school librarians in both instruction and management. She also works on collaborating with other district leaders in the Teaching and Learning and School Culture departments. Suzanne takes action for the district’s mission: “To provide excellent and accessible learning opportunities that empower all students to realize their full potential.”

Erika Long and Suzanne Sherman open our book and their chapter with this one-sentence theme:

"Equity is a matter of social justice." Erika Long and Suzanne ShermanWhat Is Equity?
Erika and Suzanne use a National Education Association’s definition of social justice as the first pull quote in their chapter. Since the toolkit they refer to is no longer available, I believe this quote from NEA sums up their intention: “Systemic equity involves a robust system and dynamic process consciously designed to create, support and sustain social justice” (NEA 2021). Equity requires a systemic approach, one for which school librarians with their global view of the learning community are perfectly positioned to lead.

What Is the Connection to Social Justice?
The right to access information is a human, constitutional right that the authors encourage colleagues to stand up for in their work as school librarians. The early months of the pandemic exposed many inequities in terms of technology tools and broadband access that prevented students from success with remote learning. School librarians and other educators were well aware of these opportunity gaps long before schools closed—gaps that still exist 18 months later as another academic year is beginning.

In their chapter, Erika and Suzanne talk about advocating for equitable access as an “obligation to ensure” all students have access to the resources they need to succeed. “Librarians have a duty to ensure every young person has access to any resource, at any time, and commit to making equitable access a reality for all” (Long and Sherman 2021, 5). This obligation was/is never more pressing than during times of remote and hybrid learning.

Chapter 1 Vignettes
Ali Schilpp, school librarian at Northern Middle School in Accident, Maryland, and Sarah Searles and Amber Moser, district-level librarian leaders in Knox County Schools, Tennessee, offer the vignettes in the “Equity” chapter.

In her vignette, Ali shared her passion for serving the students who live and attend school in her small, rural town. She noted how school closures spurred her district to provide broadband access to students who lacked it. Ali worked to prepare classroom educators to provide virtual learning as she positioned the library as the hub for instructional and technology support that benefited the entire learning community. She also noted: “A librarian is the one educator in the school who works directly with every student. Each year/semester/quarter students’ teachers change while the librarian remains a constant ally throughout their school years” (cited in Long and Sherman 2021, 9).

Sarah and Amber shared their district-level perspective in terms of equitable opportunities for all students in their large, urban school district. Their focus was on summer reading as well as literacy learning more broadly. They collaborated with the public libraries in their community to extend students’ pleasure reading and learning beyond school campuses and establish an understanding that libraries support people for lifelong learning. Through this partnership, barriers, such as parental documentation and physical library visits, were overcome when students gained access to the public library’s digital resources. Sarah and Amber note: “We are passionate about our commitment to undertake the work of facilitating equitable access district-wide as a point of social justice for everyone in our school community” (cited in Long and Sherman 2021, 15).

Commitment and Courage
School librarians hone their global perspective on discovering who is left out and find solutions to address the learning needs of every student. They seek to serve the underserved and ensure an equitable educational environment and experience for each learner. School librarians are allies and advocates who take action and show courage when change is necessary to meet their obligation and commitment to equity.

“There are many in our ranks who are self-proclaimed social justice warriors and yet, systemic policies, procedures, and preconceived notions, coupled with either lack of knowledge or the tools to fully implement equitable practices in the field, create stumbling blocks toward reaching the goal” (Long and Sherman 2021, 3).

It takes commitment and courage to confront policies, procedures, and the status quo, and school librarians are the leaders who can and will stand up for the hard things. For the sake of students, colleagues, administrators, and families, school librarians will continually take action for equity and to reach for social justice.

Reflection Question
What steps will you take to ensure equitable access for all learners? (Long and Sherman 2021, 16)

Works Cited

Long, Erika, and Suzanne Sherman. 2021. “Equity.” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. Judi Moreillon, 3-17. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

National Education Association Center for Social Justice. 2021. “Racial Justice in Education: Key Terms and Definitions. Available at https://www.nea.org/professional-excellence/student-engagement/tools-tips/racial-justice-education-key-terms-and. Accessed August 17, 2021.

Core Values in School Librarianship: Fall Semester Book Study

This fall, the Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage (Libraries Unlimited 2021) contributors and I will be sharing two posts for each of the nine chapters in the book. Beginning today with this introduction through the last week of December, blog readers can read recaps of chapters or more thoughts and experiences of chapter co-authors. (As you know, one challenge with a published book is that once it’s off to the printer, it is fixed in a way our learning and practice never are!) You can find the line-up of posts on this blog. I will be adding links to each of the posts as they are published.

