December 15, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Beaverton (OR) Green-Lights 15 New Teacher Librarian Positions

beaverton moms

Oregon school library advocates (l. to r.) Dawn Prochovnic, Mitzi Sandman, and Debbie Plawner were named Library Supporters of the Year by the Oregon Library Association. Photo: Jordan Plawner

The Beaverton (OR) School District has approved approximately $1.5 million in funding to add 15 new library instructional technology teacher (LITT) positions to its staff for the 2015–­16 school year. The decision, months in the making, is a testament to a school superintendent’s passion for technology and student achievement—­and the determination of three parents who believed that school libraries could be vibrant centers of learning, in addition to spaces for children to check out books.

“You reach this point where you ask, ‘Is this issue important [enough] to me that I am going to be the one who steps up?’” says children’s book author Dawn Prochovnic, one of the three mothers of district students who spearheaded the push. “And the answer here was ‘Yes.’”

The new hires are tied to the Beaverton initiative Future Ready Schools, which was launched by Superintendent Jeff Rose and whose goal is to look at “what tech can do to transform the instructional process,” Rose says. The LITT positions will be deployed at 15 schools that were selected earlier this month to pilot the new program, including seven elementary, two K–­8, three middle schools, and three high schools.

Rose green-lit the Future Ready Schools initiative after a $680 million school bond measure was passed by voters in May 2014 to help rebuild and improve schools. The new librarians will work with teachers and students to help root technology more deeply into learning, and Beaverton’s remaining 36 schools will, Rose hopes, join the program in coming years. Library assistants at the 15 schools, who had replaced school librarians when those jobs were excised three years ago, are reportedly keeping their jobs, with some schools netting both an assistant and a librarian.

Prochovnic saw the first glimmer of school librarians’ reinstatement last fall as budgets loosened and eliminated physical education and music teacher positions appeared to be returning to schools. At that time, however, overall funding for school librarians was nor being restored, despite the Future Ready Schools launch.

“This couldn’t be possible that we were still not returning librarians,” Prochovnic thought at the time. Families whose children hadn’t worked with professional media specialists since those positions were cut didn’t know what they were missing, she believes.

“What we realized is when you go [for] three years without a teacher librarian, new families don’t know what they’re advocating for,” says Prochovnic, whose children are entering eighth and 11th grade this fall. “Kids still come home with books because the library media assistants are doing those functions amazingly well. It’s that frog in the pot of boiling water. It’s hard to see down the line.”

Prochovnic threw herself into research and advocacy mode, talking to parents and “making a lot of noise,” she says. Two parents agreed to join her—­Debbie Plawner and Mitzi Sandman—and the three hit full-steam advocacy mode last October, going to school board meetings and requesting meetings with Rose.

The superintendent invited the three to sit down with him and talk about their ideas. Prochovnic says she believes that her success, and the creation of the 15 new positions, stemmed in part from the three women’s readiness to discuss not only their goals—­but how they fit into Rose’s mission.

“We came ready to be of service,” she says. “We said, ‘This is our vision, and it’s important to us and to the community.’ We also understood what was important to him, which was the overarching Future Ready Vision.”

The new Beaverton hires come on the heels of nearby Portland Public Schools’ recent decision to hire new school librarians for the 2015–­16 school year. The school library­–positive energy flowing through the northwest corner of Oregon is surprising even to Rose, who says that the two districts—­just eight miles apart—hadn’t  coordinated their commitments to expand school library staff.

“We have some very interesting people not just saying, ‘Let’s hire librarians’ but ‘What is the potential of the library?’” he says. “I find that extremely exciting.”

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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