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Norwalk school library aides fight elimination of positions

Fox Run Elementary School library assistant Christine Consolati speaks to the Board of Education Personnel and Negotiations Committee on Monday in City Hall.

Updated 12:10 p.m.: Copyedit.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk school library aides filled a City Hall room Monday to protest what a union leader said is a violation of their contract.

Although their concern was prompted by a pilot program at Brookside Elementary School, Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski recently made it clear that the district is moving ahead “full force” with a change from library aides to library specialists, Norwalk Federation of Education Personnel (NFEP) state representative Elizabeth Guerra said to Board of Education members.

This switch from non-certified positions to certified positions would not only would mean that 18 library aides would have their positions eliminated but also that some school libraries would close as the district struggled to find library specialists, a position that not many people are qualified for, Guerra said to the BoE Personnel and Negotiations Committee, hearing a grievance from the union.

The Fox Run Elementary School is closing as its principal is hoping to have a certified teacher as a library specialist, she said, explaining, “Our biggest concern is direct impact to students.”

“Most of the library has been packed,” Fox Run library assistant Christine Consolati said, describing books on carts crammed into the hallway. “I am running the library on the go, or the students are on the go.”

Consolati said she has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in biology.

“I love books. I am very passionate about them,” she said, describing many efforts to encourage children to read, including recently showing them that there are positive and negative aspects to Benedict Arnold.

The passionate description of dedication to children was repeated over and over.

Helen Nelson from Jefferson Elementary said she teaches the students coding and how to create apps, because, “I want to give them job skills.”

“We really are raising the future of Norwalk in information studies. We are telling them how to find information for the rest of their lives,” she said.

“It’s about fostering a relationship so they trust me,” Gayla Jaubert of Columbus Magnet School said, explaining that she warns students about “brain candy” so that they will read books that challenge them.

Guerra said that the district was “arbitrarily and capriciously” ignoring a part of the union’s contract that calls for negotiating the impact of changes.

NPS Labor Relations Director Anthony Shannon.

NPS Labor Relations Director Anthony Shannon said Guerra was misinterpreting “impact,” as “impact is talking about money only and not the impact on the members personally, losing a job.”

“I think everything that we have a heard so far suggests to me that the board should be commended for hiring these wonderful folks to do this work,” Shannon said. “Nobody is claiming that the library aides aren’t important or that they aren’t doing good work for the district. …There has never been more pressure on the school districts to have increased student outcomes, and really to have those outcomes tied to the performance of the administration and the teachers in the school district.”

The Brookside pilot program enabled a library aide to become a library specialist, transitioning from NFEP to the Norwalk Federation of Teachers (NFT), he said.

That aide received training at the district’s expense under a program in place in 2012, he said.

Chief Talent Officer Cherese Chery explained that the aide had to be a certified teacher for three years to become a specialist – not to be teaching, but to have the certification.

“The concern is it’s not an easy certification to get,” Guerra said.

Although there was talk of fast tracking aides to get the requisite credentials, mention was made of a $30,000 program to get a library science masters degree at a local college.

She referred to the Sept. 19 meeting with Adamowski and again said that, “It was made clear to us … that negotiations were happening in order to eliminate our positions, the library media aid positions, and however long that was going to take they were going to, in effect, come in and replace those specialists, however long it would take.”

Union leaders were told that the school libraries would close, if need be, until specialists were found, she said, calling that “a huge disservice when you are talking about 18 folks who are doing this work.”

The library aides are already fulfilling the job description of a library specialist, she said.

“Do they do it? Yeah. Should they be doing it? They really shouldn’t but they do it because their primary job description is that ‘they are doing their best for their students,’” Guerra said.

“The fact that they shouldn’t (do it) is really a strong point,” Shannon said. “I think that is what we are trying to address.”

“There is no intention to reduce what we were trying to offer the students,” Shannon said. “…I don’t see how providing certified teachers is doing a disservice to students. I don’t think anyone is saying that these folks are doing a great job it’s just another way to ensure that there is going to be some accountability.”

BoE Vice Chairman Mike Barbis said the Fox Run library has been closed so that it can be made into a modern learning commons.

“We as a Board have not made a decision on this but we have delegated, as allowed under state law, a great deal of power to school governance councils. Let’s be clear, the school governance councils made these decisions,” Barbis said.

Consolati was told in May that her position would be eliminated, and Adamowski made it clear that libraries would close while specialists are sought, Guerra said.

If the “impact was not negotiated,” the remedy would be to go back to the status quo and negotiate, Committee Chairman Mike Lyons said.

The Committee has until Nov. 22 to make a decision, he said.

