‘It is not a detention center’: Inside HISD’s ‘Team Centers,’ which took over some libraries at NES campuses (https://www.click2houston.com/news/local/2023/11/11/it-is-not-a-detention-center-inside-hisds-team-centers-which-took-over-some-libaries-at-nes-campuses/, 10 Nov 2023)
Channel 2: Please do better with your coverage of this critically important issue. Our children are depending on you!
This post embeds all of the comments already posted below the Channel 2 article, placing them in a broader context. Thank you to all those who said parts of what I was thinking.
Students Need Libraries in HISD (http://www.studentsneedlibrariesinhisd.org/ ) would like to push back a bit on some statements in the Channel 2 article linked above in hopes of stronger reporting towards a broader public understanding of operations in the NES and NESA schools. The premise of embedding in a specific campus is often a useful one that potentially allows deeper reporting through developed relationships with personnel on the one campus. The flip side of those deepening relationships is that the campus is prepped to always have its best foot forward for Channel 2 visits. The station is offering Miles and his NES system free lipstick! With this challenge in mind, we hope Channel 2 will plan some visits to other NES, NESA, and even campuses supposedly being “left alone” in order to compare morale and other conditions. Certainly, it is possible that Fleming is a shining example of improvements as a result of Miles systems. However, every board meeting sees 70+ community people speaking out with a different message. Considering this outcry from students, parents and teachers at Board of Managers meetings, Channel 2 should want to dig a bit deeper to challenge the rosy picture the Nov 10 Fleming interviews offer.
The article is accompanied by three videos. The long one at the top includes clips from the other two. One interview of the two posted within the article speaks with the 6th grade Learning Coach who is also making it possible for students to borrow library books. She talks about how much 6th and many 7th graders love their books; she even mentions that comic books are favorites. That’s great. But how many students - exactly? How many books - exactly? What mechanism for checkout? Honor system or paper system? In a district obsessed by data, it is interesting that the Fleming book circulation is not reflected in the Library Services district-wide data; according to that data, Fleming students have checked out ONLY two ebooks and NO print books this school year. This indicates that Ms. Timms is not using the district-wide automated circulation and catalog system - she may not even be aware one exists. Maybe the computer that would have managed that circulation was removed as part of the transition to a Team Center. It is most unfortunate that normal library procedures have been pushed aside in this new world of NES – that data could ultimately support insights into the success (or not) of NES efforts.
Additionally, what about assistance and training for research skills and needs? There is so much more to a library than simply allowing a few students to take home an occasional couple of books. Certified school librarians are trained professionals with classroom teaching experience ready to help students locate the right book for their needs or interests of the day, and to repeat the process for new needs or interests tomorrow. We can guess that in the NES focus on decoding skills that students will not be given time to learn how to locate useful information to support even academic topics, much less areas of personal interest. Libraries support students to discover how to love learning. The NES system in its rigidity and focus on skills over content is likely to do the opposite.
Let’s look at the happy faces in this article. The teachers interviewed cannot say anything negative. The media across Houston are carrying stories of the many reassignments of teachers and administrators happening for seemingly random reasons: HISD staff members who have spoken negatively have faced retribution. All teachers have personal lives with bills to pay. Notice that parents and students interviewed gave the school lower marks. They have nothing to lose by being critical. They can afford to be honest. Watch a Board meeting to see the anguish being felt at many levels.
Because we are Students Need Libraries in HISD and have been active for several years with that focus, we will set to the side questions about the actual effectiveness of the Team Center concept. Not addressing it here does not mean we think it is fine. We understand that there are three kinds of students in the space, each with different needs: classroom disruptors, in school suspensions, and fast learners. Those Learning Coaches have a huge job in the Team Centers to teach various levels in subject areas that may not be their own expertise.
