November 21, 2017

Sue Kowalski | Movers & Shakers 2016 – Educators

Sue Kowalski

CURRENT POSITION

School Librarian, Pine Grove Middle School, East Syracuse, NY

DEGREE

MLS, Syracuse University, NY, 2003; M. Ed., Reading, William Paterson College, NJ, 1987

AWARDS

“I Love My Librarian” Award, 2012

FOLLOW

@spkowalski, @mslindymobile, @nyla_ssl (Twitter); pinegrovelibrary.blogspot.com

Photo ©2016 Shawn G. Henry

Game On, Ms. Lindy

Back when Sue Kowalski was a classroom teacher, she knew that a solid teacher-librarian partnership could create limitless possibilities. But her librarian, well…didn’t. So Kowalski went back to school for an MLS, completing it at the same time as that librarian was retiring. The rest is history.

Kowalski has faced challenges in her role as middle school librarian, but perhaps the biggest has been the renovation of the Pine Grove Middle School itself, in East Syracuse, NY, which resulted in the entire school community being split among six locations. “Staffing, space, scheduling, and building a sense of community were, and still are, real concerns,” says Kowalski. “But as an instructional leader, I needed to transition the library program to ensure we remained vibrant and connected for the duration of the renovation.”

Her first solution was inspired by one of her bucket list items: to drive a bookmobile. Using money from her “I Love My Librarian” award and their own funds, she and her husband purchased an old RV and named it Ms. Lindy; soon it housed a parrot mascot. Kowalski used Ms. Lindy as a mobile extension of the library, hosting programs for all six locations, as well as much-needed storage.

Unfortunately, the seventh graders’ location had no library. So she embedded a student leadership program, dubbed iStaff, into that building.

Students apply, and need teacher permission, to “staff” the “iSpace.” The program is designed to empower students to be leaders through the library program during their study halls or other non–credit bearing time. Over 18 months, the seventh grade iStaff program grew from a few students staffing the iSpace and leaving notes for Kowalski, to 38 kids using Chromebooks to manage administrative tasks, create tutorials, assist with collection development, and provide readers’ advisory services.

“Over time, I have shifted day-to-day management of the program to the students, while I strategize the use of online resources,” explains Kowalski. “With Google forms for the applications, LibGuides for the general reference page, Google Classroom as our headquarters, and Destiny for our collection operations, students can contribute virtually and be more self-directed on and off their shifts.”

So what happens when everyone is back together in their shiny new digs in September? “I will take all that I have learned being ‘on the road’ for two years and incorporate that into our program,” says Kowalski. “I know that a beautiful space alone doesn’t make a program. This is the perfect opportunity to abandon what is not having an impact and focus on what is. Status quo won’t work, so it’s game on for fresh beginnings!”

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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Comments

  1. Sue Kowalski has always been a leader, an innovator, a disruptor and a community connector wherever she goes! Easy Syracuse is so fortunate to have such an amazing woman in their world. I knew Sue back in the 70’s and 80’s when she turned our high school world into a strong, resilient, collaborative community in her leadership roles as a teenager. No surprise reading stories of her awesomeness!!!

    Congratulations, Sue!

  2. Karen Spicols says:

    A true inspiration to everyone she meets. Students truly look forward to going to the library because if her upbeat personality, She is never afraid to try new ideas, it’s an a honor to say that I had the privilege to work side by side with her. Awesome article. Congrats Sue

  3. Darci LaRose says:

    Sue the extended community is proud of your persistence! Your diligence is inspiring! Thanks for providing amazing learning experiences for the 7th grade students divided into six schools learning spaces. You teach real world leadership and students will learn the true value when they are able to enter the beautifully renovated Pine Grove Jr. Library in September!

  4. Mary Kippley says:

    Once again, the amazing Sue Kowalski inspires, innovates and impresses. She takes whatever resources she is given, generously adds her own contributions (monetary,creativity and genius!) and makes a seemingly impossible task possible beyond the imagination. I, too, have been one of the privileged ones who assisted and worked side by side with her in her tireless efforts and endeavors to make the library world a more desirable,exhilarating and inspiring place to be for students and staff. She makes us all better people just by being part of her world. CONGRATULATIONS, SUE. YOU ROCK!! YOU ALWAYS DO!!

  5. Lisa Law says:

    I am one of the lucky teachers who gets to collaborate with Sue regularly. Her energy is infectious, to both students and staff. She inspires us to think outside the box and to take risks. She has paved the way for a student-centered and student-led approach to education in our building, and we look forward to all of the amazing possibilities in our new building together! She is truly a “mover and shaker”!

  6. Barb Panarites says:

    So proud of you my amazing friend! So happy to be part of your world. Love you!

  7. Sue lives, breathes and loves libraries which all returns to a positive impact on students. thank you Sue!

  8. Angelina C. says:

    Mrs. Kowalski is the best librarian I know. She works so hard for us and is loved so much. ❤️

  9. Daniel Johnson says:

    Any students who have this awesome librarian is very lucky! You are an inspiration for reading! :)