“A lot of the discussion is talking about the broad decision the Board would make as part of the Strategic Operating Plan,” Lyons said. “That is not the legal issue. … We have to make a decision on the contract. We (as a Committee) don’t have the authority to make a decision on what the libraries will look like for the next 20 years. The decision will be if this position is allowed to move into NFT.”

Norwalk Federation of Education Personnel (NFEP) state representative Elizabeth Guerra, right, speaks to Board of Education members Monday in City Hall.

18 comments

JB November 14, 2017 at 7:35 am

Why not have a library staffed with two folks – a certified media specialist and a library aide? Running a library/learning commons is a huge job and best done by a pair of trusted colleagues. The library aide can handle the day-to-day stuff (book checkout, ordering, etc) while the certified library media specialist can handle the deep dives into collaboration with classroom teachers, etc.

I strikes me as a bit crazy that school governance councils are making staffing decisions in a silo. Shouldn’t the timeline be dictated by the district?

Concerned NWLK November 14, 2017 at 9:18 am

Ts all about money. Remember this group of 3 (Meek, Lyons and Barbass) just approved contract extensions and raises for all of central office. Dr. Admoski is set to see his salary increase by 20,000. Imagine if that money was used to help our aides and libraries… Imagine…

Brenda Wilcox Williams November 14, 2017 at 12:49 pm

Nancy, some additional facts and context to this story. Up until about 2011, Norwalk had certified library & media teachers in every school. While the Board has not finalized a decision to restore these positions, if we do return to this prior practice, we would expect that those certified positions would be restored in phases.

Brookside is a pilot program that is helping the district consider some of the benefits of having a certified library specialist. For example, having a certified library & media specialist in a school frees up classroom teachers for planning and other duties. Right now, classroom teachers in other schools have to stay in the library with their classes. Certified teachers are also trained to assess and measure student progress, which is increasingly important as we continue to close the achievement gap.

Our current school library aides have varied and valuable roles. We know they are dedicated, hard-working, and frequently go above and beyond. Because this has been designated as a shortage area in Connecticut, there are alternatives routes to certification available that don’t require the time or expense of a full college program. In fact, last night’s grievance hearing included a discussion of a now-certified school library & media specialist who completed training previously offered to NPS library aides.

We really prefer to hire and promote from within. It’s built into our Strategic Operating Plan and our professional learning programs are more robust than ever as a result. If the decision is made to move forward with certified library & media specialists, serious consideration would first go to qualified individuals within the district.

Last but not least, there’s no intention to close any school library media center. Some have been under renovation or temporarily closed while they are upgraded into modern “Learning Commons,” in some cases with the involvement of school parent organizations. Library & Media Centers are valuable resources for students, and any recommendations would be around upgrading them, not eliminating them.

JB November 14, 2017 at 1:23 pm

2011? I’m fairly certain that year is incorrect.

If the goal is to provide coverage for classroom teachers to plan than the district is missing out – library media specialists should be a part of the planning process. And as for assessment – that should be a joint venture of teacher and media specialist. In a well run school nothing happens in a vacuum.

CK November 14, 2017 at 3:28 pm

The certified library media specialists were cut far before 2011. When I moved to Norwalk in 1993, they did not have them in the elementary schools. I did not understand this until I enrolled my son in the school system for kindergarten AND had purchased my first Norwalk home.
Frankly, had I understood this, I might have moved to Stamford with my tax dollars instead where until this year a certified LMS and a fulltime para worked together to support the schools. This August the paras were cut due to loss of state funding but look to be reinstated soon.
My interest in this matter comes from the fact that I moved from the Midwest where I was a certified library media specialist for 13 years.
To the credit of the Norwalk paras that worked in my children’s schools, the teaching staff didn’t understand my certification since they had not encountered it in their school. They considered their paras a certified teacher/LMS. In truth, the paras were doing the work of an LMS and not being paid for it.
Make no mistake, a LMS has had training beyond teaching coursework. Much of the learning is been on the job as technology has become more and more a part of the library. A trained LMS has had the challenge of helping students with authentic and credible sources for information far before we had a term “fake news”.
Applause to Norwalk leaders for finally coming to terms with this void but I would hope the dedicated paras might also still have a part in the library program. The best studies show that a fully staffed Library Media Center has the greatest impact on student learning.

Cranbury Cub November 14, 2017 at 9:34 pm

“Let’s be clear, the school governance councils made these decisions”

If that is true, then why was Cranbury’s SGC request to hire our librarian (who is certified) as a Media Specialist turned down by the BOE? And why was this ‘pilot program’ allowed at Brookside but not Cranbury?

