In this most unusual of years, the librarians of Mesquite Independent School District in Mesquite, Texas, were thrilled to be presented with the 2020 National School Library of the Year Award at last month’s AASL Virtual Awards Ceremony.
Located just 30 miles east of downtown Dallas, Mesquite ISD is a suburban public school district serving approximately 39,000 Pre-K through 12th-grade students on 49 campuses. Each of those campuses employs a certified school librarian who works each day to accomplish our vision of “elevating learning for everyone everywhere.”
Because of the coronavirus, our path to this recognition took a long and winding road. We had just been notified of our finalist status and were starting to make plans for the committee’s site visit when the world shut down in March. The visit was pushed back a couple of times until finally the decision was made that we would have to provide the information the committee needed digitally. We submitted a video tour of some of our libraries and an instructional observation video. Then the committee spent an afternoon on Zoom interviewing our stakeholders: librarians, teachers, principals, students, and central office staff.
As they reviewed our application and interviewed our people, the committee found that Mesquite ISD has a long history of support for school libraries and librarians. When Dr. Ralph Poteet became superintendent in 1964, he created the Library Processing department to handle cataloging and processing materials so that campus librarians could focus on teaching students. That philosophy of school librarians as teachers laid the groundwork for the work we are doing today. We have also always had the support of our school board members, who consistently provide resources and funding for our program and never question if librarians are needed.
In conversations with the committee, principals shared how they use school librarians as instructional coaches, rely on them for innovative solutions to campus problems, and trust them to provide programs and experiences that build community for students and staff. Teachers spoke of their partnerships and collaborations with school librarians; how working with a librarian can turn a mundane fact-finding project into an immersive experience that focuses on critical thinking. Students offered that they felt safe and were able to be brave in our libraries, finding opportunities to make friends and share their voices through the book clubs, poetry slams, and virtual field trips. Central office staff discussed how the Library Services staff works together with curriculum coordinators and instructional technology coaches to provide resources and support that helps them meet their goals.
I think there are several important pieces that are now in place in our program that contributed to our selection for this distinctive honor. For the past few years, we have been using professional learning time to develop a vision, mission, and framework for program planning that has enabled us to offer a focused, unified, and proactive approach to library services. There are three program elements that drive the vision and mission: Personalized & Self-Directed Learning, Inquiry Instruction, and Transformative & Enriching Experiences. More information about these elements can be found on this one pager.
Winning this award would not have been possible without the extraordinary librarians of Mesquite ISD. As I said in my acceptance speech, they exemplify what Brene Brown calls “wholeheartedness” in the work they do on behalf of our students and teachers. They advocate for their students, embrace change, demonstrate flexibility, and strive toward excellence always. We will proudly display the beautiful crystal obelisk but not rest on our laurels. We pledge to continue to learn, grow, and promote the many ways that school libraries are essential to the educational program.