March 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Right Stuff: SLJ’s School Librarian of the Year Award Sets a New Standard | Editorial

It is with great excitement that we present Michelle Colte, the first SLJ School Librarian of the Year. The award, developed in partnership with sponsor Scholastic Library Publishing, honors an outstanding K–12 library professional who exemplifies the amazing work in the field we see all year round, most particularly with regard to innovation using 21st-century tools to get kids engaged in learning, ultimately supporting multiple literacies.

Colte, who has been on the ground at the Hale Kula Elementary School in Wahiawa, Hawaii, since 2005, stood out from a pool of 92 nominees for, among other things, her nimble embrace of technologies to enrich the learning environment at a school grappling with the unique challenges that a military community faces. Under Colte’s leadership, the school library fosters connection, developing a sense of home while helping secure Hale Kula’s footing as a forward-thinking institution. Her sensitivity, savvy problem solving, and passion for her work leapt out from the nomination submitted by principal Jan Iwase. Writing in support, Violet Harada, University of Hawaii-Manoa professor emerita, echoed that sentiment and shared insight into Colte’s role in helping build what has become a collaborative community, as a tech leader and as an educator who lifts the game for all the school librarians in her state.

I was also struck by the deep caring Colte expresses in her goal to, as she says, reach “each student at his or her strength.” Read all about her and her school in “Library Strong”. She is an educator to learn from, and to keep watching as she, no doubt, adapts while she responds to the needs of the kids and families she works with every day.

This is also true of the two finalists identified by the judges. Andy Plemmons (profiled on p. 34) has put the media center at the center of Barrow Elementary School in Athens, Georgia. He brings a tireless energy to partnership development and a drive to foster a participatory culture to his work in a seeming whirlwind of creativity. Colleen Graves (p. 36) transformed the library into a learning commons at Lamar Middle School in Flower Mound, Texas. She has created a hub for tech learning and experimentation that supports teachers and students alike.

May this award be a heads-up to any school administrator who does not see the value a librarian can bring. May it inspire teachers to ask for the deep, meaningful support they should expect from the library. May it serve as a spur for librarians waiting to help their schools leap forward. As award judge Mark Ray points out in his Pivot Points column (“A Wealth of Leaders”), the candidates for this award “serve as guides for our practice.” I agree, and the winner and finalists set a high bar, indeed, but they also bring solutions in the form of models to follow for peers in school and public library settings.

As SLJ turns a youthful 60 this month (pp. 38–40), this award seems a fitting way to celebrate the rich tradition of adaptive, energetic service our profession keeps contributing to schools and public libraries. Congratulations, Michelle Colte, Andy Plemmons, and Colleen Graves.


Rebecca T. Miller

This article was published in School Library Journal's September 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller ( is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

Building Literacy-Rich Communities
Hosted by Library Journal and School Library JournalStronger Together is a national gathering of thought leaders and innovators from across the country who will share where and how partnerships between school districts and public libraries are having success. Join us May 10–12 at the University of Nebraska Omaha, as we explore the impact these collaborations are having on the institutions, communities, and kids they serve.