“I have freedom a lot of teachers don’t have,” said McCabe, an ever-smiling 46-year-old who has worked as the school’s librarian for five years. “For a lot of these students, this [library class] is a break from the regimented curriculum and testing that teachers have to adhere to. It gives them choice and the chance to explore things that they are interested in.”
But McCabe and other school librarians around the state and nation worry it may get harder to offer children that experience. That’s because Santa Fe Public Schools, like other districts in the country, has gradually cut down on the number of certified librarians on staff (just five in a district with 30 school sites). In their place are educational assistants who are paid less — and, perhaps, know less.
Though those assistants may be hardworking and talented, they do not have the background or knowledge that matches that of a certified librarian, some say. For example, educational assistants do not have to earn college degrees certifying them as teachers or take 36 hours of college course work to prepare them for the librarian’s job, including how to develop a book and research collection.
....Mike Lee, principal of Gonzales, a K-8 school, said he could “buy” another teacher or two educational assistants instead of having McCabe on hand. But, he said, “I get more bang for my buck having a certified librarian” because McCabe holds classes on conducting research, helps the students with book reports and helps them master reading.
Reinforcing reading skills in a district where young readers are struggling with proficiency rates, Lee said, is a priority. In the most recent round of statewide standardized PARCC tests, 25 percent of Gonzales students scored in the levels of proficiency in English language arts, a little better than average when compared to other K-6 and K-8 schools in the Santa Fe district.