“It is not a detention Center” offers window dressing to mask the devastating impact of this new regime on HISD's students, with the library system as today’s lens. 98 HISD schools now have no functioning libraries - that is 39% of 250 schools compared to only 5% without any library services in 2022-23. These schools have no library staff to support students seeking either books of personal interest or books that expand classroom topics; staff to help them find and use digital materials; staff to manage and track books and other resources. Books and/or shelving have been removed or rearranged from some campuses to open the full space to the many desks required to implement the NES Team Center concept. Out of the 16 NES and NES/A middle schools, with 9766 students, only 8 print books have been checked out so far this school year through the district-wide library circulation management system. Channel 2 and its viewing public would be well served by visits to other campuses – perhaps Furr HS, Fondren MS, Oates Elementary. Perhaps a rotation of visits across the NES spectrum of schools would expand Channel 2 and public understanding? In our opinion, Channel 2 should dig further into a broader spectrum of campuses to understand and broadcast the effects of the NES system.
Please do better with your coverage of this critically important issue. Our children are depending on you!
This letter went today to all candidates for open School Board seats, as well as to all sitting Board members and to the sitting Board of Managers.
The candidates are: Savant Moore (unopposed, D2); Dani Hernandez (D3); Fe Bencosme (D3); Pat Allen (D4); Meg Seff (D4); Placido Gomez (unopposed, D8).
Dear HISD School Board Candidates,
Students Need Libraries in HISD is organized for the purpose of raising awareness among HISD leadership, parents, and community about the importance of strong school libraries. We want all students to be successful in life. Reading is an important factor in their success. We know that presently the district leadership has lost sight of that understanding by closing libraries in some schools, but we believe that the Board of Managers and the elected board can provide the needed correction to develop proficient readers district-wide, a correction that should include campus libraries district-wide. HISD has many fine library programs and top-notch library professionals across the district.
Research tells us that schools staffed by certified school librarians are better able to raise literacy rates and standardized test scores. “…[T]he benefits associated with good library programs are strongest for the most vulnerable and at-risk learners, including students of color, low-income students, and students with disabilities.” (Lance, Keith Curry and Debra Kachel. “Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.” Phi Delta Kappan, 26 Mar 2018.) Additionally, “A 2022 study by Rutgers University found 1st-year college students who had prior high school research experience, especially those from schools with certified librarians, felt more confident in their academic research skills.” (Philadelphia students navigate school without access to school libraries. Pennsylvania Capital Star, 24 Oct 2023).
SNL is led by Debbie Hall, a retired HISD librarian; Dorcas Hand, another retired school librarian from Houston but not HISD; and Lisa Robinson, a former HISD teacher turned library staffer and now retired. We represent a grass-roots organization of HISD school library supporters from across the district. Our membership includes active duty librarians, parents, community activists, retired librarians, and others who support school libraries. We have seen the impact that strong resources and programs organized by trained professionals can have on students hungry to learn, both in and beyond the classroom. We are working toward the goal that all students in all HISD schools will benefit from an active, engaging library program which will allow them access to resources they need to grow as readers and learners.
Our SNL website is packed with information for you as Board candidates and members, as well as for all advocates for and stakeholders in HISD school libraries. Today, we offer you current and retrospective data about library staffing in your Board district. We know how hard you will work for students in our district, and want to help you have accurate information about ways to help them even more. Thank you for all you hope to do as an HISD Board Trustee.
The graph below offers you an overview of current staffing compared to last year and to 2019. We note that in 2022, library staffing and libraries were reactivated in most campuses that had been without. Most of the 2022 staffing were certified librarians or teachers. This year, under Mike Miles, most of that progress has been lost - especially in low-income neighborhoods of color, areas where students are least likely to have ready access to a convenient public library or other book sources, areas likely to be considered “book deserts.” Given that raising literacy skills and scores is a top priority of the district, this loss of access to a variety of age-appropriate books to support student interests and academic needs is heartbreaking and counterproductive. We also remain concerned about the $1.4 million in ESSER funds invested in these reactivated library programs, funds that are now unaccounted for on too many campuses.
The numeric data that supports this graph can be found by scrolling down on the Houston Independent School District School Board page. If you are interested in the details for each elected Board district, please click on the appropriate district on that same page. You may also want to “Choose Your Own Adventure - you can Discover 10 Ways Effective School Librarians Support HISD Students.” Read one or several, in any order. Short reads, every one.
We look forward to meeting you, to answering any further questions you may have, and to building a relationship that will serve the students of HISD well after you join the elected Board in January to support the Board of Managers in deeper understandings of the role libraries could play in improving student STAAR scores. We welcome you to advocate with us whether you are elected or not.
