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Missing From 6 School Libraries: Librarians

by Melissa Bailey | Oct 15, 2012 3:00 pm

(26) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Schools, The Hill, School Reform

Melissa Bailey Photo A scarecrow stands guard in the brand new Hill Central School library, greeting students who can’t come inside to browse or borrow books.

The door is locked for a reason: Despite all the money spent on the $46 million new school, it has no librarian to supervise visitors, organize the stacks, or circulate the books.

Hill Central is one of six city schools that still have no librarians seven weeks into the school year. The others are Clinton Avenue, Mauro-Sheridan, Wexler-Grant, Truman and Beecher, according to schools spokeswoman Abbe Smith.

Citing budget concerns, the district did not fill the positions after librarians at those schools resigned, retired, or were laid off.

Another school, Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy, was allowed to replace a departed librarian in late August before the school year began.

Schools Superintendent Reggie Mayo said this week he expects to fill the remaining six vacancies, paying part of the salaries through $3.8 million in state money that is slated for approval by the end of the month.

Without librarians, kids are missing out on a key resource in the school, said one teacher at a bottom-performing Tier III school.

“We have a wonderful library—it’s just sad and empty. It breaks my heart every day,” said the teacher, who declined to give her name for fear of retribution from central office.

“We have so many kids who are dying to take out a book, but they can’t because it is closed.”

A visit to two adjacent elementary schools, one with a librarian and one without, showed a day-and-night difference inside the libraries.

New, Dark & Empty

The brand new library at Hill Central School was dark and empty. Students returned this fall to a new school, but found they can’t use the library yet: The school’s librarian was laid off in February of 2011 and the district never filled the position.

Principal Glen Worthy said he keeps the library locked because no one is there to monitor the room. “I don’t want books to be stolen or lost,” he said.

Teachers have small libraries in their classrooms, but the books in the main library don’t circulate, and no one uses the room, Worthy said. The K-8 school serves 415 students at 140 Dewitt St.

A brand new reading rug, and boxes designed for students to browse age-appropriate reading books, sat untouched.

A computer lab inside the library lay dark, though Worthy said that room does get used.

In the modern era, librarians do more than circulate books. They’re called “library media specialists” because they teach kids technology, staff computer labs, and work with media beyond just print.

Hill Central has a brand new Mac computer lab that came with the $46 million new school. There is no library media specialist to help teachers and students navigate the technology, but Worthy said he makes sure students still use it.

Hill Central, which sits on the bottom-performing Tier III according to district rankings, is entering the third year of a quiet turnaround effort after it was tapped for a $1.59 million federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) targeted at helping the lowest-performing schools in the nation. The effort has been working, according to Worthy: The number of kids scoring “proficient” in reading has climbed from 24 percent in 2008 to over half in 2012.

Worthy said unlocking the library is key to that effort.

Getting a librarian “will mean so much because our whole initiative is improving literacy in the school,” Worthy said.

Computing & Reading

A stone’s throw away, the library at the Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy buzzed with activity Thursday as 1st-graders plundered boxes filled with fiction books.

Clemente, a K-8 school serving 550 kids at 360 Columbus Ave., lost its librarian at the end of last school year to retirement. Like Hill Central, the school is under heavy scrutiny and high expectations for raising student performance: After years of failing test scores, the district last year hired a New Jersey-based charter group called Renaissance Services LLC to run a turnaround effort there, also supported by the federal SIG program.

Principal Pam Franco said after her librarian retired, she made an urgent request to fill the position before the fall. Librarians are an essential part of school, she said.

“We would’ve been dead in the water if we didn’t have one.”

Just before school started, Franco hired Juliet Sullivan (pictured), a former classroom teacher who switched tracks into library science.

Sullivan said she sees each class of students in grades K-6 for 45 minutes a week, giving classroom teachers time for lesson prep during that time. Her library is one of the newest in the city, part of a $45 million new building that opened in the fall of 2010. As with Hill Central, the state-funded school construction project came complete with new technology.

On Thursday afternoon, 1st-graders began their library time taking tests on computers in the school’s computer lab. Computer time is key because starting next academic year, as the state replaces the Connecticut Mastery Test with a new test aligned with the Common Core State Standards, even these little ones will start taking standardized tests on the computer. They’ll have to know how to click and drag text. To that end, Sullivan has been teaching students as young as kindergartners how to use a computer mouse.

As they finished their test, the 1st-graders in Maryann Kowalsky’s class trickled into the library for some independent reading time. Sullivan directed them to a row of kid-height boxes, where books were sorted by reading level.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom! I love this book!” declared Orlando Maldonado (at center), who’s 6. He sat down to read next to two friends. Sullivan later saw the book and recommended something more difficult.

