2017-06-28

South Shore Regional School Board cuts over half of its library staff

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Over half of the South Shore Regional School Board&#8217;s librarians have been laid off. Three IT staff members have also been laid off.</p>

The South Shore Regional School Board has eliminated over half their librarian positions in a recent round of layoffs.

The board is making the move over to a learning commons model, one they say is similar to ones the Halifax Library and Dalhousie University already use.

But some librarians affected by the layoffs don't believe this is a step in the right direction.

"I can see nothing positive coming out of them. I may be proven wrong. Change is much easier if there is a positive outcome and as of today, I see none," said Mary Wagner, a library clerk at New Germany Rural High School (NGRHS). Wagner added she isn't against change, but she doesn't see this as a positive one.

Cathy Vanderzwaag, a library clerk at Hebbville Academy, said she was "floored" to find out she was laid off. Vanderzwaag has been on staff since 2005.

"I just think it's a very sad, sad thing ... even when the library was open five days a week and then to go down to two days was a sad thing to have happen," she said regarding previous layoffs to library staff.

She doesn't believe a rotation of library staff will provide students with the kind of personal relationship and care they're used to in a library.

"You really get to know your kids as they're coming up."

The union that represents librarians as well as other non-teaching education staff in SSRSB calls the changes "disappointing."

"We knew changes to library services were coming but we certainly did not expect any library staff positions to be altogether eliminated. It is disappointing and concerning that the board decided to go this route," said Jackie Swaine, president of Service Employees International Union Local 2.

"The feedback I am getting is that they are upset about the news and very concerned about how these changes will affect student learning."

Having access to librarians

Jeff DeWolfe, Director of Programs and Student Service, says the goal is to have all schools that had a librarian still have some access to one.

"These changes have already been occurring in these areas of our board. With the schools that did have library techs, we did leave a little bit there, so maybe one day a week or .5 if it's a real small school," he said, adding that there may be some discussions in the future with schools to determine who has the greater need for a librarian.

The SSRSB had 7.9 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) librarian positions but has reduced that number to three. FTEs represent full time positions but any number of employees can fill these roles in either full time or part-time capacities. That means some librarians had a half or a quarter position. All together they made up 7.9 positions.

Queens County was home to two full time librarians. South Queens Middle School (SQMS) and Liverpool Regional High School (LRHS), kept their librarians on staff by allocating time from other staff positions to create FTE positions for their librarians. That occurred after two former principals fought for the positions in a round of layoffs around 15 years ago. Queens County wll now be .8 of a position down from their 2.5 positions.

Ruth Campbell, librarian at SQMS, confirmed she would be returning in the fall in a part-time capacity. Angela Purdue, librarian at LRHS, said she would not be returning in the fall.

Swaine confirmed the three remaining positions are being filled by seniority. It was not clear at the time of publication how many or who would fill the three FTE positions.

Many of the librarians LighthouseNOW reached out to declined to comment for this reason, saying they were unsure if they would be employed this fall and if so, how much time they would be working.

Makerspaces

With the change in model, DeWolfe emphasized the SSRSB's transition to makerspaces as well as learning commons. Makerspaces are also communal learning areas but are based around technology like 3D printers, laser cutters, or even sewing machines.

Both learning spaces have been slowly rolled out amongst the schools says DeWolfe. LRHS just recently underwent renovations to create a learning commons.

Wagner, who has worked at NGRHS for two years as a library clerk, says she was instrumental in her school even getting a makerspace, an idea she says she brought to her principal.

"I had done research into the idea and thought it was a great initiative and wanted to make this a better space for the students," she said, adding that she believes the space needs someone there to guide students and teachers using it.

Teaching coaches

Some new hires are included with this shift to a new learning model.

Four teachers have been hired and are joining an existing "instructional coach," making up five of these coaches who will be rotated among SSRSB schools.

DeWolfe says these positions are there to provide support for teachers in a cooperative capacity both in and out of the classroom. He says having someone there to provide support and update teachers on subjects like coding is shown to work better than pulling teachers out for personal development days.

The instructional coaches will make some use of learning commons and makerspaces, however, DeWolfe insists that they are not replacing librarians.

"They're still going to be in classrooms, they will be a resource for teachers in a group of schools around technology integration, about digital resources, about the makerspaces ... and about what learning happens in a learning commons, but they're not going to be standing in a learning commons taking the place of anyone," he said.

According to the instructional coach's job description, the coach will "monitor board and provincial assessments and work with teachers to improve instructional practice, model lessons for teachers to improve their skills in developing lessons using various assessment techniques," and says the coaches would work with IT, library, and administrative staff in the creation or development of school learning commons, among a list of many other duties.

IT staff also cut

SSRSB also confirmed that three IT staff members were also laid off. DeWolfe says that what is needed when it comes to servicing technology used at schools is also different now.

"We have to pay attention to our network and we have to pay attention to the security of our network so the role of the technicians has really evolved," said DeWolfe, adding that most schools no longer need fixes for things like desktops.

DeWolfe also says schools using iPads get them loaded up at a central location as well so there is less need for having someone on hand.

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