There appears to be growing anger over the lack of library media specialists in Duval’s middle and high schools.
Because of budget constraints, School Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti recommended, and the board approved, letting principals decide whether to hire a media specialist, a reading coach or a test coordinator this year. The majority it seems chose a test coordinator, whose job it is to administer and oversee standardized tests.
Colleen Wood, who founded the public school advocacy organization 50th No More, says, unfortunately, there is just too much riding on standardized tests for principals to pass up the opportunity.
“The school grade is tied to the test scores. Their job performance. We’ve seen what happens when principals have made mistakes with testing procedures so they certainly have a need,” she said.
That may be what principals need, says retired Duval County media specialist Frances Pickard, but students need their librarians.
“The students are missing out on reading resources. They are also missing out on instruction on how to use electronic data, on how to sort out and critique the kind of information they’re using for research,” she said.
Pickard says some schools have closed their media centers while others are relying on teachers and community volunteers to keep theirs open. She knows of at least one middle school that side-stepped the issue completely by giving the media specialist the test coordinator title.
District 7 school board member Jason Fischer says money for school staffing stayed the same. The difference, he says, is that this year, principals had more choice about who to hire.
“We asked them, if we’re going to give you a staff allocation for a reading coach or a media specialist, which would you rather have?" He said. "The same with test chair. Overwhelmingly, the principals wanted to have a test coordinator over a media specialist. And that’s why there’s specific allocations for those two positions.”
According to Fischer, schools have always had the option of swapping out a teacher position for that of a media specialist.
The board, he says, will revisit the district’s staff allocation model this spring. As for test coordinators, Fischer says that need could diminish as the board works to reduce the number of standardized tests students will have to take next year.