“I can’t find a book that’s awesome,” lamented Anthony Pizarro, who’s 5.

“I’ll help you find a book that’s awesome,” replied Sullivan.

Sullivan (pictured) tried to sell him on “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs,” by Judi Barrett.

Anthony ended up with “Our Raspberry Jam” by David F. Marx, which he sat down at a table to read.

As many as 100 students a day come through her library, Sullivan said. They typically check out between 40 and 80 books a day.

Ms. Kowalsky’s students filed out the door after some furious book-searching and book-swapping, leaving the book boxes disheveled in their wake. Sullivan employed two older student volunteers to help her tidy up the space.

Thursday had been a “non-stop day” in the library, she said.

Principal Franco said Sullivan has played an essential role in the school. In addition to supervising and circulating books, Sullivan teaches students—and teachers—how to use the new “online public access catalog” that replaced the bygone card catalog. Sullivan has created a school website, and is helping teachers create their own. 

Without Sullivan, Franco said, “our library wouldn’t get the use that it did.”

Librarians “are just the core of the building,” Franco said. When the vacancy came up, “we were very lucky to be able to fill ours.”

The teacher at the Tier III school questioned the inequality of the situation: Some schools—including top-performing schools like Worthington Hooker—have librarians, while others do not.

“I don’t know what the city is thinking when they let a Tier III school go without a library media specialist,” she said. “It’s such a disservice to the children.”

The vacancies popped up either through layoffs, which are based on seniority, or through retirement or resignation.

Schools spokeswoman Smith said she did not know why Clemente’s position was filled before others in the district.

As the positions sat vacant, teachers heard rumors of different solutions at foot: One would require librarians to split time between two schools. Another would ask teachers to learn how to circulate books. A third would use paraprofessionals.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Mayo said he has come up with a new solution: Use some of the $3.8 million in state money to fill the positions. The money comes from the extra Educational Cost Sharing money awarded to “Alliance Districts,” the state’s 30 lowest-performing school districts. The money can’t be used for just anything; it comes with strings attached.

State education spokesman Jim Polites said New Haven has submitted a proposal for how it would use the $3.8 million and is awaiting approval. He said the money should come in the weeks following that approval; the state is “reluctant” to predict exactly when.

Schools spokeswoman Smith said the district is expecting approval by the end of the month.

Mayo said he is committed to bringing librarians back to the schools.

“We think they’re necessary,” he said.

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posted by: anonymous on October 15, 2012  3:45pm

Wow. Once this news gets out, people are going to face severe consequences. Good investigation.

posted by: mm on October 15, 2012  4:17pm

There is no excuse for students not borrowing books from school libraries. A librarian is NOT a necessity (although nice to have).  I attended elementary school in New Haven many years ago.  My school, Davis St.,  had a library, but no librarian.  Each week our classroom teacher took us to the library, unlocked the door and conducted a library period. We were able to sign out and/or return books during that period.  It was considered a regular part of the reading curriculum.
Any principal who keeps the books locked away from the students should be out of a job.

posted by: darnell on October 15, 2012  4:52pm

I’m not ready to argue the pros and cons of charters and/or vouchers vs. public, but does anyone wonder why some parents would rather not send their children to the current public system?

posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on October 15, 2012  4:58pm

“We have a wonderful library—it’s just sad and empty. It breaks my heart every day,” said the teacher, who declined to give her name for fear of retribution from central office.

This teacher is afraid to say she wishes the library is open…? Really?
Says a lot about the climate within the district. She is not criticizing anyone she just wants the library open and is afraid to say so in public. WOW.

posted by: TryingToRemainAnonymous on October 15, 2012  4:59pm

Strings attached? What about the State saying “We believe children must have equitable access to books?” That’s a good string to be attached to.

This is a civil rights issue.

posted by: Threefifths on October 15, 2012  6:24pm

posted by: Darnell on October 15, 2012 4:52pm

I’m not ready to argue the pros and cons of charters and/or vouchers vs. public, but does anyone wonder why some parents would rather not send their children to the current public system?

Not true.The White run suburban public schools donot have this problem.I wonder why.

P.S.I wonder if Hooker has this problem?

posted by: darnell on October 15, 2012  7:00pm

3/5ths, I stand corrected. What I should have said was but does anyone wonder why some parents in urban areas with large minority and/or low income families would rather not send their children to the current public system.

