Libraries in HISD – by the Numbers

by Dorcas Hand, Co-Chair, TASL Legislative & Advocacy Committee

HISD’s Hogg Middle School Librarian Mary Chance and her Principal Angela Sugarek pulled together the attached flyer for the official opening of the updated library at Hogg this past Thursday evening. 
They saw an opportunity in the gathering of parents, their school board rep, HISD Curriculum folks, other principals and random community folk like me. The numbers all come from HISD data streams available to them in their regular work; the numbers matter to us as an example of how to use numbers to illustrate needs – especially as we look ahead to putting school libraries in the center of the Nov. 1, 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) implementation. Their tool for the infographic was District circulation numbers for 2015.

First, a simple pie chart in red and black tells us that 52% of HISD libraries have an average collection age of over 21 years – that sounds musty and dusty, hardly appealing to student readers. Only 3% of HISD schools can boast a library collection less than 10 years old. Best practices for libraries suggest that an average collection age of 10 years allows the older fiction but requires the newest nonfiction in a blend that supports student interests as well as curricular needs.

Now, how many books were checked out to students in 2015? 33% of students across the district never borrowed a single book. Seriously??? No wonder there is a literacy gap in the test scores. Students without access to books that interest them are at great risk to never read well.

A quick look at staffing tells us that 20% of HISD libraries have no designated staff and another 26% have only a paraprofessional managing circulation. 22% have teachers standing in for librarians, leaving only 32% of HISD libraries as staffed with certified personnel.

And then we compare the circulation data to the Texas Education Agency Accountability Ratings. 58% of students in schools that met standards borrowed only 1-9 books in 2015. 87% of students in schools the Improvement Required category have borrowed only 1-9 books in 2015. When we compare to TEA Staffing standards, only 34% of schools that Met Standard have a Librarian; only 25% of schools in the Improvement Required category have a librarian. These are simple, basic connections to illustrate to HISD campus and district leadership the importance of strong campus libraries with certified and degreed librarians for every K-12 student. This is how we begin to fortify implementation of school libraries through ESSA.

HISD School Board had proposal B9 on the agenda for the Jan 15 meeting; it was postponed to the Feb. 11 meeting.  The Board hopes to level the playing field by implementing for all schools an FTE librarian and nurse. Some principals have strong budget concerns, which the district is working to allay. It will be an interesting meeting for sure. Principals like Ms. Sugarek can speak to the fact that even with current budgeting, librarians contribute to student success in ways that make them essential personnel. Essential personnel is the category to which school librarians have been added in ESSA. Principals who have not known a strong library program before see tutors and literacy coaches as more essential. It will be up to librarians to change this trend by speaking out again and again, demonstrating the impact that we do have – and building our case for inclusion in ESSA implementation planning..

The lesson for other districts - well, a lesson – is that bringing up to Board representatives the benefits of strong libraries even when there is no immediate agenda item seeds the idea into their vocabulary. Students Need Libraries in HISD has been doing exactly that for the last couple of years –and look what happened. We didn’t know it was coming, and it isn’t a done deal by any means – but we did get the conversation on the table. When it passes (now or eventually), we’ll still have plenty of work to do bringing those resistant principals on board.

So look to your data. Make it work for you.

ASIDE: Remember that Google Form I posted recently, the one to collect Measurable Impact Activities: Please consider what you can contribute there – the data will be useful to all of us when we work with our School Board, district leadership, TEA, all of the above to have a stronger position for ESSA planning.

Rekindling the Joy of Reading

By Lisa Hernandez
2015 Librarian of the Year Award, Texas Library Association; Alternative High School Librarian, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD; PSJA College, Career & Technology Academy, PSJA CCTA Library in Partnership with South Texas College Library

On April 18, 2012, “Rekindling the Joy of Reading” reading incentive program received the Young Adult Round Table Young Adult Reading Incentive (YARI) Award. “Rekindling the Joy of Reading” is designed to bring alternative high school (HS) students and books together by utilizing Accelerated Reader (AR) picture books which match or exceed reading levels (RLs) of AR young adult (YA) novels or literature. As an alternative HS librarian for seven and a half years, I have found that special purpose HS students need to experience reading success in a short amount of time, and by achieving literary goals, students begin to feel empowered by their potential as learners. AR picture books provide a leeway to visualizing text, acquiring new vocabulary, identifying literary elements, and improving test-taking skills; most of all, they instill academic confidence regarding AR YA books because of similar RLs. In addition, many alternative HS students are young parents, and my hope is the program will help them kindling the joy of reading in their own children.

