A Profile in Advocacy - Jayne Downing

My path crossed Jayne Downing’s when I attended an APSL meeting years ago to talk about advocacy. APSL was the Association of Philadelphia School Librarians, now defunct since there are approximately only 5 school librarians left in the School District of Philadelphia (SDP). Jayne has been a school librarian in several city schools for 34 years at elementary and middle school levels. She earned her MLS from Clarion and is nationally board certified (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards) in both Early Childhood through Young Adult and Library Media (not easy!).

During her time at SDP, Jayne has seen a thriving school library department and program reduced to almost nothing. Years ago, SDP eliminated the classification of “school librarian” and all librarians were classed as “teachers.” This allowed the district to hide the number of actual librarians in the district. As principals, tasked with site-based decision-making, had to make difficult choices among nurses, counselors, and librarians, more and more principals cut school librarian positions, especially as librarians retired. In fact, finding out how many librarians still exist in the district is extremely difficult due to the classification change. The 2017-18 figure in the chart below is an anecdotally gathered number as the district cannot confirm it.

In 2016, when Jayne served as a full-time librarian, Jayne’s school, the Penn Alexander (K-8) School, a K-8 public school for 560 West Philadelphia children, was named a National Blue Ribbon School. Penn Alexander is a partnership school and financially-supported ($1330 per student) by the University of Pennsylvania. In the past two years, however, Jayne’s schedule has been changed to include more reading and English assigned classes, reducing the amount of time the library is accessible to all students.

A member of ALA, AASL, as well as PSLA, Jayne takes professional development seriously. Jayne recently was selected and completed the University of Pittsburgh-PSLA Regional Leaders Academy. She has also served in various leadership positions, including President, of the Pennsylvania African American Library Association (PAALA).

I asked Jayne if she could do one thing to improve the course of school librarianship today what that would it be. She responded that principals should complete a course or some training about school libraries in their preparatory education. She stated that principals don’t know enough to really use libraries to benefit students the way they could and should be used. Students lose because principals don’t understand how to leverage library resources, including the librarian. Despite losing more and more library time due to her heavy teaching schedule, Jayne says she will do the best she can this year, as every year, to serve the children. That is what drives her and that’s what matters.

Written by Deb Kachel, PSLA Legislative Liaison

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Deb Kachel - Friday, November 02, 2018

Read more about the Penn Alexander School at http://www2.philly.com/philly/news/penn-alexander-university-city-west-philly-low-income-affordable-housing-20181101.html "The Penn Alexander effect: Is there any room left for low-income residents in University City?" Philadelphia Inquirer Nov. 1, 2018

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