Introduction: A Passion for School Librarianship
As the book’s editor, I wrote the introduction. In it I share my motivation for this proposing this book. I know that my own enculturation into and my passion for the core values of school librarianship guided my library practice, my work as an educator of preservice school librarian, and my continued involvement in the profession and advocacy work. Equity, diversity, inclusion, and intellectual freedom combined with the values we share with classroom teachers such as collaboration and literacy as a pathway to success have been at the end of my work/life.

"All school librarians need a firm foundation to provide strength and direction during these rapidly changing and challenging times" (Moreillon 2021, ix).These are indeed rapidly change and challenging times. Grounding our practice in our core values gives us a necessary and needed firm foundation to stay strong as we speak up and out for the benefit of our library stakeholders. The pandemic, Black Lives Matter movement, and backlash from various quarters of society have converged to create a time that is testing our mettle. I truly believe we must act now.

Destabilization
Accelerations in technology, globalization, and climate change result in a “constant state of destabilization” (Friedman 2016, 35) all of which affect the education landscape as well as society as a whole. For example, laws recently passed by some state legislatures that intend to constrain educators’ teaching and students’ learning regarding U.S. history will be tested in practice as well as in courts of law. When librarians are guiding students’ social studies inquiry, we must hold to our values and ensure that learners engage with accurate historical records, think critically about our nation’s past and present, and discuss issues that are relevant to their lives—today and in the future.

In this environment, we are called upon to recommit and hold tight to our values: equity, diversity, inclusion, and intellectual freedom. We may be the only educator in our buildings who holds these core values. As such, we cannot fail to take courageous action when warranted for the benefit of our learning communities.

Co-leading Change
We cannot, however, act alone. While we must embrace ambiguity, stretch our flexibility, and exercise our initiative, we must reach out to others to co-lead change in our schools and districts, state and national associations. We need a tribe to keep us centered in our values. The education profession, of which school librarianship is an integral part, needs a tribe of like-minded dedicated colleagues to move our work forward.

People don’t care how much you know
until they know how much you care.

Dr. Jean Feldman

During these challenging times, many educators, school librarians among them, are feeling vulnerable; others are quite understandably afraid. This may be particularly true at this time for those who are making professional decisions that affect their families as well as their students. It is incumbent on us to practice empathy as we co-lead with our administrators and teacher leaders. Empathy is a key tool in our work as we strive to take compassion action.

Choosing Courage Over Comfort
In her book Dare to Lead. Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts (Vermillion 2018) Brené Brown challenges those of us who live our values to speak up about the “hard things.” She describes integrity in this way: “choosing courage over cover; it’s choosing what is right over fun, fast, or easy, and it’s practicing your values not just professing them” (189).

In our book, the contributors offer inspiration, thoughts, and experiences as guides to help you lead through our shared library values in your learning community. We invite you to share and comment on our blog posts and join in via our social posts as well. We look forward to hearing how you are enacting core values in your library this fall and positively influencing the teaching and learning and work of your administrators, colleagues, students, and families.

Reflection Questions
Each chapter in the book concludes with reflection questions. In addition to your personal consideration or to discussions with your near colleagues, we invite you to respond to these questions on this blog or via our other social media posts.

If I were to add such a question to the book’s introduction, this would be it:

How are you expressing empathy for others and practicing self-care
as you launch the 2021-22 academic year?

Additional Resources
Circulating Ideas Podcast by Steve Thomas: Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage Interview with Judi Moreillon (7/13/21)

Core Values in School Librarianship: Collaborating for Social Justice – School Library Connection Webinar (6/28/21)

Taking Action for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Intellectual Freedom in School Libraries at #alaac21 (6/21/21)

Works Cited
Brown, Brené. 2018. Dare to Lead. Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. London: Vermillion.

Friedman, Thomas. 2016. Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in an Age of Acceleration. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Moreillon, Judi. Ed. 2021. Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

School Librarians Are Teachers of Reading

It’s back-to-school time across the U.S. (and in many places around the globe) and school librarians are considering how best to enact their libraries’ mission statements and goals in the 2021-2022 academic year.

While there are many unknowns, there are two consistent themes that have emerged from a year and a half of intermittent remote, hybrid, and in-person schooling. Students, educators, administrators, and families have missed the community of school and the culture of learning that encourage all stakeholders as they achieve academic success and support students’ social-emotional health. And educators and families are concerned about the pandemic’s impact on students’ reading development.“No subject of study is more important than reading…all other intellectual powers depend on it.” Jacques BarzumThis quote from Jacques Barzum, known as a philosopher of education, can be our guiding light as we welcome young people back to school, reach out to classroom educators to support their curriculum goals, and help administrators revive a culture of deep learning in our schools.

Reading Reading Reading Reading Reading Reading

From a Culture of Books to a Culture of Reading
Thirty years ago when I entered the profession, school librarians were known as “book people.” Our work focused around reading, selecting, organizing, and promoting books. Later in the 1990s with the mercurial rise of technology launched by the Internet (see how the capital letter dates me), we greatly expanded our scope from books and some tech to print and digital resources in an ever-expanding range of formats.

