The winner of this year’s Distinguished School Administrator Award is Riley Brewer, the Assistant Principal at Halls High School in Knox County. She was nominated by her librarian Brandi Hartsell. Ms. Brewer goes above and beyond in supporting the school library and librarian at Halls High School. Every day and in many ways, Ms. Brewer works to promote the school library and its resources. From the time that Ms. Brewer arrived at Halls High, she has been instrumental in the professional growth of the school librarian, Ms. Hartsell. She not only conducts formal evaluations and provides meaningful feedback, she willingly serves as a sounding board, mentor, and collaborative partner with Ms. Hartsell on a daily basis. As an example, when Ms. Hartsell was struggling to teach a virtual creative writing lesson, Ms. Brewer helped to create a modified lesson plan and even co-taught the lesson with her. She contributed to and helped proofread a grant that Ms. Hartsell wrote. Ms. Brewer also frequently attends and contributes to True Crime Tuesdays in the library where students gather to listen to discuss true crime stories. She always asks potential new employees about library collaboration and has served as a practice audience for Ms. Hartsell’s TASL presentations. Brandi says that every school librarian deserves an administrative partner as invaluable as Ms. Brewer, but she will fight anyone who tries to steal her.
Riley told us about her background as an educator.
“I began my career in education as a high school English teacher. I taught every high school grade and course level, from freshmen to seniors and inclusion to AP. Over the course of my six years as a teacher, I was fortunate enough to be presented with opportunities to acquire skills that reached beyond the four walls of my classroom and into instructional coaching and professional development design. In 2017, I was selected to be a fellow in the University of Tennessee Knoxville’s Leadership Academy, and this marked the beginning of my work as an administrator. I am now in my fifth year as a high school assistant principal and my fourth year as a curriculum principal.“
We asked Riley why she values school libraries.
“I truly believe public schools are the cornerstone of modern American society. Public schools provide children and young adults with the opportunity to earn knowledge, skills, and experiences that will prepare them to become productive citizens— and all for free! Libraries are key in this endeavor because they serve a variety of purposes: They are centers for collaboration and technology access; they contain texts that would be completely inaccessible to students otherwise; and they are an oasis for students seeking a safe place beyond the bustle of a school. Furthermore, the role of librarians as media specialists means each content area can be served by the school library to enrich curriculum. The school librarian guides teachers’ use of educational technology and illustrates how traditional assignments— like research papers and creative projects— can be updated to become more rigorous and relevant to today’s world. In addition to curricular and instructional purposes, I would be remiss to not mention that representation matters to kids, and libraries are a place where all students can find themselves reflected somewhere on the shelves. In short, libraries can serve as the heart of a school where teachers enhance their practice and all students are equally welcome.“
Riley had this advice for school librarians interested in building a strong relationship with their administrators, “Too often, administrators only interact with the library when there is a problem— broken technology, challenged books, disciplinary issues— so I would recommend librarians instead be proactive in building a positive, mutually beneficial relationship with administration early. Administrators generally work during the summer months, so librarians might consider arranging a time to meet with the principal(s) before school begins to find out what the school goals are for the upcoming year and to share initiatives the librarian might be considering. When the library media specialist can identify how the library’s services align with and support the school’s goals, it is easier to garner support for library programs and encourage collaboration. Please don’t assume your administrators aren’t interested in library services— they’re often just busy and don’t want to be seen as interfering with your work!“
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