Concerned NWLK November 15, 2017 at 7:19 am

Maybe the shine on the BOE will begin to tarnish with their 1/2 truths. The BOE is far from perfect and it unfortunate that they continue to blame everyone eles when caught rather than admitting it was their actions or their plan along.
Several BOE members (Meek, Lyons and {Barbis}) enjoy taking shot at people via social media, but get upset when someone retorts their comments. The staff in the building the people doing the work, logging extra hours are treated un fairly, while the bosses, some of whom couldn’t find a school with a map are award bonus and pay raises.
I am not saying the work force is perfect, but if you check Nancy, time in and time out they have warned us all of the problems associated with such rapid change. I dare even say they embraced most of the change. The BOE is a divided group filled with people who have an agenda.
Comment edited to remove an insult.

Mike Barbis November 15, 2017 at 8:10 am

Concerned NWLK — please learn some grammar and how to spell before you post your systems attacking Board of Ed members who are ELECTED volunteers working to implement a strategic plan to carry our schools forward. Your hostility to the Board and Central Office is accomplishing nothing. You sound embittered. What half truths are you talking about?

Nancy, you have a policy for people making attacks — which is what I would call these unsubstantiated accusations.

Susan Wallerstein November 15, 2017 at 8:55 am

@ Brenda Wilcox Williams I do not believe Norwalk has had certified library media specialists at the elementary level in many, many, many years, certainly not when my children started school in 1980. Bravo to the district for moving in this direction as information literacy is among the most critical skills young people need to learn today.

Susan Wallerstein November 15, 2017 at 9:06 am

Two additional points: Most if not all elementary library paraprofessionals are usually called “librarians,” go above and beyond, and are often more qualified than the positions require. Related, this issue and others that surface from time to time remind me of the value and importance of institutional memory. Many are too quick to engage in ageist behavior/talk,, celebrating the energy and other attributes of millenials.

Mary George November 15, 2017 at 10:18 am

“Additionally, school libraries that also have support staff working under librarians to assist with non-instructional needs are considered to be more effective than those without because they give the school librarian more time to teach and collaborate.” (SCHOOL LIBRARY IMPACT STUDIES Aug 2013).

“A school library program that is adequately staffed, resourced, and funded can lead to higher student achievement regardless of the socioeconomic or educational levels of the community” (Scholastic, 2008).

“Students consistently perform better on tests when there is a full-time, certified librarian and appropriate assistant on staff.”
https://www.baltimorelibraryproject.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2013/09/Library-Impact-Studies.pdf

“Universal findings from more than 60 impact studies conducted in 22 states conclude that schools with a well-equipped library, staffed by a full-time, certified librarian and appropriate support staff contribute significantly to gains in student learning. High quality school libraries not only help students read more, but also help them learn how to use and process information better and to perform better on achievement tests. Levels of library funding, staffing levels, collection size and range, and the instructional role of the librarian all have a direct impact on student achievement.”

“Schools that invest more in library-related resources perform better. The conclusion to be drawn in a Mississippi survey: students in schools that invest more of their per-pupil expenditure in library-related resources tend to perform better on standardized tests at several grade levels.” (Roberson, 2004).

https://www.baltimorelibraryproject.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2013/09/Library-Impact-Studies.pdf

“A solid confirmation of the positive effect of libraries was a remarkable study by Lance, Welborn, and Hamilton-Pennell (1993), who found that money invested in school libraries in Colorado was associated with higher reading scores, even when factors such as poverty and availability of computers were controlled. Lance and his colleagues have replicated these results in Colorado and in several other states, showing that library quality, defined in terms of the number of books in the library and the presence and quality of library staffing, is consistently related to reading achievement.” (Krashen, p. 66).

“A South Carolina study commissioned by the South Carolina Association of School Librarians revealed that students were more likely to show strengths and less likely to show weaknesses on writing standards if their school libraries were staffed with a full-time librarian plus a full or part-time assistant.”

http://mediaroom.scholastic.com/press-release/new-research-report-scholastic-confirms-importance-school-libraries-and-librarians

AJ Smith November 15, 2017 at 11:15 am

@Barbis,
I don’t see in an attack in NWLK comments. What I have seen is your attack on the Parents Facebook page and here on Nancy’s site. The 1/2 truths mentioned could be that SGC voted to close libraries. How is this possible… The majority of elementary schools have no published SGC notes to view. Is that part of policy to withhold facts from the parents of the school?

Nancy Chapman November 15, 2017 at 1:19 pm

Mike, I edited the comment to remove an insult. Other than that, Concerned NWLK is expressing an opinion about a public body. That’s acceptable in a democracy though I agree that the practice of allowing pseudonyms might need review.

