By ReShonda Tate
When I first heard the news that state-appointed Houston Independent School District Superintendent Mike Miles was getting rid of “dedicated librarians at 28 underperforming schools,” I was dumbfounded. Surely, a district that lagged behind the national reading average wouldn’t dare take away ANY opportunity for students to read. Surely, the largest public school system in Texas, which I am a PROUD product of, wouldn’t take beloved reading spaces and turn them into disciplinary spaces, “where kids with behavioral issues will be sent.”
These “team centers” as they will be called are part of Miles’ “new education system” initiative. Teachers at these schools will soon have the option to send misbehaving students to these “team centers’” – where they will continue to learn remotely.
I’ve always been a voracious reader. My teachers in HISD would often use my ability to go to the library as a reward. But it was a librarian at Dick Dowling Middle School, in HISD, who ignited my love of writing. A librarian who told me, “You could do this!” when I told her I wanted to rewrite the ending to “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” I lost myself in my school library – and found myself as well. I was deathly shy and introverted but books gave me something I loved. I found something that made me power through math and science (classes I didn’t exactly love) because my reward would be to go to the library. My Houston Independent School District libraries at Petersen Elementary, Dowling Middle School and Madison High School, ignited an ember that roared into a full-on flame.
Now….as one of the top African American authors in the country preparing to release my 54th book….a writer who has received a plethora of awards for writing, including an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature and a Texas Literary Hall of Fame honor, who has two movies based on my books, a publishing company that I co-founded….I wonder how much of that would have happened had my HISD library not been a safe haven and a springboard.
Books and the roles of school librarians are already under attack across the nation. It’s disheartening that a district, which primarily serves minority children, would join in that battle. What a way to make the kids feel like reading is less important. My heart weeps for the future writers whose light will be extinguished by this move. I am devastated at all the young people who will lose out on the importance of reading and reading comprehension. For many young people, the library is the portal to the outside world. This move closes the door.
HISD must do better.
ReShonda Tate is the Managing Editor of the Defender and the author of 53 books. www.ReShondaTate.com