“Rekindling the Joy of Reading” involves identifying AR picture books with designated word counts and of interest to HS students. Picture books which range up to 1,300 words work best. When using picture books with higher word counts, special attention must be given to the speed of reading to maintain students’ engagement with the story. Regarding the selection of picture books for HS students, I use my professional judgement by reading through the text identifying high-interest themes, high-level vocabulary, literary elements, and RLs that match or exceed AR YA literature. Some books I have used are the following: Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle by Brian Dennis which has an AR RL of 4th grade with eight months of instruction, 4.8 and Rosa by Nikki Giovanni which has an AR RL of 4th grade with nine months of instruction, 4.9.

What child or adult does not enjoy hearing a good picture book read aloud? After reading a picture book to students, I often hear them say, “I have not been read to in a long time.” On several occasions, students have asked for an encore. After the reading, students take the AR assessment and receive a number grade. With a passing grade, alternative HS students receive instant feedback which begins to solidify literacy success on a small scale, which then becomes manageable on a greater scale, YA books. Students must be provided literacy strategies that work in their favor for their academic success, especially when it comes to passing exit-level assessments.  
Prior to my current full-time position with PSJA College, Career & Technology Academy (CCTA), I was the HS librarian for four alternative HS libraries. My first two years, I would often hear students say, “I don’t like to read.” When I began reading AR picture books, I heard them say it less and less. The program’s positive effects have impacted three types of alternative HS readers: advanced, reluctant, and struggling. 

With alternative HS advanced readers, AR picture books serve as a conversation starter to literacy. These students usually have personal libraries of YA books at home, and they typically score high on the AR STAR, a norm-referenced test which reveals, but is not limited to, grade equivalency (GE) and ZPD. Several alternative HS students have scored a 12.9 GE. With their score, they are assigned a ZPD range of 5.0 to 12.9. What I find interesting is the starter ZPD RL, 5th grade. By the assessment, the student has proven a GE of 12th grade with nine months of instruction; however, they are allowed to read books with elementary RLs. Why? What I have experienced is that many, if not most, YA novels and literature range within 4th- 7th grade RLs; hence, the elementary starter RL. In the next paragraph, examples of this fact are provided. Note, however, the sample AR YA RLs are below 5.0. 
For alternative HS reluctant readers, reading YA books can be a daunting task. When students come into the library and see wall to wall YA books, they feel overwhelmed. After I explain to them that AR picture books have the same reading levels as AR YA books, they are surprised because they automatically equate word length to a higher RL. Once they understand the correlation, they accept picture books as reliable literary sources for HS students. For example, Nubs has the same AR 4 .8 RL as Angel by James Patterson, and Rosa has the same AR 4.9 RL as Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. When students pass a picture book AR assessment which matches an AR YA book’s RL, their academic confidence soars to new reading heights. A paradigm shift takes place regarding the potential success with YA literature, and wall to wall library books become manageable and obtainable. 