Debbie Hall sent this letter to the state-appointed HISD Board of Managers a few days ago. I am sharing it here so that all our Students Need Libraries readers are aware of the snow job that is happening in TEA. We must all continue to speak up at every opportunity. There are no roses to be found in the chaos that Mike Miles is instigating. Our HISD students across the district are subjected to unreasonable education methods.
I saw that Mr. Morath recently gave the SBOE an update on the Houston ISD takeover. I am sure you are aware of the fact that this takeover by TEA has received national attention and generally it has not been viewed by the public favorably. I wanted to clarify the remarks he made to you. We do not need more misinformation.
by Lisa Sandoz Robinson
When former Texas State Rep. Matt Krause released his list of 850 titles* that he felt needed to be investigated, I read through page after page with growing alarm. An informational text on how to avoid bullies? A history book about the Trail of Tears? A book discussing a resistance movement among Afghani girls? But what really shocked me was seeing a book that I myself had purchased for my elementary school library just a few years ago: Separate Is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh.
When I selected this nonfiction title, I was impressed by its numerous awards. I was also hopeful that my mostly Hispanic students could relate to the story since the case involved Sylvia Mendez’s fight to desegregate her California school for children of Mexican heritage. When the book came in, my students were excited to hear about a girl with whom they had so much in common. It reminded me that diverse stories matter for our students who need to see themselves in the books that they read. It also reinforced my belief that one of the most important tasks that a librarian can do is share those individual stories of history that the classroom curriculum is sometimes too rushed to cover. When diverse books and books telling an uncomfortable or difficult story from history are removed from library and classroom shelves, these goals cannot be realized.
I am the co-moderator of a new Facebook group called the Banned Book Club. We have read some great banned and challenged books in the last few months. In honor of National Children’s Picture Book Day on April 2nd, our April Zoom session will be the first time we focus on picture books. These wonderful books, which are usually geared towards younger readers but are really for anyone who loves a great story accompanied by a wealth of illustrations, have also been targeted by rightwing extremists in their zeal to “cleanse” our schools and public libraries.
We cannot continue to let them get away with these book banning efforts which are happening across the country at all grade levels. Too much is at stake. As Kentucky nurse epidemiologist Beverly May wrote in an October 2021 op-ed for the Lexington Herald Leader, “the cost of acquiescence is steep: our kids have lost essential reading, and useful tools have been taken from teachers. Now emboldened, the parent/censors will return, and not just to Floyd County. They are part of a national trend of online organizing which seems to have the unspoken objective of removing literature written by or about black and brown people, as well as any other work that doesn’t affirm their narrow world view, from our schools.”
We must speak up and speak out loudly at every opportunity.
by Dorcas Hand
Feb 25, 2023
Dear Mr. House and HISD Administration,
Students need Libraries in HISD has just sent individual letters to the School Board expressing our support for your decisions to reconstitute HISD Library Services this school year. It was a bold and exciting decision, and we wanted to be sure the Board is aware of the impact to students across the district, and specifically in their own districts. The data is also posted to our website.
The letter they received is below, not in italics.
Students Need Libraries (SNL) has been watching with excitement the changes in HISD Library Services as our students across the district get the library resources consistently. We commend you, Superintendent House and Officer Adrian Acosta of the Academic Instructional Technology Department for your collective leadership to reconstitute the central Library Services Department in support of all the campus libraries. We thought you would appreciate an update to the data we have offered SB members for the last 5 years, data that reflects the changes in campus services. We will also post this data to our website.
We can now say that 88% (228 campuses) have certified teachers or librarians (certified teachers with additional library certification) staffing the campus library. That is compared to 48% (132 campuses) last year. And only 24 campuses (9%) have no library services now, compared to 93 campuses (34%) last year. To put a finer point on this, 228 campuses with services and only 9 without for 2022-2023 compared to 132 with and 93 without in 2021-22.
