‘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 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.