Washington State’s Bellevue School District (BSD) is seeking to hire two certified media specialists, to be known as Research Technology Specialists, by this spring in order to lead the libraries in two of its secondary schools, and hopes to fully staff at least some of its remaining secondary schools soon, District Superintendent Dr. Tim Mills confirms. Depending on what funds can be made available, up to 11 positions in total could be filled for the 2015–2016 school year, he says. In addition to direct instruction, the two new hires also will begin working with the district to create a K–12 information literacy and technology curriculum in line with the Common Core State Standards.
“The Research Technology Specialist positions are intended to help our students’ progress beyond learning basic content to developing the ability to access relevant information and 21st century skills as they venture into college and career,” Mills tells School Library Journal.
Mills became superintendent in July 2012, three years after the district eliminated many of its teacher librarians—all at the secondary school level—due to state budget cuts.
Although Bellevue’s K–5 librarian positions were safe, those in grades 6–12 were cut, and clerks were called in to keep those libraries running. Local parents and educators were then compelled to get involved, and have been advocating for Bellevue’s students’ right to librarians ever since. These new open positions are an exciting development, they tell SLJ.
“We are pleased indeed that BSD in on the uptick,” Craig Seasholes, the immediate past-president of the Washington Library Media Association (WLMA), tells SLJ. He also notes that the impending recovery of even just a few of these certified instructional positions is a welcome reversal to BDU’s previous policy and will “help chart a way forward” for the future of the profession in the district.
“I’m super excited,” adds Nancy Mowat, teacher librarian at Bellevue’s Sherwood Forest Elementary. “There’s some pressure from the Common Core State Standards to do so, but we have no K–12 curriculum—let alone an information literacy curriculum. And [the district is] realizing that.”
Mowat says she is grateful to the WLMA for keeping the issue front and center with administrators but also praises Mills for coming into his job with a different viewpoint from previous superintendents. This openness has allowed the conversation at the district level to now focus on how teacher librarians can, and do, have a huge impact on improving student learning and achievement, she says.
“We are starting 2014 with great optimism,” Mowat says. “With a new superintendent and much needed reflection, the district is recognizing a huge deficiency and beginning to address it with action.”
Christie Kaaland, chair of the MAEd with Library Media program at Seattle’s Antioch University and former advocacy chair for the WLMA, also credits the turnaround to the grassroots efforts of parents, especially the “amazing four-year commitment to reinstating librarians” by advocate Jeani Littrell-Kwik.
“Jeani is a modest, but hard-fighting advocate, championing for the rights of children to have the research skills they need to be successful in school,” Kaaland tells SLJ. “Jeani deserves accolades the likes of Lisa Layera Brunkan and Susan Burney,” two of the “Spokane Moms” whose unprecedented advocacy successfully raised the profile of the profession in that city and across the state.
Littrell-Kwik also acknowledges the contributions of the many Bellevue parents, like Jen Fukutaki for example, who signed on to her cause. “It takes many voices to make a difference,” she says.
Fortunately, the groundwork for this new policy was already laid by the time the Bellevue Education Association (BEA) sat down with the district this past summer for contract negotiations, Littrell-Kwik says. Knowing that the district will spend the 2013–2014 school year defining the parameters of these new positions and developing an information curriculum to utilize their talents means parents’ concerns that students “are not being adequately prepared with research and technology skills by the time they graduate,” are finally being addressed, she says.
Mowat agrees. “There’s a lot of catch-up to do in terms of research, taking in information, and communicating it out,” she tells SLJ. Writing and especially keyboarding skills are just two such areas—even in the younger grades—that need to be strengthened in the future information literacy curriculum, she notes. “I think it’s a state-of-the-art reality that we need to be teaching kids how to deal with information and how to best use the technology to enhance that.”
Overseeing the new curriculum will be Kathee Terry, BSD’s instructional curriculum director, with input from lead librarian Judy Bordeaux and other key administrators, including Eva Collins, deputy superintendent for student academic performance and instructional leadership; Sharon Kautz, executive director of curriculum and instruction; and Heather Edlund, curriculum director.
And soon, BSD’s two new Research Technology Specialists will be joining in the effort to craft a new curriculum. Although the name of the new position is not “teacher librarian” and successful candidates do not need to have an MLIS degree, librarians in the district understand how the role is being redefined, they tell SLJ. The successful candidates must have a teaching certificate, a Library Media Endorsement and strong experience in media is preferred, and, as Mowat puts it, the duty list for the new positions, right down the line, “matches what most of us are doing.”
Meanwhile, most of the clerks who have staffed the libraries since the cutbacks are expected to remain in place as the new specialists tackle direct information literacy and technology instruction, curriculum development district-wide, and collaboration with other teachers on site.
“I’m not willing to call this a victory until I see that the 2014–15 school year budget includes funding for teacher librarians [but] the signs are very encouraging and I hope to continue to hear good news,” Littrell-Kwik tells SLJ. Although she has temporarily moved out of state for the next two years, she notes that, “The thought of returning to Bellevue with my son, who will be a high school junior, and the knowledge that there will probably be school libraries staffed with teacher librarians just thrills me.”
Mowat also remains hopeful, she says. “I’m just ecstatic. The potential for this is great.”