Does that work for you?

posted by: Jacques Strap on October 15, 2012  8:24pm

Teachers would like to take their students to the library to borrow books, and likely would put in the extra time to track which student borrowed which book.  But in struggling schools like Hill Central, every minute of the day is booked by the big shots downtown. Students and teachers alike can barely breathe what with all the consultants and supervisors coming in and out of their rooms so often.  The irony, of course, being that a school like Hill Central is the last place students should be barred from borrowing books.  Kids First?  Yeah, at Hooker.

posted by: AMDC on October 15, 2012  8:30pm

Yes, New Haven Taxpayer,  the teacher is AFRAID to make any criticism or she will find herself labeled as a “bad” teacher and be out of a job and not able to find another teaching position.  KIDZ FIRST indeed.  What a disgrace.
And where are the parents to complain about the library being closed?  You can bet that parents would be all over this in another school, so it also says something about Hill Central parents and administration (principals are also afraid, I’m sure)

posted by: anonymous on October 15, 2012  8:47pm

3/5- No surprise. Black schools get less money even when you adjust for all other factors.
http://rollingout.com/culture/public-schools-spend-less-money-on-every-black-student-in-america/
(Read the actual CAP study, not the blog post above)

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on October 15, 2012  9:45pm

New Haven public schools don’t have full-time nurses, either.  Nurses spend a few half-days a week in several different schools.

posted by: trainspotter on October 16, 2012  4:42am

Jill_The_Pill is right. No Librarians, No Nurses. They do have a boatload of administrators however.

posted by: True that on October 16, 2012  5:36am

In at least one school, parents were not informed about this.  The irony is that I bet there is no shortage of physical education equipment.  There is also no shortage of central office employees, consultants, or contracts for law firms that contribute to DeStefano’s re-election campaign.
This is shameful but is reflective of the lack of leadership on the part of Mayo.

posted by: Teachergal on October 16, 2012  9:21am

When I went to school we had librarians who checked out books and maintained the library while teachers stayed and helped us select a book. There were no literacy coaches, never mind 2 per school, and teachers taught us how to read. Most schools had one principal until you were in middle school and high school. We didn’t have the outrageous number of supervisors, coaches, and administrators yet we still learned how to read, compute, graduate, and go on to get a job. And still the scores are dismal. Soon they too will be blamed for poor reading scores!

I find it interesting that today’s library medial specialist is expected to help kids select books,  sign them out, teach computer classes, develop a web page, teach teachers how to develop their own web page, as well as maintain a library that is attractive and neat for the next class.  Sounds like a recipe for burn out to me. No wonder there are so many openings.

posted by: Threefifths on October 16, 2012  11:12am

posted by: Darnell on October 15, 2012 7:00pm

3/5ths, I stand corrected. What I should have said was but does anyone wonder why some parents in urban areas with large minority and/or low income families would rather not send their children to the current public system.

Does that work for you?

It works for me.But studies have been done about failing schools in the inner city areas and they have found other institution that are failing.Like Police and Fire Services,Housing and even the Political System.

posted by: darnell on October 16, 2012  11:49am

3/5ths

As more usual than not I agree with you.

Proportional representation all the way!

posted by: JohnTulin on October 16, 2012  12:48pm

And for schools that have librarians, the city won the right to use them as subs - so in a library w/ a librarian, like Cross lets say, you may find 100 kids doing nothing (except creating a disturbance) in there on a given day.  Might as well not have the library at all. 

You could ‘ease out’ 5 worthless administrators and create positions for 10-20 librarians (some being part time).  Another NHPS joke, and the brass at the top keep laughing their way to the bank!

By the way, we’ve heard about the teachers removed from the class room from the new evaluation system - what about the administrators?

posted by: Noteworthy on October 16, 2012  1:52pm

Libraries and librarians used to be part of basic education, like P.E. Now, it’s an option? We build $50 million schools yet can’t maintain them. They all have a library but we can’t staff them. We do have two principals in every school, and security guards, and coaches, and we have consultants falling out the windows for everything on how to schedule students to districting.

Meanwhile, the NHPS has the lion’s share of the city budget by far, and here in CT we spend more money on eduation than just about anybody in the whole country.

But we don’t have somebody in charge of teaching our children a love of books and reading? Could our priorities be wrong?

posted by: swatty on October 16, 2012  10:36pm

i only wish we could wait every year to see if someone would budget to get mayo’s salary filled. And then maybe we could just lose the paperwork. Or find 500 kindergartners. You can not make this stuff up!

posted by: Benny on October 17, 2012  12:07am

mm - “My school, Davis St.,  had a library, but no librarian.  Each week our classroom teacher took us to the library, unlocked the door and conducted a library period. We were able to sign out and/or return books during that period.  It was considered a regular part of the reading curriculum.”

Some of the schools attempted that; without someone watching the books anytime the doors are open, the books all “walk.”