Simultaneously, literacy learning expectations for students began to rise and continue to do so today with no limits in sight. In this educational landscape, school librarians cannot be satisfied limiting their services to physical and virtual access to reading materials.

School Librarians as Teachers of Reading
We must also do our part to ensure students’ intellectual access to ideas and information. We must be literacy partners who teach, coteach, and reteach strategies to help students comprehend what they read, view, and hear. We must be teachers of reading.

Research shows that “school librarians provide critical support to teachers and administration by recommending and teaching strategies and sources that develop reading comprehension and analysis of informational text in all content areas” (Gretes 2013, 3).

School librarians serve learning communities in the largest classroom with the greatest number of resources with the broadest range of reading proficiency levels in the widest variety of formats. School librarians are certified teachers whose work can have an impact on the entire school.

School librarians use read-alouds and booktalks to promote books and reading. When they model and teach comprehension strategies, such as making predictions and drawing inferences, during these activities, they provide students with opportunities to learn and practice these essential skills for making meaning from texts.

Reading for learning
is what the work of school librarians is about.

Whether reading literature for pleasure or resources for information, students use the decoding skills they learn in the classroom as foundational tools for making meaning from texts. Reading for learning is where the school librarian’s expertise contributes to students’ success. Learning and practicing reading comprehension strategies is the readers’ pathway to being efficient, effective, and critical users of ideas and information.

“School librarians [and other educators] know that students who are unable to make meaning from text cannot be information literate. They also know that to be critical users and creators of ideas and information students must be able to deeply interrogate the texts they read” (Moreillon 2018, 57-58).

Information Literacy and Reading Proficiency Connection
Effective school librarians who meet the needs of students, classroom teachers, and administrators help library stakeholders make the connection between information literacy and reading achievement. This chart of examples can be a guide.

Information Literacy and Inquiry Reading Comprehension
Connecting with prior knowledge using a K-W-L chart, topic web, or other organizer Activating or Building Background Knowledge
Engaging with multimedia resources to build background knowledge Using Sensory Images
Formulating inquiry questions and questioning the author/source while reading Questioning
Analyzing texts for point of view and bias Making Predictions/Drawing Inferences
Making notes Determining Main Ideas
Rereading, writing about confusions, and other strategies for ensuring understanding Using Fix-up Options
Using information or evidence from multiple sources to create new knowledge Synthesizing

*Reading comprehension strategies taken from Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Elementary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact (Moreillon, 2013) and Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact (Moreillon, 2012)

In our role as teachers of reading, school librarians can directly and effectively document how their teaching and coteaching help classroom teachers build students’ reading proficiency.

Library Learning Leaders Don’t Sell Their Skill Set Short
Research also shows a correlation between the work of school librarians and improvement on students’ standardized test scores, particularly in the area of reading (Lance and Kachel 2018). In our independent and cotaught lessons, librarians teach and reinforce reading comprehension strategies at the Response to Intervention (RTI) Level II.

If our work is to lift the reading proficiency of all students, then we must not sell our skill set short. Others must not perceive us as book promotion people only because our skills and power to impact the learning community are far greater. We must not be satisfied with providing physical (or digital) access to books and resources.

We must collaborate with other educators to ensure that students have intellectual access to ideas and information.

“As a profession, we cannot afford to be silent about how our work impacts reading proficiency. We cannot fail to help our classroom educator colleagues reach their full capacity to meet the traditional literacy development needs of all students” (Moreillon 2021, 27).

Works Cited

Gretes, Frances. 2013. School library impact studies: A review of findings and guide to sources. Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. Available at http://bit.ly/2USKkQ9. Accessed August 8, 2021.

Lance, Keith Curry, and Debra E. Kachel. 2018. “Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.” Phi Delta Kappan 99 (7): 15-20. Available at http://www.kappanonline.org/lance-kachel-school-librarians-matter-years-research/. Accessed August 8, 2021.

Moreillon, Judi. 2021. Library Learning Leaders Don’t Sell Their Skill Set Short. Teacher Librarian 68 (3): 22-27. Available at https://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/html5/reader/production/default.aspx?pubname=&edid=6b457264-4b51-4275-87a1-c8ed62b44733&pnum=4. Accessed August 8, 2021.

Moreillon, Judi. 2018. Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy. Chicago: ALA.

Coteaching Reading Comprehension in Elementary School Libraries (ALA 2013)Recommended ReadingCoteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries (ALA 2012)

School Librarians Take Action to Support Arizona Public Education

While we have long known that school district budget priorities are the primary deciding factor as to whether or not a school district employs school librarians, we might have also assumed that the funds available to school districts based on per student spending would also play a large role.

