Urgency, with a dash of intensity. That was the dominant tone of a recent call with John Chrastka, executive director of EveryLibrary, the national PAC for libraries. We were talking about the implementation of ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), the long-awaited rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. When President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act into law in December 2015, the school library community celebrated. After all, the inclusion of school libraries in this federal law came, in part, from years of advocacy work. (See “A New Start,”) We knew that in some sense the work had only begun. Indeed.
ESSA is all about the implementation now, and it’s critical that media specialists have a place at the table. While school libraries and the professionals in them are authorized by ESSA, they are not required. That means administrators and state-level education leaders need to know what they can do to help ensure student success, and the time for that awareness building is now.
The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) is offering guidance, and it shared related strategies at the June American Library Association conference.
This fall, SLJ’s annual Leadership Summit—to be held October 15–16 in Washington, DC—will be focused on connecting today’s work in school libraries to the opportunity inherent in ESSA. The program will feature a hackathon—an unconference, of sorts—wherein the convened leaders will dig into the challenges and possible solutions in their districts. Each working group will have an “ESSA translator”—someone who will actively build connections between the work of the groups and the goals and language of the federal bill. Chrastka will also be there, moderating a panel of national and state leaders on how school librarians can take a lead in the implementation of ESSA on the state and local levels. SLJ will be sharing out the resources and takeaways throughout and after the Summit.
That said, the urgency is intensifying as the states are required to hit a deadline of early 2017 to submit their ESSA plans. Now, with funding from Rosen Publishing, EveryLibrary is offering free, tactical support to state-level school library leaders to help make sure that libraries are integrated into those plans.
“Each state’s approach to ESSA implementation will be local and distinct,” said Roger Rosen, president of Rosen Publishing, in a statement. “EveryLibrary is uniquely positioned to provide tactical advice and support to advance a lobbying and advocacy agenda on a state-by-state basis.”
For starters, EveryLibrary has developed a snapshot of each state’s progress in a calendar. Chrastka told SLJ news editor Christina Vercelletto that the most important thing individual librarians can do is to learn the deadlines for the public comment period in their state, and then “be prepared to articulate your policy vision.”
In our conversation, he stressed the need to act now, as some states are moving ahead, while others have not yet begun the work.
I couldn’t agree more, and I welcome this out-of-the-box thinking on how to approach this unique opportunity for school libraries. If we, as a community, use this moment well, schools and school libraries will never be the same, and we know that will benefit the kids those libraries serve.
This welcome initiative infuses capacity into the library ecosystem at a critical time. Now, it’s time to put it to good use. Go set the table.
Rebecca T. Miller