Please keep in mind these points about HISD Library Services and schools within its control when reading the following two-year comparison table:
The HISD Library Services Department, led by Len Bryan, is working with all these library staff whether they are new to the library, new to the district, or experienced HISD librarians. They are building a team across the district, a team connected by feeder pattern, by grade level served, and by Board district to collaborate to the benefit of all your students. The combinations of staff, active library facilities, and the influx of ESSER-funded books supports students to love reading and learning.
We know that [Board Members] look at the campuses in [their] own district, so we also offer [these tables] of staffing by [district and] campus to help you with those details. We hope that you will stop by these libraries to see the energy and enthusiasm that is clear from students and staff. We know because we have also been stopping by to help the library staff move the old books no longer suited for circulation off the shelves and floors to let the new books shine.
SNL remains ready to support the libraries in any way that Library Services finds useful. We follow their lead, because they are implementing district goals.
Students Need Libraries in HISD
by Debbie Hall
We believe in the power of books to change lives.
We believe that all students need access to books and that a zip code or school campus should not determine access to libraries.
We believe that Superintendent Millard House has a plan to improve HISD schools and he should be allowed to follow through with his vision.
We believe our school board is focused on the best interests of students.
We believe that a TEA takeover is an unwarranted power grab.
The two problems identified as problematic (school board and Wheatley) have been resolved. Also evidence shows that school takeovers do not provide an effective solution.
Now is the time to let HISD leaders focus on the task at hand.
Our Students Need Libraries In HISD advocacy group believes that our elected officials represent the best interests of the students, the schools, and the community. We are appalled by the actions of the TEA and know that this cloud hanging over the school district must end.
We believe in our board and our new superintendent, Millard House. We would like our readers to know that we have written letters to the editor of the Houston Chronicle to document that support. We have also written to the Chronicle education reporter, Rebecca Carballos, in support of HISD's position.
There are numerous articles documenting the failure of school takeovers to fix problems in schools. Here are just a few:
Let the HISD leadership move forward to improve the education of all students. TEA needs to mark this matter resolved.
By Dorcas Hand
This may be an off-year for school board elections, but political rhetoric for all other races is heating to a fever pitch. Education issues have become pawns as some try to say schools are not doing their job properly. We are all watching as K-12 curriculum and libraries have both taken heat.
We want to thank the HISD School Board and administration for standing by the solid policies and procedures already in place to manage requests for reconsideration of materials, rather than acting on demands from the loud and passionate speakers who attend SB meetings to request that books be banned. The restoration of library services to all campuses this year is further support of this effort to offer our students a wide range of reading materials to accommodate their ages, abilities, interests and academic needs. HISD demonstrated in its budget decisions that we value our teachers, and are working hard to pay them what they are worth. Thank you for also respecting them as the professionals they are and for the expertises they hold.
We are here today to remind you that a majority of voters prefer that libraries and classrooms continue to offer readers of all ages access to information that will help them explore their world, and fiction that will excite their imaginations and strengthen their literacy.* These mainstream voters want to make sure that children in families struggling to make ends meet can get the same good education as children in wealthy families, and that quality public education grounded in respect for each person is available to every student.
Many voters are confident that the democracy defined by our Constitution will keep us steadily moving into the future. But it is the voices in the minority, loud and demanding, who want to control not only what their own children read and learn, but what all children read and learn - and they do it for political clout, rather than for the children. They have generally not completely read the books in question, but focused on words and phrases taken out of context. The so-called Parental Rights they fight for already exist, and schools listen to them. Every parent has the right and responsibility to play the lead role in the education of their own children, but they do not have any right to deny other families the same right to offer their children more open access to information.
How can our students learn to lead this democracy as adults if they cannot read about our history - even unpleasant, messy, unfortunate historical events - to see attitudes and actions they want to prevent from happening again? How can they appreciate the lives, cultures and experiences of our diverse city and world without exposure to all of that? How can our students learn to manage their own human development and understand people around them if those topics are not available? All kids deserve to feel safe to learn and thrive at school. Removing resources that make a few uncomfortable leaves many more students with limited academic resources that would honor their cultural awareness. In America, we celebrate free speech and independent thinking. Trying to limit or remove those freedoms is censorship.
