Coos Bay Schools is a small district by most measures (3,100 students), and the district office is located miles from the high school. But the professional relationship between us, Superintendent Dawn Granger and high school teacher-librarian Peggy Christensen, is a close one. Peggy appreciates the leadership, commitment, and collaboration. Dawn appreciates the standards-based instruction, innovation, and forward movement of the library program. So how did this happen?
Build a relationship; not overnight, but over time. For me, our relationship began with a card of congratulations I received from Superintendent Granger. I had the great honor of being selected Secondary Library of the Year by the Oregon Association of School Libraries (OASL). To me her card meant, “This is someone who cares about libraries.” When I read in our local newspaper that she was having town hall meetings, I attended to show my support. At the meeting, she introduced me. That pretty much sealed the deal for me in terms of Dawn’s regard for my role as teacher-librarian. I wanted to get to know her better.
When I first came to Coos Bay it was the year that Peggy received the OASL award. I remember that framing my first impression. I had never before had the opportunity to work with a real teaching librarian and was immediately taken in by the scope of what she was offering to our children and staff. Through her, I saw it is sometimes overwhelming for classroom teachers to take on what would eventually become the library standards, as the standards may not have been a part of their teacher preparation or college experience. Peggy demonstrated that school librarians have this expertise and provide the instruction.
When Christensen began working at Marshfield, she could not locate library standards. So she wrote some using the American Association of School Libraries’ (AASL’s) Information Power; Building Partnerships for Learning and the AASL Standards for Libraries as guides. The result was a K-12 District Media Handbook for Librarians that included standards and grade level indicators. The completion of this document was both advantageous and timely for the annual Quality Education Model (QEM) report because in 2009, the Oregon Legislature passed SB 2586 requiring school districts to supply evidence of a strong library program (Oregon Department of Education).
Be prepared and have something to show. The handbook I wrote and used to guide my instruction offered tangible evidence that a library program should and can benefit all. Using the standards, I built a program the administration could see. My beliefs translated into action, and that action started getting notice. Superintendent Dawn Granger was one of those paying attention.
I was already pre-disposed to advocate for student equity and I saw Peggy’s leadership providing it. I have personally witnessed the difference between students who are literate in the school library standards and those who are not. Peggy provided not only the proposal for equity (a K-12 District Media Handbook for Librarians) but implemented plans to address it in the absence of funding and state support. Through our conversations, she and I agreed [on the] potential impact to our students who graduate without these skills…In many ways they are entering adulthood defenseless against predators, unable to rely upon personal knowledge to make key decisions or to research effectively so they can gain knowledge to do so, incapable of seeing possibilities when their plans do not come to fruition, and as easy prey for criminals and predators who populate our real and digital worlds.
Teacher-librarians in Oregon work in isolation in that they rarely have access to collaboration with colleagues possessing the same licensing. The data supports this. In 1980, there were 1,284 schools in Oregon and one licensed librarian for every 547 students. In 2013, there were 1,239 schools and one licensed librarian for every 4,396 (Oregon State Library).
Fortunately, OASL appreciates individual effort and helps school librarians by supporting statewide children’s reading groups and offering professional workshops/conferences. They work to get legislation passed to help keep school libraries strong.
Individual effort gets stronger with support. Professionally, the biggest game changer for me was becoming a member of the OASL board. They provided inspiration, mentorship, education, and modeling. Dawn has also offered support in her role as administrator.
Saying you support something is different from demonstrating it. When I started a campus Oregon Battle of the Books (OBOB) program, Dawn was there as a reader, writer, and a coach. Five years later, over 50 students are participating and Dawn still makes time to coach (OA SL).
When I started an after-school program to extend library hours, a grant from OASL and the district helped fund it. The program is in its third year.
When the OASL standards committee sought letters of support to Oregon Department of Education (ODE) to get library standards adopted, Dawn was one of the first to respond. ODE unanimously voted to adopt the standards in January 2015.5
In 2013, when OASL issued calls for proposals at their annual conference, Dawn co-presented. In 2015, she presented a session: Leading for Literacy: How School Administrators Can Support Strong School Library Programs to Meet the New Standards
Dawn’s involvement in, and support of, school libraries garnered her the distinction of Oregon State OASL Administrator of the Year for 2014.
As a child of poverty, the school library was a source of escape and acceptance for me. I was able to read my way out of the reality I was in and see the possibilities because of a teaching librarian. I have seen and experienced the difference a comprehensive library program makes. Although we presently have one licensed librarian in Coos Bay, that must change.
My second year as superintendent I adopted the story of the starfish for our focus as a learning community. I use the starfish symbol on my emails and to recognize staff at the annual in-service, as a symbol for the difference one individual makes. That is true for me too. It is undeniable that it takes a community to educate a child, but I also know it begins with individual effort.
As superintendent, it is not only important to recognize individual achievement, but also to give support and model good practice. That means more than lip service and tokens of appreciation; it means action.
Licensed school librarians in Oregon are leading the charge to help all students become future ready. That means spending more time on the teaching, collaborative, innovative, and professional development side of things, and less on traditional practices that can be handled by a library assistant.
That also means growing the rank and file to a ratio that was enjoyed in the 1980s. Preparing students to be future ready means school administration partnering with their teacher-librarians. Why? Librarians teach literacy and social responsibility skills essential for college and career readiness. Librarians provide staff development and collaboration to offer a full and rich learning experience for all students. Administrators who recognize and value the worth of teacher-librarians do more than pay lip service. They take action. That is what Coos Bay School administrators are doing. They do not look at money allocated for licensed librarians as an expense---they look at is as an investment.
Oregon Association of School Libraries. Oregon School Library Standards. January 22, 2015. https://sites.google.com/site/oregonschoollibrarystandards/
Oregon Department of Education. Oregon Quality Education Model-2000. 2000. http://www.ode.state.or.us/sfda/qualityed/docs/qem2000fullreport.pdf.
Oregon Secretary of State Jeanne P. Atkins. Oregon Administrative Rules: Oregon Department of Education Division 22 Standards for Public Elementary and Secondary Schools. n.d. http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/pages/rules/oars_500/oar_581/581_022.html
Oregon State Library/IMLS. Library Services And Technology Act (LSTA) Five-Year Plan 2013-2017. 2012. http://www.oregon.gov/osl/ld/lsta/lstaplanfinaljune27.pdf
Welcome to Oregon Battle of the Books. 2015. http://oboblsta.pbworks.com/w/page/5653620/FrontPage