Less than one-third of the about 200 Prince George’s County schools will have a full-time library media specialist next year, after what many principals call a year of making do with school libraries closed three days the school week and finding other staff to teach research skills.
Thirty-seven principals opted to use flexible school-based funds to foot the $32,500 bill to make their assigned part-time media specialist a full-time staff member, Matthew Stanski, the school system’s chief financial officer, wrote in an email to The Gazette. Thirty-one of these principals are at elementary schools, three are at middle schools, and three are at kindergarten to eighth-grade schools.
“Whenever you have a full-time media person, there is an opportunity for the person to work with classroom teachers,” said Frances Tolbert, principal at Cool Spring Elementary School in Adelphi, where there will be a full-time specialist this fall. “Students got the benefit of that coordination of services.”
During budget negotiations for fiscal 2012, media specialists were cut to part-time at elementary, middle and kindergarten to eighth-grade schools. But under student-based budgeting, the school system’s new method of funding schools that gives principals more freedom to make decisions on expenditures, principals can choose, as Tolbert did, to expand that position for the 2012-2013 school year.
A budget amendment approved by the school board in February allotted each of the county’s 22 traditional high schools funds for a full-time jack-of-all-trades, as library media specialists are often called because of the variety of projects they oversee.
“Library media in its fullness is rich and enhances the educational experience,” said board member Rosalind A. Johnson (Dist. 1) when she introduced the budget amendment in February. “[High school] is the last period for students to refine their research skills, those vitally important research, study skills.”
Tolbert said her students spent less time in the library this school year as a library media specialist was only at the school Thursdays and Fridays.
The school’s full-time media specialist during the 2010-2011 school year also taught talented and gifted classes, put on a technology night for parents, organized book fairs, and supplemented classroom instruction in research skills, Tolbert said.
“We’re going to reinstate what we’ve been missing this year,” she said.
Edmund Harris, a media specialist at three county elementary schools this year, said students at Woodmore Elementary School in Mitchellville, where he works two days per week, have checked out nearly 3,000 fewer books this year than last, when he was at the school full-time.
“One thing that does have a positive impact on student achievement is reading and reading on a regular basis,” said Harris, who anticipates returning to Woodmore five days a week when the school brings back a full-time specialist this fall. “Kids who can read and read well do better.”
Returning to a full-time position at one school will allow Harris to open the library five days per week, work with small groups of students struggling with reading, teach research skills, and reinstate the school’s televised morning news program, he said.
“It’s about being able to see things through to completion,” Harris said.
William Paca Elementary School in Landover, where Harris works on Mondays, will not hire a full-time specialist, said Principal Dorothy Clowers.
Clowers said her flexible funding is going to technology, software and classroom supplies, though she laments the loss of a full-time media specialist who used to read to students, offer book recommendations, and give small-group instruction.
William Paca students will see a media specialist in the building 2.5 days per week this fall, up from two days this school year, and Clowers said she’s looking for volunteers who could help students check out books on the other days.
Each school’s allocation of funds for the 2012-2013 school year is available on the system’s website, www1.pgcps.org, and each school’s budget will be released after the County Council adopts its budget this spring, Stanski wrote.