Cathy Andronik November 15, 2017 at 2:40 pm

I have been one of Norwalk’s certified library media specialists since November 1999; my career spans over 30 years. I had intended to keep my opinions out of this issue. But we teacher librarians have taken a nationwide stand against the dissemination of fake news, and the post by Brenda Wilcox Williams is chock full of misinformation. As anyone in the district knows, I have been outspoken about the need for certified staff in Norwalk’s school libraries. The recent developments are not the way I ever wanted to see it done.

First, I want to give a HUGE shout-out to the dedicated people who staff the district’s elementary and middle school libraries. When I first came onboard in the Norwalk public schools, part of my position involved providing instruction and leadership for that diverse group, and I came to appreciate what they do. I always assured them that, when the day came that Norwalk again hired certified lms’s, there would be a place for them as well, so the recent news disappoints me deeply.

I question where Brenda Wilcox Williams found the information that there were certified lms’s at Norwalk’s elementary and middle schools until 2011. I am not originally from the area, but moved to Fairfield County in 1989 and in December of that year began moonlighting as a part-time reference librarian at the Norwalk Public Library. I discovered at that time that, though there were two certified librarians as well as aides at the high schools, there were no lms’s in the lower grades. So this has been the case for nearly 30 years at least. When I first began working at one of Norwalk’s high schools in 2001, there were still two certified librarians plus one aide in each high school. It was around 2011 when that changed; we now have one lms and one aide for each high school, where the student populations hover around 1600 each.

Anyone who has followed the recent trends in school librarianship, in particular the learning commons model, would be aware that, far from providing free time for classroom/subject teachers, we are active collaborators in students’ learning. We develop and deliver lessons together with the teachers, not in a vacuum. When teachers get time to plan together, we are part of it, not providers of coverage. I worked for six years at the elementary and middle school levels in another town back in the 1990s; even then, I wanted classroom teachers to be part of my lessons with their students, so they could reinforce the skills I’d introduced. The library learning commons model in particular stresses collaborative involvement of teachers, students, and the lms; also, in this model, the lms frequently works with classes beyond the walls of the library, in the classroom or elsewhere, as needed. This model makes it even more important that the lms be supported by assistants who can perform non-instructional tasks.

For two years I was an instructor in the alternate route to lms certification program offered by ACES, mentioned by Ms. Wilcox Williams. That program requires candidates to be certified to teach in another subject area by the state of Connecticut, and to have already taught for several years. I am not sure how many of Norwalk’s library paraprofessionals qualify for this program; it is misleading to imply that they could be faulted for not taking advantage of this option.

The supportive, well-informed responses to this Nancy-on-Norwalk article make me hopeful that the city will make the right choices for both our hard-working library paras and the students they serve.

Mike Barbis November 15, 2017 at 2:49 pm

@AJSmith
How could I make an “attack” on the Norwalk Parents Facebook page when I am not even a part of that group — I banned myself from that group close to a year ago!
I used to spend an hour a day answering questions there, tracking down and solving problems posted there, addressing issues, etc. But after a round of personal attacks that I felt were unwarranted I banned myself from the group and have zero participation.
{…}
Comment edited to remove an instance of ascribing motives.

AJ Smith November 15, 2017 at 4:50 pm

{…} What month is April ? Is it not the 4th month of the year? You sir were there attacking the very teachers and leaders about the insurance change. If today is the Nov. 15th that would mean its 7 month not a year as you passionately stated.
{….}
Edited to remove an insult and a reference to a deleted comment.

Mike Barbis November 15, 2017 at 8:56 pm

Sorry AJ Smith — I left in the winter … long gone by April.

And I never attacked teachers over the insurance plan — so please drop that unfounded accusation. I shared facts on the 2.0 plan and I did state that there was a good deal of misinformation going around. I don’t believe pointing out facts is an attack but maybe some would see it that way?

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NancyOnNorwwalk.com was conceived as the place to go for Norwalk residents to get the real, unvarnished story about what is going on in and around their city. NancyOnNorwalk does not intend to be a print newspaper online; rather, it exists to pull the curtain back and shine a spotlight on how Norwalk is run and what is happening regarding issues that have an impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and safety. As an independent site, NancyOnNorwalk’s first and only allegiance is to the reader.

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Nancy came to Norwalk in September 2010 and, after reporting on Norwalk for two years for another company, resigned to begin Nancy On Norwalk so she engage in journalism the way it was meant to be done. She is married to career journalist Mark Chapman, has a son, Eric (the artist and web designer who built this website), and two cats – a middle-aged lady and a young hottie who are learning how to peacefully co-exist.