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After Union Clash, Pritzker Now Allowing Parents to Volunteer In Library

By Alisa Hauser | March 13, 2017 8:39am
 The empty library front desk at A.N. Pritzker School in Wicker Park.
The empty library front desk at A.N. Pritzker School in Wicker Park.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

WICKER PARK — Students at A.N. Pritzker School no longer have a librarian or weekly library class, but they can now check out library books with the help of parent volunteers who will assist with "circulation and re-shelving," the Wicker Park school's principal said.

Joenile Albert-Reese, principal of the school at 2009 W. Schiller St., told DNAinfo that she recently received word from the Law Department at Chicago Public Schools that Pritzker "could move forward with our original parent volunteer schedule for the library. "

After the elimination of the librarian position due to a budget adjustment made after the most recent school year had begun, the school was told by the Chicago Teacher's Union that it could not allow parents to replace the librarian's skilled union job

In January, the controversy prompted Pritzker parent Michael Hendershot to write an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that attracted national attention about the situation at the school and how they were unable to volunteer to staff the library.

Albert-Reese clarified that the parent volunteers will not be replacing trained librarians who teach students how to use a library. 

The parents "will allow students an opportunity to go into the library, peruse the books and check them in and out of the library," she said.

Michael Passman, a CPS spokesman, said that "CPS is grateful for members of our community who generously volunteer their time at schools throughout the city. Parent volunteerism is a common practice, and it is permitted under the board's volunteer policy and the district's labor agreement."

While students also have reading classes, each student used to have an hourlong library class each week, where they learned how to research, how to use databases and how to access other sources of information, said Rachel Lessem, a member of the local school council at Pritzker. The students had homework and grades in library as well.

Currently, the library is being used for tutoring and classes. No books have been checked in or out for the last few months.

The solution to budget cuts at Pritzker is not filling paid jobs with parent volunteers but "advocating for restoration of lost funding and its librarian position," the Chicago Teachers Union said in January.

A spokesman from the teachers union did not reply to a request for comment.

On Friday, parents expressed relief about resuming access to the library.

Megan McCarter Cunningham, a parent of two Pritzker students, said her children were "heartbroken about losing the library."

"My oldest son is an avid reader, and it really helped that I didn't have to continuously buy books for him. He and his friends would all recommend books to each other and take turns reading them. The library really enriches the school and while we would prefer to have a librarian with a full library curriculum, I would be grateful for my kids to have access to the books again," Cunningham said.

Dorothy Jagonese, another Pritzker mom, said that she plans to volunteer at the school's library as much as her schedule will allow. 

"It's important that these kids have as much access to books as possible. For some of our working parents, trips to the public library may not always be possible. And here we have a wealth of resources housed in the same building where students spend the majority of their day," Jagonese said.

Reese said that she plans to meet with parents soon to start the volunteer schedule. And a book club will provide extra access, too.

"We are forming an after-school book club which will allow students access to books in the library on a daily basis," Albert-Reese said.