CLEARFIELD – “We’re almost to the point where ‘the rubber meets the road,’” resident Gail Ralston reminded the Clearfield school board, while it will vote on closing the Clearfield Area Middle School and the Centre and Bradford Township Elementary Schools to move toward the expanding and renovating of the Clearfield Elementary School into a K-6 campus at next Monday’s regular board meeting.
Once again, Ralston stood before board members and the district’s administrators to support its libraries and librarians at Monday night’s committee meetings. She said the Clearfield High School library is currently closed, and its librarian has transferred to the middle school. She said, “An important resource has been eliminated for our high school students, while grades seven and eight now receive the support they should have for the entire year.
“Certainly, you can say that these students will have another chance to learn these skills in later grades. If all students only needed one exposure to learn and apply a skill, a lot of remedial teaching and teachers would not be in our schools. The fact is the more exposure to a skill, the greater the opportunity for in-depth learning. A librarian isn’t about helping students to check out books.”
She said a librarian’s skills would be going untapped if they were only needed to help with checking books in and out. She said the new Common Core Standards require for more in-depth teaching within the library’s curriculum. She said the new standards are “more rigorous, and they go hand-in-hand with the various kinds of content and processes that school libraries are teaching, which is an area of information literacy, evaluating diverse media, selecting informational text, drawing evidence from primary and secondary sources, developing research questions and synthesizing information.”
“All of these are areas the school librarian is an expert in and works collaboratively with teachers,” said Ralston. She said these skills are not word recognition skills, but the critical thinking skills about what the students have read. She said these are the higher skills necessary to propel students from the levels of basic and standard to proficient on tests. Ralston said students need these skills to be successful in school and in everyday life while adding just because information appears in Internet search results, doesn’t mean it’s reliable or safe.
This previous fall, Ralston said the city of Pittsburgh voted to support its libraries with a .25-mill increase in property tax. She said the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette stated it “is adamantly opposed to raising the city’s property tax rate” . . . but the referendum was ‘specifically about quality of life;’ and, improving the quality of life should animate every discussion we have about taxing and spending, deficits and budget cuts.”
According to her, Clearfield’s decision not to have full-time librarians for all of its students was primarily a financial one. She said in Clearfield “we’re making things work by watching what we spend while giving our students the best education we can.” She then asked the board, “Or, are we? Without librarians and staffing our libraries, are we providing the best quality of life? The voters of Pittsburgh didn’t think so.”
Ralston said she’d received another article that was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette regarding school libraries. She said the article, “Study Links Libraries, Test Scores” stated, “The study found that students with access to a better staffed, funded, equipped, stocked and accessible school library are more likely to score advance and less likely to score below basic on state reading and writing tests.” She said in the DuBois Courier-Express, it stated, “What matters is that a library is the heart of not only a university, but also a high school, a community, and most of all, an elementary school.”
She said the Guidelines for Pennsylvania School Libraries Programs provide a minimum of 20 books per student. She said the standard was 25 books per student and exemplary was 30 books per student. If the CES project is approved and a K-6 library is created, she said the district has the opportunity to provide “exemplary standards.” She said she’d been advised that the district needed to look ahead to providing electronic devices for students to read.
“[It is a] great idea, but what about right now?” asked Ralston. “The students we have right now, and the ample book supply that now resides in libraries you plan on closing, are in the now, not the future. Also, how are we going to pay for these digital age tools? . . . [The PA Cyber School] provided 300 students with iPods.”
If the CES expansion and renovation is approved, she said the board will have committed $35 million to the high school and $11 million to the CES, or $46 million. In addition, she said it committed $1.75 million from its capital reserve for the high school stadium, which pushes the grand total to $47.75 million. She said although her numbers were “rounded,” the results were the same.
“A lot of money,” said Ralston. “Now, the students and the community can feel good about our schools, but what about their educational quality of life? You will have built a new 1,000-seat gymnasium, but what about our libraries and student achievement? What about our children’s education?”
She added, “You are only one, but still you’re one. You cannot do everything, but still you can do something.”
Resident Dr. Fredrick Ralston also addressed the school board. He said board members have likely received a “recall notice,” which identified a problem and how it’ll be rectified. Unfortunately, he said the students who find they are lacking in research or personal improvement skills while either applying for a job or enrolling in higher education will not get a recall notice from the district, saying “we short-changed you, and here’s what we’re going to do about it.”
Aside from the recall notice, he said missing part of the library experience is like missing the last volume of a set of encyclopedias. He said you have most of what you want, but not all that you need. He said, “If you are sitting there and thinking to yourself: ‘Libraries are important. How can he say that? We are providing some service – limited as it is,’ then why not send out recall notices to those near graduation, explaining how they can address the probable loss of a valuable skill. Tell them how they can get the last volume of their encyclopedia.”