District 303 halts 'innovation' plan after community backlash

 
 
Updated 3/23/2018 3:41 PM
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A St. Charles Unit District 303 plan to restructure its schools' learning resource centers sparked confusion and concern among parents, causing district officials to halt any changes for next academic year.

The proposal aimed to help the district's LRC programs become more innovative by reorganizing their staffing structures, spokeswoman Carol Smith said. Some LRC positions would have been transitioned into innovation specialists, a new role focused on providing different methods for learning, teaching, collaborating and conducting research.

"It was really kind of shifting around and making sure that people ... are in the jobs that utilize their skill sets in the best ways," Smith said. "It was a restructuring of the way LRCs operate."

Administrators introduced the proposed changes last week to LRC employees, who consist of school librarians and media specialists. It wasn't long before the news began circling on social media, leading some community members to believe LRC staff members would be laid off or school libraries would be closed.

Neither of those options was being considered, school board President Kathy Hewell said, noting the changes largely pertained to job descriptions. The plan would have maintained some LRC director positions and created district librarian roles, which would have centered around literacy and content collection at each education level.

"Social media is very powerful, and while it's a good place to get information, it can also perpetuate misinformation," Smith said. "That was what we saw in this case."

The plan was developed by a special Technology, Innovation and Digital Education committee, created last year to establish a "districtwide vision for innovation," said Megan Mkrtschjan, assistant director of curriculum. The school board had its first opportunity to hear and discuss the proposed changes Monday.

The meeting room was packed with dozens of community members, many of whom stressed the importance of school libraries and their staffs. Others said they were frustrated to hear of the plan on social media before it was presented to the board.

"It's indicative to me that we have a communication issue and a lack of sensitivity in terms of how information is being conveyed to us and also the faculty," parent Sherri Duskey Rinker said.

Administrators decided to inform the LRC staff of the proposed changes first, out of respect for the employees who would be affected, Smith said. But officials also understand community members are sensitive to change, she said, especially after the board's controversial decision this month to close and repurpose Fox Ridge Elementary School and realign attendance boundaries.

"What the district is doing is stepping back from (the LRC plan) and understanding that we need to rethink the way we have services for students, but that our community and our board wasn't ready to have the conversation about this particular plan for next year," Smith said.

District officials now will use a specific framework, called "Future Ready Librarians," to launch a districtwide discussion about how best to enhance the LRC programs, Smith said. Those conversations will take place throughout the next year.

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