As Texas educators know, students are administered state assessments: Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) or State of Texas of Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). I have found similar word counts between picture books and state-released assessment passages. With similar word counts, alternative HS struggling readers build reading endurance by reading AR picture books. Many of our alternative HS struggling readers are classified as Limited English Proficient. AR picture books allow them to practice the English language within AR YA RLs. Furthermore, AR assessments are multiple-choice format like TAKS and STAAR, so their test-taking skills sharpen along with improving their literacy skills.
For the 2014-2015 school year, in a school district with 32,000+ students, our Nationally-Recognized Dropout Recovery Program PSJA CCTA was honored for having the 1st District AR Millionaire. To become a PSJA CCTA AR Millionaire, a student reads a million words in the AR program, tests on AR books within or above their zone of proximal development (ZPD), and has an accumulative passing average. As reading incentives, AR Millionaires receive a gift basket, an autographed YA book, and their picture posted on our library webpage. From December 2010 to September 2015, I have witnessed thirty-eight alternative HS students become AR Millionaires, and eight of them went on to become AR Multimillionaires. Even though many students who participated in the AR program did not become AR Millionaires, many of them had word counts ranging from 100,000 words to over 900,000 words, which translates into 2 to 18 novels read in a school year.        
The program has positively impacted our community by witnessing more and more alternative HS students graduating with their HS diplomas. “Rekindling the Joy of Reading” is significant and valuable because it impacts the learning process in a positive and a creative way. In order to be successful across the curriculum, alternative HS students need to acquire life-long reading habits. The program allows them the educational opportunity to transition from high school reading skills to college and career literacy opportunities. 
In the spring of 2015, students participated in a district initiative, “Readers Are Leaders.” Seven of our alternative HS students were able to complete the program. In order to be recognized as a participant, students had to read and test on twenty AR books—picture and/or YA books—ranging within different genres, ranging within their ZPD, and maintaining an 80 percent or higher average overall. Students received a certificate, an autographed book, and a celebration in their honor. A highlight of the program included four students graduating with their HS diplomas during our May graduation ceremony. Two of the four graduates enrolled as college students with local institutions of higher learning. Just this past 2015 fall semester, four students became “Readers Are Leaders”, and two of them graduated with their high school diplomas. Hooray!
To view more AR picture books which match or exceed AR RLs of YA books, click on the following link: .


Why Reading Matters: Beyond Test Scores

By Sara Stevenson, O. Henry Middle School Librarian, Austin ISD

Like most librarians, I believe our mission to convert children into lifelong readers creates a better world, but I didn’t have hard data to support my conviction until I read Donalyn Miller’s ( ) latest book, Reading in the Wild.  According to research she cites from the National Endowment for the Arts’ report: “To Read or Not to Read,” adults who identify as readers vote and volunteer at higher rates. Their community involvement is higher than that of nonreaders.  

The report states:  “Regular reading not only boosts the likelihood of an individual’s academic and economic success—facts that are not especially surprising—but it also seems to awaken a person’s social and civic sense.”

Now we have empirical evidence behind what we have known intuitively and from our own life experience: readers make better citizens. We’ve known for years, thanks to Dr. Stephen Krashen’s The Power of Reading, that free voluntary reading leads to better literacy skills across the spectrum: reading comprehension, fluency, spelling, grammar, and writing. Now we can add citizenship to the list of benefits.
Of course, this is not to say that academic performance is not crucial as well. As Donalyn Miller reminds us in Reading in the Wild: “No matter what standards we implement or reading tests we administer, children who read the most will always outperform children who don’t read much.” (p. xix)
Readers are also more likely to succeed in the workforce, according to researcher Mark Taylor from the University of Oxford.
Never forget that our daily mission improves our world. “If young people develop a love of reading, they will have better lives.” --Rafe Esquith from Teacher Like Your Hair’s on Fire

Thoughts on ALA Midwinter

by Dorcas Hand
Boston - always fun, tho this time I barely saw the city where I attended college. I was in meetings and meetings – but all with a common thread of advocacy for libraries, especially school libraries. I thought I would debrief myself for all of you so that you can better see how AASL and ALA are working for you every day, all year long.

Saturday morning, a two hour meeting of the Steering Committee for the Julie Todaro Presidential Initiative. Julie is building on the strong foundation of current ALA President Sari Feldman’s recently launched initiative Libraries Transform 

My challenge to you today, Texas school librarians: write a meme that answers the statement, “Why TEXAS SCHOOL Libraries are Transforming.” I know you have answers. Use this Google form to send me your ideas. Then stay tuned for a compilation of replies!

Saturday afternoon – AASL All-committee for the AASL Advocacy Committee, and to learn details about the Focus Groups that will be held at conference about the new AASL Standards now being written. Every state has had the chance to suggest ideas to include.

The AASL Advocacy Committee will be updating in the next 6 months two of the toolkits currently posted to the AASL website: AASL works hard to offer every school librarian support tools for greatest campus success. Join us and be active!

