OGDEN -- It was quite a blow last spring for Ogden School District teacher librarians when all were laid off amid budget cuts.
But for the seven full-time teacher librarians who survived to keep their jobs after a public uproar, they say they are implementing positive changes for all students this school year.
The teacher librarians have worked out a three-part program that includes co-teaching at each school, special training in information technology and helping to manage programs in schools throughout the district in aiding the library clerks at each school.
After the fallout from the announced change last spring, the school board and Superintendent Brad Smith found funding to retain seven certified teacher librarians. Those personnel are divided into north and south teams, but Shelly Ripplinger, one of the teacher librarians, said the seven really work all together on projects and on implementing the programs.
They spent the summer creating a plan of how to teach students how to do research and give them skills for the 21st Century learner. Smith said he wanted to give the teacher librarians a lot of latitude to come up with the best plan for the students, and he is pleased with what is happening.
Three of the teacher librarians have been working with three third-grade classes at James Madison Elementary for the past three weeks teaching them about the Earth and Moon and how to research facts about them.
Teacher Jenni Kozak said she has loved the process.
"There has been such a synergy," Kozak said of working with the media specialists and the students. She has enjoyed watching her students learn and has also been given some research tips from the media specialists.
"These are things that I could have done on my own, but it has been so nice to have that extra help and the students have really loved it," she said.
Both Ripplinger and Kozak described the setup as 1+1 = 3, because there has been so much learning going on with two teachers working with students. "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts," Kozak said.
Ripplinger said they helped the students with three projects to be displayed for parents. James Madison is the first test school the specialists have worked with, but many others are in the works. Next week they will start working with Ogden High government students on writing bills.
The teacher librarians have also been getting extra training in Google research tools that they will be passing on to the teachers as well as training the library clerks in each school.
While Ripplinger said the setup is not ideal, it is exciting to be able to do some deep teaching within the classroom and really teach the students hands-on research skills that they may not have been getting before. Her ideal setup would be to have a teacher librarian plus a library clerk in each school.
Smith agrees that would be the ideal, but not something the district can do right now. He said he likes the way things are going.
"It was a serious misallocation of funds to have teachers with a master's level $90,000-a-year education shelving books," he said, referring to how things were running in years past.
"There are some different, new roles with lots of novel ideas, plus libraries are open and kids are in them," Smith said.
Before, he said, there was no standard for the teacher librarians - no checks and balances on what kind of job they were doing. Some specialists were teaching kids, but some weren't, he said.
Teachers didn't know what their students were learning from the librarians because they were doing some other kind of training during their students' library time. Now, the classroom teachers are engaged with the teacher librarians in the projects and are able to take those things and use them in the classrooms when the specialists aren't there.
Ripplinger said they are still trying to smooth things out with the library clerks in each school and set clear definitions of everyone's roles. The libraries are still not fully staffed, but getting close, she said.
She hopes that someday there will be teacher librarians in every school, but they are doing the best they can possibly do with the resources they have been given.
Smith said those roles might continue to evolve as funding evolves. He can't guarantee it will be the same model next year.
"It most likely will change," he said. He doesn't know how well it's working because it's too early to tell, he said.
But based on the experiences of Kozak and Ripplinger, the future for learning and research in the district with the new model looks bright.
"Our number one priority is to prepare students to function in the world," Smith said. He thinks what the seven specialists are doing now is helping that priority come to pass.