The Truman is missing countless books from their library due to keeping the doors open during their librarian-free era. Hundreds of the books were replaced (out-of-pocket) by the part-time librarian they were able to get for a whopping six months last year, but hundreds of books are still missing.

When you teach a child that a library and a librarian are not important, you are teaching them that books are not important. The respect for reading and this haven of books plummet exponentially.

posted by: Benny on October 17, 2012  12:11am

Teachergal - “I find it interesting that today’s library medial specialist is expected to help kids select books,  sign them out, teach computer classes, develop a web page, teach teachers how to develop their own web page, as well as maintain a library that is attractive and neat for the next class.  Sounds like a recipe for burn out to me. No wonder there are so many openings.”

There is no shortage of people trying to get these jobs. The Truman had a part-time librarian last year that was more than happy to continue on as long as they would keep her, but they let her go because of lack of funding (she had been hired under a grant). The money is what it all comes down to.

NHPS would rather spend hundreds of thousands of dollars piloting new math and LA programs every year, than to work out the kinks in what they already have and hire staff where they NEED it.

posted by: streever on October 17, 2012  9:10am

Mayo being employed is where I think any person of reasonable intellect has to think the Mayor is a mess.

No matter what else you think of him—a man who has been in an office for 20 years (in the words of Paul Bass when interviewed by the Yale Daily News, a “morally bankrupt” mayoralty that has been retained through unethical practices)—you have to see that his priority has not been children for most of his administration.

Are the schools improving? Well, yes, but the baseline was created by him: the temple like buildings which are understaffed and missing text books are situations created by the Mayor. It isn’t as if he inherited an over-built infrastructure that is impossible to maintain long-term.

He created this mess. To see a quote from Dr. Mayo about the necessity of librarians is offensive to our intelligence:

“We think they’re necessary,”

Really Dr Mayo? Then why did you not hire them?

If a librarian is necessary, why didn’t you hire them before school began? Why do we have 6 schools without librarians, and in our poorest neighborhoods?

This isn’t acceptable, and it is amazing to me that John DeStefano is still Mayor if this is how he manages the schools and the city.

posted by: HhE on October 18, 2012  9:25am

Amen streever.

For what it is worth; vouchers are round two of “white flight.”  Let those parents who cannot afford to bail out on their local public schools, now do so.  The parents who really care about their children and their education take their kids out of the public schools while the parents who cannot be bothered leave their children behind.  While we are at it, we could build a fence around our ghettos too. 

While good communication between schools and parents is a very good thing, parents ought not rely upon schools informing them.  I know my children go to their school’s library not only because it is part of their school’s curriculum, but because I debrief them every day.  “What did you do in school today?  Please tell me about you learned in school today.”  I check their punches to see what they ate and what they did not.  I look through their folder so I know if their is any home work or projects to worry about.  We read the library books they bring home before bed.  It is an imperative that parents do not rely upon schools to educate their children.  A good education is a comprehensive, collaborative effort between parents, schools, and communities. 

mm, why is our answer so often “....should be fired.”?  I worked at the same school Mr. Worthy was first an Assistant Principal at.  Unless he has radically changed (it happens, but very rarely), or I completely miss read him (that has been known to happen), he is a good person, who really cares about children and schools, and is squared away.  I’m sure a piece from the NHI, no matter how good, cannot tell the entire story.  I find Benny’s thoughtful comments very enlightening.

posted by: Brutus2011 on October 18, 2012  6:39pm

to “Hhe:

I do the same for my 8th grader, except for checking the lunch box. You are more thorough than I and I thought I was the “Hulk” of homework!

But seriously folks, how many of these little, or maybe not so little, hints of the dysfunction of our schools education management do we need to assault us before we apply the “extreme and unreasonable” objective test to those we pay so much?

The truth is that they laugh all the way to the bank, as someone posted, because they can.

There should be an element of mismanagement under negligence. Say what?

posted by: HhE on October 18, 2012  8:25pm

Brutus2011, imagine if every parent was on top of this as us?  Imagine.  Great parents make a great school. 

(Part of the reason I check up on lunch leftovers is I am still working out what they like best for lunch.  I’m think you figured that out years ago.)

You are so right about the poor management under poor leadership.

posted by: Someone who reads on October 19, 2012  2:03pm

Why didn’t the principal contact the PTO and see if there were any parents willing to volunteer time to have these libraries open? The taxpayers of the City of New Haven have paid more than their fair share for school construction (bricks and mortar) and this article seems to imply that there is not enough financial resources to supply the children of the most deprived areas of New Haven with a social/educational outlet. Why are the parents and preachers marching about this issue? Oh, that’s right, this senerio is not media driven like a shooting in one of these neighborhoods. Where is the community leaders?

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