A bittersweet visit to Utterback Magnet Middle School as librarian is losing her position.

Vision Tour school libraries were chosen during the spring of 2010.  I wanted to give everyone the opportunity to gear up for an event that would occur during my visit to their school.  But about a month before I was to visit Utterback Magnet Middle School in Tucson, I got an email from librarian Jerrilyn Blackman telling me that she just found out that her position would be eliminated next year and asking if I still wanted to come.  Of course I did - even more!  What the Vision Tour is all about is to draw attention to outstanding school library programs.  If her colleagues chose her, it must be good and I must go.  But I wondered - what is going on in Arizona?

Arizona is one of the most beautiful of our states.  I taught at the University of Arizona during the summers of 1992 and 1993.  I was looking forward to seeing Tuscon once again.  As I drove from my hotel on the edge of the Saguaro National Park, I couldn’t enjoy the weather and scenery around me.  I had a foreboding feeling - as if I was going to a funeral.  And in a real sense it was - the death of a school library program.

As difficult as it was for me, I knew that for Jerry it was going to be one hundred times worse.  She has worked at Utterback for 11 years, building the program from the ground up and making it integral to this school where project-based learning was the norm.  The collection and the facility were vibrant and so is Jerry.  There are about 40 computers there. The school, a magnet for fine and performing arts, draws students from well-educated families and locally - a low socioeconomic neighborhood where the families have no books in the home and English is not the first language.  The library’s collection thus contains everything from picture books to those written at the college level. 

Another eerie event added to the funeral-like atmosphere.  My visit coincided with state-wide AIMS testing so every student in the school was in virtual lock-down in classrooms. Even when I walked on a tour through the halls, I didn’t see one student.  The only students I did see were two who came in the library later in the day for some extra help with their testing with an aide.  Teachers and staff stopped the library to enjoy the nice food spread available and say their condolences - I mean congratulations. 

Jerry put on a good face and appreciated the support.  The irony of the situation brought the FOX news to interview us at Utterback and another interview was scheduled for the local PBS station on the U of A campus. 

Jerry is determined to stay employed in the library field and will seek out positions at the public or academic library level.  I hope things will change and this decision will be reversed.  Jerry is terrific!

Jerri Blackman will be losing her job as the librarian at Utterback Middle School next year as a result of a lagging economy.  This fact was highlighted in two news stories in Tucson.

Arizona

April 14, 2011