Superintendent Defends Lane Library Staff Restructuring

School Committee members Tuesday expressed concerns about a restructuring at Job Lane School that resulted in the elimination of the position of librarian.

Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad stood by the decision but promised vigilant evaluation. And he apologized for the timing of the announcement late in June after the School Committee had concluded its regular meetings for the summer.

Following the retirement of librarian Linda Coviello, former fifth-grade teacher Stacey Williams was named “instructional coach, working with teachers on classroom opportunities for literacy skills, research skills, digital literacy, and digital citizenship.”

Under the new configuration, during “library book exchange,” a library assistant will continue to help students select books and take care of library displays.

Conrad said the change was approved after consultation with Assistant Superintendent Tricia Clifford, who is also curriculum director; Lane Principal Rob Ackerman; and Donna Clements, Bedford Public Schools’ Director of Technology and Library Media.

“We think Stacey will be able to work with her colleagues in the classes, and at the same time instill all the library skills,” Conrad said at the meeting. “This is an opportunity for us to expand the reach of the library.”

“We are going to watch it closely to make sure this model works,” he added, also noting that “we will make sure the collection continues to be vibrant.”

Conrad said objectives include integrated presentation of skills in the classrooms; opportunities to check out books with adults who can make recommendations; teachers’ ability to connect with the academic coach; and teachers incorporating library skills in their curriculum.

“I remember we talked about how crucial third grade is,” committee member Sarah Scoville observed. “They shift from reading to read to reading to learn, a crucial point. I hope the loss of a librarian won’t compromise that.”

Scoville asked about the length of what she labeled a trial period, and asked, “At what point do you say this does or does not work?” Conrad said only that the process is “ongoing” and we need to be very conscious of it very early.”

In answer to a question from member Daniel Brosgol, the superintendent said there are no plans to extend this new format to all schools. “This was an opportunity we had to change the model at Lane School.”

Member Ann Guay said she was relieved to know that. “We don’t want folks to suddenly worry that their positions are in jeopardy.”

Brosgol noted that the School Committee sets policy, not “practice,” but “we don’t like surprises.” The rationale for the change “should have been made to us in the spring rather than sit in the community for two months.”

Conrad apologized for the timing; “my lack of communication was a mistake.”  Brosgol said, “We like to be on the same page. It’s frustrating when we are not.”

Committee member Sheila Mehta-Green asked about the training provided to teachers at Lane School, as well as whether there will be new expectations for teachers at John Glenn Middle School about next year’s sixth graders.

Conrad said Clements provides unified oversight among the schools. “Surveying students and teachers is very important. Stacey is so important to this because she has the trust of the faculty and the knowledge of grades 3-5.” Mehta-Green stressed that “library skills are a specialized skill set,” and Conrad replied that in the classrooms, “not only students but also teachers will be learning those skills and expanding them.”

Conrad said during an interview in August that the goal is to integrate research and technology skills “into all aspects of student learning and not as a support experience, as it was before, and help students engage the technologies and communicate their ideas.”

Committee Chair Brad Morrison urged that the administration take time to properly evaluate the change. “I’m concerned about trying to figure this out in a couple of weeks. The message I am hearing is we want to have a data-based look at how things are going.”

Two residents also addressed the issue during the public comment portion at the beginning of the meeting.

Renae Nichols said the change is inconsistent with the goals of the district improvement plan. “Librarians help foster a lifelong love of reading,” teach information, media, and digital literacy, and “they are a resource to teachers as well.” She asked that the position be reinstated.

Rebecca Neale said, “Librarian is not just a job title. This is a special job requiring special skills.”

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