“Reimagining, redesigning, and redefining education to ensure learning and development for all.” This sentence is more than our school district’s mission statement. This sentence summarizes my life’s purpose and passion, to find and develop new and exciting ways to reach and teach all learners. Perhaps it is that shared passion for innovating and inspiring learners that has fueled my admiration for the school library and my certainty that school librarians deserve more than a seat at the education table. Without school librarians, the table itself could not stand.
My more than 30 years of service in education have taught me the value of a strong school library program. I was blessed to attend and later teach in a school system that valued its school libraries. I knew from those experiences the transformative learning power that lived within school libraries. To me, the library is the heartbeat and central hub of the school. It is a place for the entire school to gather and collaborate, a place where learning is enhanced and the classroom extended. It is a place where learning can come alive and help each student make real-world connections. It is a place where all learners can dream, create, grow, and connect. It is an inclusive place where every child can feel safe and seen and valued. Robust school libraries are a catalyst for creating inclusive learning environments, and every learner deserves access to a quality library. When I became superintendent of my own school district, I knew investing in school libraries was nonnegotiable.
Sadly, when I took on the leadership role for Shawnee (OK) Public Schools in 2016, our state was in the midst of a financial crisis. That crisis had led to difficult administrative decisions prior to my tenure, and our school libraries definitely bore the brunt of those decisions. Library collection funding had been cut 10% across the board, and the two largest school libraries in the district were sharing one certified school librarian. By December of that first year in the district, I started the necessary work of investing in our school libraries again. Collections returned to full funding, and we hired another school librarian to make sure both secondary school libraries were fully staffed. We provided more professional development for our librarians, and by May 2018, all school librarians had received training in implementing AASL’s National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries.
Now, as I begin my sixth year leading this school district, I am proud to say all our learners from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade have access to fully staffed and fully funded school libraries. We have had a school library coordinator at the district level for more than three years, and our school librarians have received a number of local-, state- and national-level grants and awards for their superior teaching. Our learners are the greatest beneficiaries of the investment we made in school libraries. They now have greater access to resources and more opportunities for inquiry, collaboration, and exploration than ever before.
Yes, my district’s school libraries and librarians are exemplary, so you can imagine how humbling it is for me to be the recipient of a school library award. My role as an administrator is simply to recognize and invest in what will best reach and teach our learners. Based on the research and my own experiences, ensuring our students have libraries and the school librarians who lead them was an easy decision. Yes, reimagining, redefining, and redesigning education is my passion, but it is the school librarians who are busy exemplifying this passion every day.