Thank you for continuing to support Superintendent House and the amazing well-educated, hard-working teachers and administrators HISD has hired as they work with our awesome and diverse students. We are relying on these students to understand their changing world as they become Houston voters and leaders. They will need broad knowledge, confidence in their abilities to collaborate with many, and insightful creativity to solve the problems we already see and the new ones we don’t yet imagine. And you are the current School Board we rely on to continue your support of a great HISD education. Thank you for your service. Students Need Libraries in HISD stands by you to defend our students’ right to read.
*“New ALA Poll Shows Voters Oppose Book Bans.” American Libraries, 24 Mar 2022. “The poll was conducted by Hart Research Associates and North Star Opinion Research on behalf of ALA. It included 1,000 voters and 472 parents of children in public schools. The sample is demographically and geographically representative of voters and parents in the US. Additional survey findings and methodology can be found on the ALA website.”
HISD espouses this obvious and admirable goal: all HISD graduates will be ready for the world they are entering as adults. Sadly, the last time any data was updated on this program is 2014:
And in those 7 years, HISD has struggled on many fronts. I will focus on libraries. There are 280 schools in the district but only 57 certified librarians in 2021-22; this year, there are 93 schools with no library, whether it is defined as vacant or closed. How can students progress to college without awareness of library skills and resources throughout their K-12 career? At the high school level, out of 40 high schools, only 15 have functioning libraries and of those only 7 have certified librarians. How can HISD expect to send college-ready graduates out the door when they have no clue how to take advantage of the services of their college library?
And now the good news: Superintendent House has just announced in his Strategic Plan an intention to restore library services to all HISD campuses. This will support HISD Global Graduates in their quest for strong life and academic schools based on clear awareness of the services and tools libraries provide.
College level Literacy in 2022 includes critical thinking, understanding of how to vet sources for validity, skills to decode images and infographics as well as text, and much more that is not necessarily covered in classroom curricula. School librarians are teachers with additional training to support students in learning to be skilled users of information. In order to use information to build new ideas, students must first identify the information they need; locate that information; read, analyze and understand it; and finally build new ideas of their own based on what they have learned. College and university students who have no previous experience with libraries or research methods struggle very much, and sometimes drop out of higher education as a result. Houston Community College librarians can also speak to this. The Assn for College and Research Libraries commissioned Rhonda Huisman to do research into this topic in 2015 (see link below). “If we continue to allow these roles [librarians] to disappear from the K–12 landscape, what academic librarians and faculty will be compensating for or remediating will impede the engagement, retention, and success of those college ready, college bound students.”
HISD has been failing its graduates when its schools do not provide strong library services throughout the K-12 years. Knowing there is now a plan to restore library services across the district is very important. That said, starting with high school libraries makes sense as they will be the first out the door. Even students who will not attend college need information skills to find jobs, to use complex catalogs included in those jobs (think looking up auto parts to match year, make, model), to continue to learn for better jobs, and to participate in their communities as adult leaders. Building new library programs in the 25 high schools that currently have none will take time and attention, not to mention a culture shift. Calling a campus College Guidance area the library is not the same as working with all students to be sure they do graduate with the life skill of information usage in all its aspects. Parents who expect their students to be successful after graduation expect that HISD will step up to offer them the right tools to accomplish that, which includes strong library services geared to preparing students for academic work at the college level.
Huisman, R. (2015). Library As Place in Urban High Schools: Connecting College Readiness to Librarian Intervention and Community Partnerships.
by Debbie Hall
Library Services are administered at the district level under the auspices of various larger departments. In some districts, the library manager reports to the director of technology, school support services, or curriculum for example. It is sometimes difficult for the managing department to be responsive to the needs of libraries because they are not well-versed in the unique needs and functionality of school libraries. Here is what I recently shared with members of the HISD leadership team about problems I have observed with how Library Services is being managed. This is especially critical due to the recent resignation of the HISD Library Services Manager.
As a retired HISD library administrator, I watch with interest and concern for events that potentially impact library services to students. Recently, the manager of HISD Library Services resigned. The job was posted on January 20th. When I saw the job application online, which gave almost no mention of school library administration, I became concerned. The present job description for the Library Manager is entirely about the duties of a curriculum manager and barely mentioned libraries.