So, one of the surprising (to me) findings of the School Librarian Investigation—Decline or Evolution? (SLIDE) Research Project is that per student spending is not a significant factor in terms of school librarian staffing.

“Districts spending the most per pupil ($15,000+) were most likely to have high levels of librarian staffing and least likely to be without librarians. However, districts spending the least per pupil (less than $10,000) had better staffing than districts spending between $10,000 and $15,000 per pupil. Consequently, there was no clear relationship between staffing and funding” (Lance and Kachel 2021, vi).Judi Moreillon gathering signatures outisde public library branchFunding Counts
That said, funding MUST play a role in Arizona: 48th among the 50 states for K-12 per student spending and 47th in educator salaries. Arizona is also 46th in the nation for the number of state-certified school librarians and at least in Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), decision-makers cite the cost of staffing state-certified school librarian positions as the barrier to equitable access.

The Legislature passed and on June 30, 2021, the Governor signed three bills that will further underfund public education. This is a crisis.

It behooves us as school librarians and people who care about the quality of education for Arizona students to help put three measures on the 2022 ballot to rescind these tax cuts. We must not allow our elected “representatives” to overturn the will of the voters to decrease rather than increase funding for our public schools.Logo for #INVEST in AZ NowThe following are summaries of three referenda currently circulating in Arizona. Signatures must be collected and submitted by September 28, 2021.

Rescind SB 1828: FLAT TAX
This bill changed the Arizona income tax structure. Before SB 1828, we had a graduated tax with the wealthiest Arizonans paying 4.5%. With this legislation, 2.5% is the maximum flat tax liability and all Arizonans will pay at that rate, disproportionately benefiting the wealthy.

The bill reduces state revenue by $1.9Billion

Consequence: The reductions in state coffers affect all ALL types of services, including libraries, K-12 education, police, fire, and more.

Crisis: In Arizona, overturning tax legislation requires a 2/3 majority of the Legislature, which in effect means these cuts will be permanent if not stopped by the voters NOW.

Rescind SB 1827 TAX CAP
This bill capped total income tax at 4.5%. It reduces the state’s general fund by $900Million.

Consequence: This bill reduces K-12 funding by over $250M per year and will impact other services as well. It undermines voter approved Proposition 208, which increased tax collection for public school funding. If high-income individuals pay the 3.5% Prop. 208 surcharge, they would only pay 1% of income tax while others would pay 2.5%. It benefits wealthy taxpayers only.

Rescind SB 1783: Prop 208 Attack
This bill allows any high-earning individual to file as a “small business” in order to reduce their tax liability. It reduces Prop. 208 funds by $300Million.

Consequence: This bill undermines the will of voters who passed Prop. 208 and renders this voter initiative ineffective.

Bucking the Data
As I noted in last week’s post “SLIDE Project Data and Tools: Focus on Arizona Results,” my current advocacy work is in TUSD. I live within the district’s borders and served as an elementary and a high school librarian in TUSD for 12 years in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Today, with state-certified librarians serving only 13 of TUSD’s 86 schools, restoring school librarian positions is first and foremost about equity.

Unfortunately, the SLIDE data is not on the side of students achieving equal access to a high-quality education in Arizona and TUSD.

“Districts with higher levels of poverty, more minority students, and more English Language Learners were less likely to have librarians.  Majority Hispanic districts were more than twice as likely to have no librarians and less than half as likely to have the highest level of librarian staffing” (Lance and Kachel 2021, vi).

And

“This study also discovered that, in most cases, once librarian positions were eliminated, they were not reinstated. By 2015-16, almost 3 out of 10 local districts had eliminated all school librarians, and, by 2018-19, 9 out of 10 of those districts had not reinstated them. A study of the almost 10% of districts that lost, but later reinstated, librarians could be informative regarding factors contributing to such reinstatements” (Lance and Kachel 2021, 85).

Meeting the Needs
All 42,000+ TUSD students, educators, and families deserve access to high-quality school library programs led by a state-certified school librarians. TUSD can be THE district in the state and in the country that bucks the data and shows literacy learning is a high priority in a district with a majority of Latinx students and students who qualify for free and reduced meals and with a large number of students who are English language learners.

Let’s show all our students and their families that decision-makers, parents/grandparents, and voters are committed to giving students the tools they need to succeed. Let’s show that we understand that reading proficiency and literacy learning are the foundation on which all academic subjects and life pursuits depend.

Let’s work together to rescind budget cuts for the wealthy, enact the will of the voters who passed Proposition 208 to increase public education funding, and restore school librarian positions in TUSD and throughout Arizona.

References

InvestInAzNow. 2021. https://investinaznow.com/. Accessed August 1, 2021.

Lance, Keith Curry, and Debra E. Kachel. 2021. Perspectives on School Librarian Employment in the United States, 2009-10 to 2018-19. Available at https://libslide.org/publications/perspectives. Accessed August 1, 2021.