CLEARFIELD – Resident Gail Ralston still doesn’t believe the Clearfield Area School District has sufficient library space in its proposed renovation and expansion project at the Clearfield Elementary School. She also doesn’t believe the current library staffing at the middle and high schools are in the “best educational interests” of the students.
According to the literature cited by Ralston, the size of a school library’s staff and collection is the best school predictor of academic achievement. She said savvy school administrators already recognize that the school librarian and the library program can be the “silver bullet” for boosting literacy and academic achievement.
She said in order to engage young readers more books need to be available. She said there are currently about 15,000 books in the CES library, which serves its 675 students. She said CES students have a book to student ratio of 22:1. She said PlanCon documents indicated the district has 1,232 students in kindergarten through sixth grades. She said the Guidelines for Pennsylvania School Library Programs report “that the (library) collection titles should be ‘useful,’ meaning current, accurate and meeting the students’ needs. The average age of the book collection should not exceed 10 years.” She said these guidelines also suggest minimum, standard and exemplary levels for a book collection in a school library.
With those guidelines, she said the 1,232 CES students would need: a minimum of 20 books per student, or 24,640 books (39 percent) more added to the current library space; a standard of 25 books per student, or 30,800 books (51 percent) more added to the current library space; or exemplary of 30 books per student, or 36,960 books (59 percent) more added to the current library space.
Ralston said the district is going to run into issues related to space and student library use. She asked where new collections would fit and if gaining books would be at the expense of available space for students. Ralston said there are currently two seating areas, and if shelving would replace one, then the library could only accommodate one class at a time.
She said the previously referenced “guidelines” also address how much square footage is needed per student in the library. She said the big question surrounds whether or not the district plans to provide its students a library with just a “minimum” rating. She directed the board to more literature, which stated that library programs serve as the “hub” of literacy learning in schools.
“Our ‘hubs’ at the middle and high schools will be disturbed for two years as they ‘function’ without a librarian in residence,” said Ralston. She cited literature that indicated the more often students receive instruction in information literacy from their librarian, the higher their test scores in reading and writing.”
Ralston said the Common Core Standards require students to evaluate information, use technology effectively and to be readers. She said if a student cannot read, he or she is not going to flourish in any subject area. She said students use technology but need to possess skills that allow them to evaluate and develop conclusions with that information.
“Librarians have those skills to assist students with that education. The Common Core Standards have literacy strands in all subject areas. That is the very essence of a library and its librarian,” she said.
She said last year, several middle school grades received report card grades for the skills being taught from the board-approved library curriculum. She asked if the subject area was worthy of a developed curriculum and graded evaluation last year, then what has changed this year? She said the answer is it became an area to “save money” during a two-year transition period.
“For us, it is two years but for our students, it is two years of missing an important educational component,” said Ralston.
“I sat at a board meeting where the project was being discussed and the board asked one of its staff, “can it be done?’ The answer was, ‘we can make it work.’”
She pointed out the board didn’t ask about the impact this would have on its students. She asked if it “just wanted to make it work,” or if it was their goal to “make it better.” She said her vote was for making it better on its way to best, but she reminded the board it’s their vote that makes the difference.
According to Ralston, Business Administrator Sam Maney has indicated that tax revenues were coming in higher than expected. She said Clearfield taxpayers have found ways to pay their property taxes and escape a tax sale. She said some probably took money from areas such as paying for insurance and home maintenance.
She said the district has more money to fund their expenses. As a taxpayer, she wants them to direct some of those finances toward the district’s libraries. She said Clearfield residents value libraries, as demonstrated by the support of the summer reading program at the Joseph & Elizabeth Shaw Public Library. Last year, she said 49 preschool and 67 school-aged children participated in the reading program.
She said the district wants people to move to Clearfield. She said good homes, family, employment and schools determine where someone lives. She said people will make sacrifices to assure their children obtain a quality education.
“Based on PSSA test results, are people going to select the Clearfield Area School District when it’s ranked 322 out of 553 school districts in Pennsylvania. Or will they select State College with its ranking of 61 out of 553?” she asked. “To make it possible for our district to move upward 261 places, we need to stress improvement in our academics.”
She said librarians and libraries are a key component for that improvement. She said the district was embarrassed by the condition of the football field and was dedicated to correcting it. She said the district created an enlarged gymnasium with 1,000 seats for an audience to allow two basketball practice facilities.
“Our libraries and librarians need your attention to protect our students’ education and to ensure their future success,” she said.
During his report, Middle School Principal Fred Redden reported his findings into the students’ library usage. He said the school had 1,665 items checked out of the library in September; 1,860 items checkout in October; and 1,057 items checked out already this month as of Monday. Redden said the students’ library access is giving them more opportunities to check out books.