Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Basics in school planning, funding and services: school libraries as an example

The Post has a piece, "Unequal shelves in DC school libraries benefit wealthier students," about how DC Public Schools located in poorer communities have lesser quality libraries than schools in higher income areas. From the article:

The D.C. school system has invested in literacy coaches, new curriculum, mentors, professional development and digital books. It has put millions of dollars into smaller book collections inside classrooms to help children learn to read. But some advocates are concerned that the District has not made a bigger investment in a more old-fashioned approach: library books. ...

Researchers have documented a stark difference in the number of books available outside of the classroom to children from rich and poor families, with children from low-income families typically having fewer books at home and less access to public libraries or bookstores.

Students at many D.C. schools have never had a full-time librarian or an updated book collection, and not all schools have permitted students to check books out of the library. ...

The lack of dedicated funding for books in the District has posed repeated challenges and political flash points for the system.

In 2012, city officials cut the ribbon on a $62 million renovation of Anacostia High School with a new media center and empty shelves.

Some time ago, the City Paper had a cover story ("Neighborhood Schooled") on how improvement in school libraries was the fulcrum to increase neighborhood involvement in and improve schools in Capitol Hill.

Note that this is a problem endemic to other school systems such as Los Angeles ("Dozens of LA Unified schools lack staff needed to run libraries," SCPR) and San Diego ("The Big Plot Twist That Doomed San Diego's School Libraries," Voice of San Diego).  For example, in San Diego:
In 2008, principals were forced to choose between librarians and health assistants, counselors and attendance clerks – all considered crucial positions up till then.

“That was the beginning of school-based budgeting,” said Chris Juarez, principal of Curie Elementary in University City. “We were given a blank slate and told ‘You build it,’ so we had to find our most basic priorities.”
At one level this raises an issue I've been meaning to write about.

I had a conversation with someone at a charter school, and she mentioned how they have to make choices between nurses and software, because they don't have enough money to do both--the same problem that San Diego has.

All schools should get base funding to finance and provide high quality "soft infrastructure" be it school libraries, school-based nursing and wellness care, marketing and promotion, database software for student tracking, etc.

The traditional public schools have been forced to make these kinds of choices as well, because the school administration argued that only schools of a certain size should be guaranteed a full slate of services and programs.

Relatedly, still, the funding system for schools doesn't give more money to the schools dealing with more impoverished publications.

This relates to my general point that strong neighborhoods need strong schools and we need to re-center "neighborhood planning" around building strong elementary schools. Instead school planning and neighborhood planning are mostly disconnected.

Second, while I am not a fan of "outsourcing," when I was researching about Helsinki, one of the things I came across (I think) is that school libraries are run by the regular city library system. Nashville is moving this way.  And the State of Delaware is developing a statewide master plan for school libraries.

Perhaps doing something similar with the DC Public Library and the school system in co-managing libraries is a way to improve the basic level of functioning of libraries in neighborhood schools.

... although it turns out Jonetta Rose Barras made the same point in a column in the old Examiner in 2012 ("Libraries and innovation").

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