Sunday, Monday and Tuesday mornings – ALA Council meetings. I sit as a Councilor-at-Large. Very interesting, sometimes dull but important that the voices of youth librarians and Texas librarians be present at the table of the governing body of ALA. The highpoint this time was a resolution supporting the overarching Advocacy Implementation Plan that coordinates all of the divisions, and even filters to state affiliates like TLA.

Sunday afternoon – The Todaro Initiative School Subcommittee meeting with members in person and online to get our work started. The Todaro focus is The Expert in the Library –You. How does the librarian transform the library in all its glory? Stay tuned. Think about your expertise. We’ll be asking!

Monday midday – COLA/ACG meeting. Translation: Committee on Library Advocacy and Advocacy Coordinating Committee for big ALA. I represent AASL on this group which sponsored the resolution mentioned above. We also discussed the priority of our 11 goals, all of which are very important. The work of this committee is a process, but the resolution will help us improve communication to other essential players in the progress to our goals.

Tuesday afternoon – airport and home, very tired. Today, Sunday, catching up with the To Do List which included a TASL Talks post. Welcome to my world where school library advocacy is what I do almost every day.

TASL Strategic Plan Needs to Represent Your Needs - TLA Strategic Plan Needs You!

By Jennifer LaBoon, TLA Executive Board Representative at Large - School, 2013-2016; TLA Strategic Planning Steering Committee, 2015-16; Fort Worth ISD Coordinator, Library Technology

Happy New Year, School Library Colleagues!   The new calendar year is a great time to reflect on our profession, where we are headed, and especially how our state association is working to provide leadership, services, and support to meet our professional needs.  Texas Library Association is in the midst of the strategic planning process, designing a map for the next three years.  The time is now to provide your input! TELL US WHAT YOU THINK!

A TLA committee has surveyed the membership in a variety of ways, and analyzed the results to see where the association is now.  These results were assembled into what is called an Environmental Scan. Thanks to everyone who participated in the data collection process beginning last summer at Annual Assembly in Austin!  The results can be accessed by visiting the TLA website’s Strategic Planning Page:  Give it a look. Please. It is in your own best interest as a TLA/TASL member.

From here, you can email feedback to the committee to include your thoughts on the findings and how they should shape the future of the association.  The committee hoped to identify the current political, demographic, and economic factors and trends that impact our profession and our state. 
The statistics are quite interesting—did you know that of the 4,400 who reported their age, that almost 60% of our association is age 46 or above?  The committee raises the question of how to transition our younger members into leadership positions as our aging membership retires.  How would you like to see that aspect of TLA improved? 

Another finding that speaks to school librarians—how do we accommodate the need for both connected and unplugged physical spaces in our libraries?  With makerspaces, 1:1 devices for students, and digital content becoming prevalent, what is the role of the library as place in meeting the changing learning environment?  And, perhaps more importantly, how do we communicate that role to our stakeholders?

The deadline is quickly approaching: January 15!   Take a little time as you get back into your routines following the holiday break to take a look, and let us hear from you!
School librarians who are serving on the Steering Committee representing you are Sharon Amastae, Naomi Bates, Liz Philippi, and myself.  Please let any of us know if you have any ideas that need to be shared!

We convene in Austin next week—Friday, January 15th. Thanks again to all who have participated in the process already.  And thanks to everyone who takes some time to read over the Environmental Scan posted on the website and is willing to share additional thoughts!

Hope you all have a wonderful 2016! Start the year right by looking at what TLA could be doing for you. 

From Idea to Fruition- Hosting a Living History Museum at the Library

By Amy Marquez, Librarian at Marcia R. Garza Elementary in Pharr-San Juan- Alamo ISD

Sometimes ideas for events and library programming come to us at moments we least expect.  I work as a librarian at Marcia R. Garza Elementary located in the border town of Alamo, Texas.  This year I was so proud to host our second annual Living History Museum at our library.  The original idea for this project came from a long -time volunteer at my library named Carol.  Carol was a former teacher and she has generously been coming to help me shelve books at my library for a few years now.  One day as we were chatting, she mentioned another teacher upstate that she knew who had started a living history museum in her classroom.  I was very intrigued by the idea and I asked quite a few questions about the event and I began searching online for some more ideas for how to start a project like this at our library.  It wasn’t until a year later that I was able to start on this project with our students. 

