Library Staff Essential for Tech Support at Savannah-Chatham

At Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools, Georgia, media specialists have handled tech support for the transition to virtual learning, Chromebooks, a new learning management system and other educational technologies.

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(TNS) — Before school started all virtual last August, the new learning management system was rolled out. School staff had to learn six months of training in five weeks. No kidding.

"First it was the media specialists and media clerks, then the academic coaches, along with high-level training for the teachers," said Tammy Kemp, the district's lead program manager for instructional technology and media services. "We used the 'train the trainer' model and each school site was given staff training based on the support their teachers needed."

With each school having at least two staff members (media specialist and academic coach) trained in the new Learning Management System, along with ongoing support, teachers started the school year with ItsLearning, the platform used for online learning.

Yes, there were glitches those first few days and weeks of school. But the media specialists were ready — as best they could be — to answer the calls for help and to save the day.

Tech support was a must-have skill last summer and fall when the district decided to start the school all virtual and scrambled to get electronic devices into the hands of all 37,000 students.

"At the beginning of this year, it was getting Chrome devices, hotspots into the hands of [staff and] students,[and] all the assistance with technical issues," said Jean Shearer, New Hampstead High School media specialist. "And you are not dealing with just one type of device."

Their tech expertise had to run the gamut from troubleshooting school-issued devices to personal devices and helping parents set up control settings for their home Internet service.

Just like everything else in a school building, the library has entered the 21st century. There are still shelves of books organized by the Dewey Decimal System. Readers find the books they want via a computer program and not a card catalog.

At Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools, libraries are called "learning commons." These sections of the school building are colorful, inviting rooms with comfortable chairs, modular tables, and big-screen monitors, and of course, shelves filled with books.

Learning commons could have WiFi connections and charging stations for laptops and iPads. Large cushiony chairs in well-lit corners invite children to find a book, plop down and read.

But, checking out books is one of least common jobs of the district's library media specialist. The titles and duties have recently been changed again to reflect new duties. Now they are "library media technology specialists."

"That technology piece means that person is a Chrome warrior," said Kemp. "They're the ones that you go when somebody's computer freezes, or they can't log in for one reason or another. Some people think we have magic or something, but we don't. It's funny when they're computer starts working again just when we show up."

They really don't have super-hero powers to fix the computers, but what they do for teachers, staff, parents, and students could be called super-heroic. Any time a teacher needs something to augment a lesson, or a student needs a video or access to a magazine article, book, or program for research, who are they going to call? The library media technology specialist.

If an SCCPSS media center doesn't have the requested item, the Live Oak Public Library System might. The partnership between SCCPSS and the public library system is strong. "We're very tied in with [Live Oak] for sure," said Kemp.

For this current school year, the district's media and learning centers have worked with a budget of just over $4.98 million, according to the budget report on the district website. Of that amount, the state provided just over $3.2 million. Another $1.7 million came from the local 5 mill share (the property millage rate.)

The school district budget for 2021-22 is currently being worked on between district officials and the school board and will include funds from the recently passed American Rescue Plan. Funds in this law recently signed by President Joe Biden include money for K-12 schools, specifically, 20% which must be spent on mitigating learning loss due to the pandemic. Teacher collaboration and learning centers will be crucial to help students who need help to catch up.

One new program for 2021-22 is Nearpod, which will allow teachers to upload lesson plans, make them interactive and, of course, share with colleagues around the district. "It's an online software subscription [that] provides teacher resources [such as] ready-made lessons," Kemp explained. "Teachers can drop in their lesson plans and make them interactive. It's got a lot of different components to it. So we're really excited."

Shearer added the budgets provided for each media center is based on the recommendation of the Library Media Technology Advisory Committee. This committee has representatives from each [school] department, a community member, a parent and a student. Decision on spending is made based on the discussion of the needs of the school and results of surveys.

As for staffing, most schools have at least a part-time media specialist. Most schools have a full-time media specialist and a full- or part-time library media support specialist. Roles are filled based on student population. "Six fifty is the magic number," Kemp said. "A lot of support persons work at more than one school. But once a school reaches 650 students, they have a full-time media specialist."

Jennifer Brown is the media support specialist at New Hampstead High School, working alongside Shearer. "We are the dynamic team — always motivating one another to learn and to grow in our field of service," Shearer added. Brown has received several accolades from the district, as well. She was the district's Instructional Support Person of the Year for West Chatham Elementary (2011-12 and 2014-15) and also at The STEM Academy at Bartlett in 2016-17.

Kemp added that one of the most fun parts of her job is assisting with the construction and design of the new media centers as schools are constructed, just like an interior decorator. "We look at the colors that have been chosen for the sites and then incorporate this into the seating," Kemp explained. "We purchase shelving that can be moved. We purchase soft seating that can be pulled from place to place. We purchase tables that can be reconfigured for small groups to large groups. And then yes, of course, infused with lots and lots of technology."

And, like teachers, library media technology specialists get close to their students — especially when they see them grow up year after year. "When I left West Chatham Elementary School to open New Hampstead High School in 2012, I told the students it was not goodbye," Shearer said. "Instead [I said] I am preparing New Hampstead for you when you enter high school. This is my final group that I will get to see cross the stage for graduation."

As for joining the staff of the new K-8 school, Shearer said, "This will be a fantastic opportunity to utilize the resources and relationships I have at the high school [and] to create a community spirit between both facilities."

Students should have a choice in selecting the path that is right for them, according to Shearer. "Recently I was asked 'should students get to choose what they should learn in school?'" Shearer recalled. "Every time they come into the school library, media center, the learning commons center, they are! Each student chooses what they want to learn when they visit the school library."

©2021 the Savannah Morning News (Savannah, Ga.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.