Monroe School District administrators say changing the way libraries are run is part of its commitment to ready students for success in an ever-evolving world. 

Assistant superintendent Justin Blasko and executive director of digital learning Rachelle Butz presented on the topic at last Tuesday’s Monroe School Board meeting, which was followed by community discussion.

The two items were added to the agenda following community protests of the decision announced in April. Certified teacher-librarians will be removed from the K-8 system and replaced with a noncertified library specialist and part-time digital learning teacher.

“The current elementary school librarians have not been laid off, and there will be no reduction in force,” according to the school district.

The decision was made as a way to comply with Washington law that requires first- through eighth-graders to spend a minimum of 100 minutes each week in PE, according to the school district.

More classes will be added in each elementary school, according to the school district. Shifts are also necessary to ensure new technology, digital literacy and citizenship standards are met.

Only a few dozen people came out to last Tuesday’s meeting, while hundreds of parents, students and staff attended the May 14 board meeting to show their opposition.

Washington Education Association president Kim Mead was among them. She has a grandchild who just entered the Monroe School District, which now concerns her. Librarians are a critical access point of support for students.

“When a kid doesn’t know where they fit in, they go into the library and find a place they belong,” she said.

Students at Fryelands Elementary School, called the “Picket Fence Group” and led by Jakari Singleton, protested for weeks following the school district’s announcement. The fifth-grader was worried about the future of his school’s librarian and his education.

The board sent out a letter to families stating their support of the changes after the May 14. They thanked the community for sharing their concerns.

“The shifts we are making in how our libraries are structured are not unconventional; many other districts have successfully incorporated digital learning into their library programs,” they wrote. “The progress we have made to align our district programming with our community inspired commitments is remarkable and this shift will continue to build on that progress.”

The shift in the roles of librarians and using technology for instruction was a multi-year process.

Blasko said the school district started addressing integration of technology in major content areas in 2013. The community was asked for input, and some teachers had been struggling to provide access because of limited funding, he said.

Voters passed a technology levy in 2014, and in the following years the school district built up its infrastructure. Around the same time, lawmakers decided to change how school library and technology programs were run.

One of the criticisms the school district received following the announcement was that librarians had not been given promised training opportunities. In the board’s letter, they state many professional opportunities were provided for librarians on integrating technology in schools by 2015.

In 2016, the school district again asked the public for input during a district-wide visioning project. Using the best tools, helping kids meet the high expectations set for them and equal access were identified as the school district’s main commitments moving forward from the process.

Blasko said students are preparing to enter a world that is constantly changing. Butz said many students being educated today will have jobs that haven’t been created yet and use technology in those positions that doesn’t exist yet.

The school district has also continued to expand its literacy program. According to board documents, 25,000 books were added in schools this year.

“In addition, and among the most important things, this shift (in how libraries are run) will further support district work being done to instill the love of reading in all students,” the board wrote.

Parents at Tuesday’s meeting reported they didn’t understand the school district’s decision, and didn’t agree with how it was announced. School board president Darcy Cheesman apologized for the rollout, and said staff thought the message had been getting to where it was supposed to go.

She said the school district learned from the process and has come up with a potential plan to host regular community forums. Throughout the year everyone can sit down together and talk about what is going on in Monroe’s schools, she said.