Pro Tips from Superintendent Mike Daria | SLJ Summit 2022

The Tuscaloosa City (AL) Schools superintendent fielded questions from SLJ Summit attendees during a Town Hall event.

Michael Daria speaking at the 2022 SLJ Summit, photo by Sarah Morreim

Tuscaloosa City (AL) Schools superintendent Mike Daria has become a huge proponent of school libraries, working to ensure his librarians are part of every discussion and searching for solutions to accelerate learning in his district. At the SLJ Summit in November, Daria spoke about his district’s school librarians teaching him about the power and value of school libraries. Once enlightened, he brought the district’s librarians to the decision-making table and has seen the impact of that integration.

After sharing his district’s story, he took questions from attendees on a wide range of subjects. Here are just a few of those exchanges, which have been edited for clarity.

Q: I’ve been advocating against censorship—speaking at school board meetings; meeting with my chief academic officer, superintendent, my district media specialist; reaching out to outside organizations. How can I speak the language that my superintendent understands to explain that I’m trying to protect not just me, not just the books on the shelf, but our students, teachers, and the district from this insidious craziness that’s going on? How can I change the narrative? I’ve been told there are many cooks in the kitchen, and I need to sit down and be quiet, because any time I bring attention to this, it makes those on the side of censorship get more excited and speak out again.

Daria: Context is important, and your local context is important. So I hesitate to give guidance on local context. But you’ve got to be at the table. I think you’ve got to keep asking, “How do I stay at the table? How does my message keep resonating?”

I’ll give you my example, which is less extreme than what you’re talking about. I was not an advocate for libraries for a long period of time. I wasn’t opposed to them; I just didn’t know their power well enough. When I began to listen more, and I started to see evidence more, that’s when it began to resonate for me—I saw research, I saw data that speaks to me.

I think that is part of the answer to your question. You’ve got to keep identifying what strategy will get you there. What strategy works for the players that you’re talking about? What does that advocacy look like? Look at other groups, too. Who are your allies in this work? Connect with them so that you’re not there as an individual.

Were there others, for example, on the school board, who weren’t on the same page—who you had to convince about the value of libraries and inclusion of librarians in initiatives and decisions?

Daria: We are so fortunate. We’ve got eight really incredible board members. And they see their role as setting a policy connected to a vision and a budget that accompanies that vision. So they are open to say to me, “Tell us what we need to accelerate progress in this school system.” Because they recognize we’ve got to make accelerated progress.

The way we’ve positioned libraries is a really high lever for change, and there’s no resistance to that whatsoever. In fact, our board members have helped us get funding from outside sources for libraries. They’ve participated in our Strong Library, Strong Schools campaign. They’re all in on libraries, and I think that has made a big difference for us. So I can’t speak from resistance. We’ve just had eight folks who said, “Let’s get at this.”

Now, that doesn’t mean we’re all on the same page. Our principals are still learning. Our teachers are, too, so we’ve still got work to do.

What can we do at the school level, aside from presenting data and research, to get our teachers on board with working with librarians in the school on more than just their curriculum?

Daria: I know this is not the best answer, but be strategic about your approach. You all know the hardships teachers are having today. Plug into those hardships and say, “How can I lessen that load?” Or, “How can I accelerate progress in the work they’re doing?” I don’t think the traditional approach works today— you know, sending a brochure that says, “The library’s open.” I know you probably aren’t doing that, but be real strategic with the individuals in your school about how you can get in and enhance what’s going on in that classroom.

That may mean looking differently at the way you serve teachers. If so, find a pilot of success. I think success breeds success. Identify a teacher who says, “I want you to come in and help me with this.” Work with [that] teacher, start small, and incrementally get really big. Show a change in data. Show an impact. Because then the teacher next door is going to say, “Hey, can you come do that with me as well?”

I have a challenge for you, because you are wonderful speaker: Please take one of your awesome librarians to the national superintendents association conference, and present together, because we need folks like you to advocate at that national level.

Daria: So I’ll do it. If you do it, I’ll go with you. That’s a really good point. But you know, the School Superintendents Association takes proposals every year like every other group. I agree with you and I think you need to find different ways to present in those groups. The same thing with the principals association—elementary, middle, and high school. Each group has an organization. Find your way into those presentations to say, ‘Here’s the power of the library.’ I accept your challenge. Thank you.

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (, @karayorio) is senior news editor at School Library Journal.

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