I had cataloged that idea away as something I’d like to try one day with the students, but I saw some obstacles in my path so I put off planning it for the time being.   It wasn’t until I sat down and talked to my principal that next October that the spark for this idea was reignited. My principal informed me she would really like the students in 3rd – 5th grade to dress up as an important figure instead of in a Halloween costume.  The light bulb in my head immediately clicked on and I told her I had the perfect plan to have the students research a historical figure at the library and then dress up for the event during the week of Halloween.  We could call it the Living History Museum.  I further explained that instead of just having them dress up, they could learn research skills at the library, organize their information and then present it to their peers on the day of the event.

“Oh I have the perfect resource for that,” I went on to tell her.  As luck would have it, I had recently been trained to use the new Gale resources our library coordinator Nora Galvan had provided training on.  Infobits was a terrific resource for this project since it has information organized by topic such as presidents, inventors, historical figures, etc.  I walked away from her office inspired to start this project but knowing at the same time I had some challenges ahead of me to get this organized and completed within the next three weeks.  

I knew this project would be a little challenging to complete at the library because classes only come in for thirty minutes per week on a fixed schedule.  I know many librarians across the state are facing this dilemma.  You are given such a short period of time with each class and then the next class is already waiting at the door for their turn.  How could I accomplish this project with minimal time?   I decided to make it as user friendly as possible for the students by creating an outline for them to fill out while using Infobits for information.   Students went online to our resources, chose a person of interest and then used their outline to find important facts about their person.  They used two library classes to gather as much information as they could on their chosen topic.
Then I realized, my students come from a predominantly low income area. How much can I realistically expect from them as far as dressing for the event?  To accommodate for that, I gave the students the following options: create a poster about your historical figure, bring a prop and be ready to share why it is important, or dress up as your figure.  To make sure the event was successful, I sent a note home to involve the parents in the process.  Knowing that we would only be able to start the research at the library, I knew the remainder of the work would have to happen at home.  I also made sure to get the teachers on board with me.  I talked to them about the project and they seemed excited about collaborating with me.   Many went on to support their students by giving them time to research and work in class and even providing some with poster boards. 

On the morning of the event I was a little nervous as I dressed up as my historical figure.  I wanted to show the students that I was willing to do the exact same thing I was expecting of each of them.  I couldn’t wait to see how many students would come dressed up too, but I wasn’t sure how many would ultimately participate. I was so ecstatic to see that about 75% of the students in 3rd- 5th grade participated!  The event was set to begin in the afternoon and all day students came up to me excitedly telling me which historical figure they were.  Originally I planned to house the event in the library but we had so many participate that we had to set up in the cafeteria instead - there were too many people to fit in the library!  The students went all out on their costumes and posters.  We had Rosie the Riveter, Amelia Earhart, Abraham Lincoln, and Bill Gates just to name a few.  Students who had participated in the event lined up around the walls of the cafeteria and in lines in the middle of the room.  Then their peers walked by and were able to learn a couple of facts about each historical figure.  Even our really shy students were able to present information to their peers in this non-threatening environment.   I saw lots of smiles as I walked around the room observing the students.  Our district television channel interviewed some of our students and created a wonderful video highlighting the event. 

Here is what some of our students had to say about the event:
  • 5th grade student Abram Gonzalez as Abraham Lincoln, “I taught myself law and earned my license to practice in 1836…that’s probably my favorite fact.” 
  • 5th grader Daniel Riojas as Wilbur Wright, “I was always kind of interested in airplanes and I really liked him [Wilbur Wright.]  I remember reading about him and thinking that was cool that he was the first to do something.” 
  • 3rd grader Olivia Lopez as Rosie the Riveter, “I had a lot of fun explaining to people…so now they know the real truth about Rosie the Riveter.” 

At our second annual event this year, we had just as much participation.  It’s was so much fun to see the students dress up and tell about the information they learned from their library research.  One of my favorites this year was Frida Kahlo complete with unibrow!  “Frida” was one of our new students this year and she looked so excited to participate in the event.  Most importantly, I really hope this project has made an impact on the students.  I hope they came away from the event proud of their research, confident as speakers and knowing learning at the library is fun.