February 17, 2018

Kathy Shahbodaghi | Movers & Shakers 2016 – Innovators

Kathy Shahbodaghi


Public Services Director, Youth & Teen Services, Columbus Metropolitan Library, OH


MLS, Kent State University, 1985


columbuslibrary.org/thirdgradereading; columbuslibrary.org/readingbuddies


The Early Bookworm

Kathy Shahbodaghi, Columbus Metropolitan Library’s (CML) director for youth and teen services, had her aha moment long ago when she visited a school in a low-income neighborhood where student performance was poor. When her colleague showed kindergartners David Shannon’s book No, David! (Scholastic), several eagerly raised their hands. The teacher confided, “Those are the children who had been read to before they started school. I had to teach the rest howto listen to a book.”

“That’s when I understood…not only the impact of early literacy but the role the library could play,” Shahbodaghi says.

Shahbodaghi has long been at the forefront of elevating early literacy rates in Columbus. She and her team have transformed story times to focus on supporting and training parents as well as librarians with robust tools and guidance. She leads the Ready To Read Corps, which educates at-risk parents and caregivers in how to prepare their children for kindergarten. The yearlong home-visit program, developed with Ohio State University (OSU), provides intensive reading instruction to about 400 parents and 500 children annually. A 13-month review conducted by an OSU researcher found that in the first year alone, preschoolers’ preliteracy knowledge increased by 24.6 percent and parental literacy behavior improved 26.2 percent.

Another Shahbodaghi initiative is Reading Buddies, a free after-school program created in 2014 in response to new third grade state reading standards that had left Columbus City Schools (CCS) educators frantic; at the time, only 40 percent of students were at grade level—the rest were at risk of being held back. Offered at least twice a week at all 22 CML locations 50 weeks a year, Reading Buddies provides 15 minutes of one-on-one reading time for K–third grade kids with an adult or teen “buddy.”

Shahbodaghi “developed the rigor around the program to ensure it wasn’t just a ‘feel good’ but an actual ‘do good,’ ” says nominator Alison Circle, chief customer experience officer for CML and a 2011 Mover & Shaker. In 2015, Circle says, “The CCS passage rate leaped to 90 percent—and they attribute our program as part of that success.”

As a board member of Learning Circle, an online tool that enables educators to view and use individual student performance data, Shahbodaghi helped bring CML data into the dashboard, including summer reading, homework help, and Reading Buddies. The result: teachers can see which students seek external help; CML’s work is integrated into the student’s academic profile; and the schools have demonstrable evidence of CML outcomes, says Circle.

Other programs Shahbodaghi developed include a kid card, which doesn’t require a parental signature to borrow materials and carries no late fees; book delivery to 353 metro Columbus classrooms—CCS hasn’t bought new books as a district since 2002—and a new kindergarten boot camp to help families with incoming kindergartners prepare for school.

For Shahbodaghi, all of these efforts are part of a larger strategy to give children a foundation for a successful life: “My job is to help parents and caregivers from all walks of life understand their role as their child’s first teacher.”

This article was published in Library Journal's March 15, 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.