Hernando Schools grapple with speech therapist & media specialist jobs

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Hernando Schools grapple with speech therapist & media specialist jobs

Students read in the Spring Hill Elementary media center during literacy week 2017, photo by Sarah Nachin

OCT. 27, 2017- Hiring additional speech therapists and eliminating librarians (or media specialists) continue to be challenges for the Hernando County School District.

The public schools continue to look for speech therapists for students with communication problems. At the start of this school year, the District had five open positions for SLPs (Speech Language Pathologists). The district has contracted with outside agencies to fill those needs.

"Since then, we have received an allocation of two more SLPs," according to the District's public information officer Karen Jordan. "Both of those positions are currently being advertised."

The need for more speech therapists for students with communication dysfunctions was the topic of a School Board workshop earlier in October. Data presented at the meeting revealed that Hernando School District is lagging woefully behind both state and national figures when it comes to speech therapists or Speech Language Pathologist specialists.

The national average is one speech therapists for every 48 students. In Florida it is 64 students for every speech therapist. In the Hernando public schools the ratio is 86 students for every speech therapist.

School board member and retired educator Linda Prescott attended that October workshop and says she is appalled at the high numbers for the caseload of the speech therapists in Hernando. Prescott is please that two more speech therapists will be added and anticipates that the District will hire several more over the next few years. She feels reducing the caseload will help attract the much-needed speech therapists who play an important role in helping students with communication problems."The school board and the administration recognized at the workshop that more speech therapists are needed and we are doing something about it," says a relieved Prescott, adding the District has the money earmarked for the additional speech therapist jobs.

Another Hernando District problem involving budget shortfalls concerning Board member Prescott is the recent rash of eliminating or re-assigning librarians or media specialists. According to Prescott, these jobs play a vital and important role in a student's education now and when they go on to college. The media specialists' work improves school scores on literacy and reading scores as well. "I am hoping that for the schools that do not have a media specialist, we can add one in the near future," Prescott observes.

Regarding media specialists, the number of school staff each school receives is determined by student enrollment. As the number of students increase, "allocations" are matched to support those students. The opposite is also true. When enrollment declines, allocations are reduced.

When principals are given their staff allocations, or budgets, each year, the decision as to how to use those allocations is the principal's. Some choose to maintain their media specialist position but some may cut the allocation to support a different need at their school.

In reality, the school librarian or media specialist is a soft target, an easy cut for a principal faced with the dilemma of budget constraints.

According to Jordan, the media specialist is a non-classroom job that has multi-tasks, including managing book check-ins and outs, inventory in the library or media center, literacy initiatives, classroom visits, student research support, teaching media-related lessons, managing various technologies and supporting the instructional goals of teachers.

Currently, only 12 out of 23 schools in the Hernando County School District have a media specialist, what in years past was referred to as a librarian. Those 11 schools without a media specialist have adjusted without this position in a variety of ways, some utilizing part time volunteers and some shifting the erstwhile chores of the media specialists to teachers who must per force become more savvy with media and digital technology.

The position of media specialist in Hernando County public schools is now a year-to-year decision, according to Jordan, that actually depends on three factors. Influencing this "cut or keep or re-install" decision are: the state legislature's funding of public education, the principal's prerogative and the school's enrollment.