SPRINGFIELD, NJ — Bonnie Lafazan, who has two boys in the local school system, thinks her middle school son is being shortchanged.
As a librarian, she is beside herself that none of the district’s five other schools, besides Jonathan Dayton High School, has a certified media specialist.
“This is a disservice and a disappointment, and we’re truly putting our students at a disadvantage, in my opinion,” she said in a phone interview with LocalSource on Jan. 9. “It’s important to teach this foundation early on.”
Lafazan was one of several parents and educators who used the school board’s Jan. 7 reorganization meeting to press members to add the position for the lower grades.
A media specialist is typically a school librarian, responsible for promoting literacy, teaching research methods and planning lessons that relate to the library. The librarian also assists faculty with curriculum development.
Lafazan is also the director of the Berkeley College Library, a board member of Library Link New Jersey and president for the New Jersey Library Association’s College and University Section.
“I come to you today both as a resident parent in our community and as an experienced librarian professional that I am disappointed and disheartened that we have no certified media specialists in our pre-K through eight schools,” she said at the meeting.
Dayton High School is the only school in the Springfield Public School District that has a certified media specialist. However, high school’s media specialist Barbara Reynolds may visit other district schools, upon request.
Lafazan and others used the meeting to advocate for having a media specialist in every school.
All other Springfield schools have instructional aids in their libraries, and Superintendent Michael Davino assured Lafazan during the public comment portion of the meeting that skills taught by media specialists — like how to cite sources in research papers — are “infused” within the curriculum.
“I have not seen it being infused, in my experience with my kids,” Lafazan told LocalSource. “I can’t say for sure that it’s not being done because there may be some amazing teachers that are doing it, but I just don’t see where it’s infused throughout the curriculum.”
The media specialist for the elementary and middle grades retired in 2015. Lafazan said that when she asked board members at a meeting in April 2017 if they were going to hire a replacement, they said they were not planning to do so.
“The lack of strong information literacy foundation at an early age is often impossible to correct at the high school or college library level, which puts these students, our Springfield students, at a complete disadvantage in preparing them for college and the workforce,” Lafazan told the board.
She also told the board that when she volunteered in her sons’ classes, where she taught the students how to strategically search Google and how to identify false information online, teachers commented on the lack of certified media specialists in the schools.
“Every time I went into the schools for a visit like these, the teachers expressed their disappointment to me that we have no librarians in our schools dedicated to teaching our children lessons such as these,” Lafazan said.
Davino did not return calls from LocalSource seeking comment.
Springfield has an estimated population of more than 17,000, according to 2016 U.S. Census figures, and a median household income of more than $84,000, according to the 2010 Census.
At the Jan. 7 meeting, parent Kara Corridan read a letter to the board from the New Jersey Library Association urging it to employ certified school media specialists in all school buildings for the next academic year.
“Through their educational preparation, school library media specialists receive graduate level training in literature, research and technology skills essential in a 21st-century learning environment,” the letter read.
Carrie Solomon, a parent and English teacher at Terrill Middle School in the Scotch Plains-Fanwood School, brought her school’s media specialist, Phillip Yap, to the meeting.
“Our media specialists, both in the past and the present, play such a vital role in enhancing the learning environment for our fifth through eighth grade students,” Solomon told the board. “They create an atmosphere that is inviting and engaging, and (the library) is truly the heart of the whole school.”
Yap addressed the board and read a letter to the board on behalf of the New Jersey Association of School Librarians.
“I thought it was important for me to come tonight to urge you all to consider funding for a media specialist,” he said before reading the letter from NJASL president, Christina Cucci.
The letter encouraged the board to consider adding a full-time certified media specialist to their elementary and middle schools.
“Your library media specialists are essential staff members. With training and expertise, they can help reach district goals,” Mills’ letter read. “They not only create a learning space where students develop critical thinking, but they establish strong relationships with other teachers so that the learning can extend beyond the classroom.”
Beth Thomas, NJASL vice president and a middle school librarian in the Summit School District, read a letter on behalf of the American Library Associations and the American Association for School Librarians at the meeting.
“I mistakenly assumed that a district that prides itself on its technology and innovation would have certified school librarians in all of its buildings. I am grateful that a parent brought this deficiency to my attention,” Thomas said.
She then told the board that when she tried to access academic databases through the district’s website, there were no links.
“What sources are these students using for research?” she asked. “There’s nothing mentioned about citation tools, which help in preventing plagiarism.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote to board President Scott Silverstein regarding skills that are usually taught by media specialist are instead infused in the curriculum. Additionally Bonnie Lafazan’s last name was misspelled and the president New Jersey Association of School Librarians was misidentified. The president is Christina Cucci.