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Pasco schools aim for more modern media centers

First the people. Now the place.

After rewriting media specialists' jobs, Pasco County school officials have turned to redesigning media centers.

"The changes for education call for changes in roles, responsibility and space," said Amelia Larson, assistant superintendent for student achievement.

Educators, architects and other planners have begun discussing how to best use the media centers, which in many instances are a school's central hub. They're looking at everything from paint schemes to technology needs.

A group of information technology communication coaches — the new-look media specialists who focus on tying technology to instruction — will meet later in January to discuss research on the different concepts.

The goal is to ensure that the rooms are more than stacks of infrequently used books. Instead, leaders want to create places for active learning, where children and adults like to be.

"The media centers are being converted into more flexible, collaborative, lively learning areas," said John Petrashek, director of construction services.

Schools slated for renovations, such as Sanders, Shady Hills and Quail Hollow elementaries, stand to benefit from the changes first.

Some other schools have started revamping their media centers on their own.

Gulf Highlands Elementary School in Port Richey began its transformation in the summer, using Title I federal grant money. The school had adopted a new reading program and discovered it didn't have enough cash to buy all the needed classroom books.

But in its media center sat hundreds of books, many unused. So the staff spent the summer preparing and distributing the collection among classrooms, leaving the library with a single shelf of nonfiction titles.

Fiction books that didn't go to classrooms landed in the former computer lab, which became a reading room filled with bright carpets, comfy chairs and stuffed animals. The computers also went to the classrooms.

As for the main media center, it morphed into a meeting room with a circle of leather chairs for group conversations. It became a place for lessons, with movable furniture, multiple whiteboards, SMART boards and projectors.

On a recent Wednesday, fifth-graders used the tables as a track to test their air-powered vehicles in a STEM lesson. The kids said they liked the new setup.

"It's easier," said Amina Gutic, 11. "Teachers can have conferences. We can use it. We can move around a lot."

But "it's kind of weird," added Jared Holmes, 11. "We only have a certain selection of (classroom) books. And everyone that worked in the library was friendly."

Graduation enhancement teacher Vanessa Del Rio, who was helping the kids, said the media center changes benefited student learning.

"They come in and they're able to work together," Del Rio said. "Before, we didn't have a room where we could make this happen."

Seven Springs Middle School is also in the midst of a redesign.

The school isn't relocating its books. Instead, it's looking at creating reading nooks, homework areas, meeting spaces and a general Starbucks or Barnes and Noble feel (without the coffee).

"One of the big things that they were looking at is how were the students using the media center, and 'let's make the media center meet their needs,' " principal Chris Dunning said.

Both models are finding widespread use as schools try to make their media centers more relevant in a digital world, said Doug Johnson, a Minnesota-based consultant on technology and libraries.

"Probably the big question that a lot of people have is, actually, 'do we need libraries at all?' " Johnson said.

A growing number of students and teachers already carry tablets and phones under Pasco's bring-your-own-device policy.

"It makes the need for a library sometimes questionable in an educator's mind," he said. "There are four key ways to change to remain viable."

One is the move to social learning spaces, similar to the Gulf Highlands approach. Another is to become a productivity center, where students can come to find materials and then use the available technology and expertise to do their work.

The media center can become a learning "commons," a one-stop shop for instructional materials, guidance, social work, nursing assistance and other services. Or it can be the cool, educationally meaningful place to be, as Seven Springs Middle is going for.

One thing is certain, Johnson said: "There's no such thing as the perfect library model. Different schools with different needs require different models."

Superintendent Kurt Browning said he looks forward to seeing how schools adapt.

"We've got to think differently about the way we use the space that we currently know as the media center," he said.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Pasco schools aim for more modern media centers 01/10/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 10, 2014 6:36pm]
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