It is my observation that the decline of library services to students in HISD has escalated under the supervision of the Department of Curriculum. Under the Curriculum Department's control, the manager of Library Services has changed four times in ten years. All the clerical and secretarial personnel have been eliminated and the remaining professional staff has been called upon to perform copyright checks for curriculum projects in addition to their library services duties. Library Services has been used to the advantage of the mission of the curriculum department with little or no support of their own departmental mission. Prior to 2011, HISD had placed Library Services under School Support Services which allowed the department to work collaboratively with many other HISD departments. Library Services personnel routinely provided services to school libraries like cataloging, processing donated materials, inventory, and other help as needed. I urge you to reconsider where Library Services belongs on the organizational chart. It needs to report to a department that believes libraries are essential to public education.
The manager of Library Services is an important school leader who can make a significant difference in the ability of libraries to provide for the needs of all students. The person holding this position needs to have experience in managing libraries and a thorough understanding of the mission of the district’s library program. It is for this reason that the selection committee should include people who are familiar with the skills and experience needed to run a department in a large school district. Considering the current state of HISD’s libraries (so many vacancies and closed libraries), the next library leader should be one who has the vision to restore libraries across the district by implementing a boldly designed plan over time with the support of HISD’s leadership. For this reason, the selection process should include (as it has in the past) library leaders from outside the district as well as HISD librarians. HISD leaders should also take part in the selection process, but a committee without library expertise will not be likely to ask the questions needed to determine a candidate’s suitability. I am concerned that the district will move too quickly on the selection of the next library administrator. Applications are collected until a specified date and then the interviews begin. The current ending date for applying is March 28th. It would be standard procedure to make an announcement that would go out to the Texas Library Association and the American Library Association to attract the best candidates. This has not been done. I just saw the announcement online and posted it on the Texas Library Association Jobline a few days ago.
If the HISD wants to see students served by libraries, it starts here with this job. Get the best candidate and don’t rush the process.
By Dorcas Hand
On its face, Site Based Management seems like a good thing. It puts the decisions about how a campus budget is spent entirely in the principal’s hands: who to hire, what positions to fill, what extras to offer, etc. HISD is the only district in Texas to still use this method; it was a trend for a while, but other districts realized they needed to exercise some central control while still giving schools some local control over decisions and budgeting. They, for example, require a nurse, counselor and/or librarian on each campus – and they adjust campus funding so that these roles are centrally funded leaving the campus to decide the rest.
Several things have affected the HISD culture around libraries, but I want to focus on two.
The decision lies with HISD administration and will require careful thought and a slow timeline that includes educating all HISD principals to the benefits of having a school librarian and a fully funded library on every campus as well as an in-house Alternative Certification Program to train librarians for the positions that job insecurity over the last 15+ years has vacated.
The ESSER money being spent this year and next to update the book collections of all campuses not meeting the state definition of “Proficient.” [Wait, you say? There are Texas Standards and Guidelines for School Libraries? Why yes, there are. These include recommended quantities of books per student among other definitions - see p.43.] Having books on the campuses that are current, include popular titles, and are ready to inspire even reluctant readers at all grade levels to read for pleasure as well as for information. And that is only one aspect of the impact school libraries can and do have on the students who use them. Students who graduate from schools served by school libraries with certified staff are more successful in college. [Farmer, Lesley J. and Skyler Phamle, “Transitioning to college: Impact of high school librarians”]
Our job as advocates of school libraries is to speak up often to campus administrators and district staff, including our Superintendent, and to our SB members, asking why students in the most challenged areas of the district have the least access to library resources and staff to help them grow as learners. While SNL does this often, we need parents and community members to speak up, too. It is your children that are in school now and will soon be heading to jobs, trades, the military or college. Every one of those students deserves a fully stocked and fully funded school library staffed by a certified librarian.
Takeaways from this post:
This blog is primarily authored by Debbie Hall and Dorcas Hand, but guest authors are welcome. If you have an idea to share, please contact our email below. Debbie is a retired HISD librarian and Library Services Specialist. Dorcas is a retired school librarian who remains active in AASL/ALA. Both support increased equity in school library access and support for all HISD students and campuses.