By JOHN T. WARD
Smith’s comment came after more than two hours of discussion over the role of librarians – media specialists, in contemporary terms – and a recommendation by Superintendent Carolyn Kossack that the posts give way in the coming school year to other priorities. Namely, the teaching of so-called STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math.
Addressing parents who packed the media center at the Markham Place School, Kossack presented a 35-minute rebuttal, complete with Powerpoint and YouTube visuals, of a four-page letter circulated locally by a borough woman, Elizabeth Flynn, that was critical of the proposal.
Kossack disputed Flynn’s contention that the recommendation had been made unilaterally, and without consideration of the importance of media specialists in a child’s education.
The proposal, which Kossack said was made in the context of budget pressures, was detailed in an April 2 letter she sent to parents (LSPS letter 040215). The change would shift financial resources in part to head off a trend in which more district children are in need of special education, she said.
The most contentious element of the proposed changes, however, was the elimination of the media specialist positions at both Markham Place and Point Road schools.
STEM “is something we’ve had pockets of in our curriculum,” Kossack said, but “current levels of math instruction” are not high enough.
The instruction given by media specialists is already being taught by teachers in other subject areas, she said, and a curriculum to enhance that effort is to be developed before the start of the 2015-2016 school year, when the changes would take effect.
The change “doesn’t mean we’re doing away with our media centers. We’ll continue to purchase materials and order books,” Kossack said. But student guidance “will be delivered in a different way.”
About a dozen parents commented on or asked questions about the proposal. Kevin Akey, a borough resident and administrator in the East Windsor school district, said that while he agreed there is a need to boost STEM teaching, with its emphasis on collaboration by students, “you can’t have collaboration without” media specialists.
Media specialists are not just, as the stereotype has it, “kindly ladies who smell of lavender,” he said, but professionals who now teach students how to navigate the world wide web and distinguish between credible and non-credible search results, for example.
“Kids are great at technology,” Akey said. “They are crummy at education technology. They don’t know the difference between an abstract and a full-text document.”
Another parent presented the board with a petition bearing more than 250 signatures asking the board not to eliminate the media center posts.
“We have to make decisions based on legislative need” and other imperatives, Kossack said. “In this particular situation, there is an emotion tied to the individuals affected.”
Smith’s pledge to look for possible compromise was elicited by a parent. Other board members did not address the issue.
Kossack, pressed for a commitment by another parent, said she would meet with the board, and the committees through which the proposal was developed, and take into account the issues raised at the meeting.
The board next meets April 30.