Every year, the Santa Barbara Education Foundation honors individuals and organizations that make great strides for literacy. This year, Cate alumna and McBean Library Director, Kate Parker ’85, will be celebrated at the 2019 Hope Awards for her years of service on the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board and her advocacy work on the Santa Barbara Community College Board of Trustees. Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s, will join Kate in being recognized at the April 25th affair at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.
In this interview with Kate, we discover her passion for education, the changes she hopes to see in public education, and what plans are on the horizon for the McBean library.
What led you to the field of education and specifically to your role as Director of Libraries?
It took me a long time to find my calling—I should have figured it out a lot earlier, since I volunteered in the McBean Library as a student and was actually the head student librarian my senior year! But I was a stay-at-home mom for a number of years and began working very part time back at Cate in 2005 as a library tech when my kids were small. I started simultaneously exploring a new interest in public education policy and practices as my children started school and re-igniting my love for libraries as I worked at Cate. Fortunately, the School was very supportive, both of my hope to further my education in library studies and of my drive to get involved in local politics. I was able to get my Masters in Library and Information Science while I also worked, ran political campaigns, and then served first on the Santa Barbara Unified School Board and now on the Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees. Over the years, I’d changed jobs in the McBean from library tech to assistant librarian to librarian, and when the Director of Libraries position opened two years ago, I jumped at the chance!
In the last five years, what books, concepts, or experiences have influenced you most in your professional development?
The direct experiences I’ve had working with students and learning how to best support their curiosity and independent learning have always had the greatest influence on how I teach as a librarian, curate the McBean collection, and build library programs. But my fellow teachers, the Cate faculty conversations, and School training have also been hugely important, as well as the connections I’ve made by visiting other independent school librarians both in California and back east. As for books, as you might imagine, I’ve read so many great ones that have impacted my work over the years that it’s hard to list them here. But I’m just finishing The Coddling of the American Mind–which I highly recommend and is definitely re-framing how I communicate with students—and I’m about to start The Library Book, which sounds fascinating!
What inspired you to get involved with the Santa Barbara Education Foundation?
I started paying attention to their work when I first joined the board at Santa Barbara Unified. They’ve been a tremendous partner with the school district in raising funds for the arts, re-starting summer school programs that had been closed due to budget cuts, and opening access to extended learning opportunities for low-income students. They also spearheaded campaigns over the years for school bonds that have really improved the day-to-day learning environments for local children. It’s been a pleasure to support the Foundation and see it thrive!
What changes would you like to see in public school education and how would you propose making those changes?
In my ideal world, California public schools would have dramatically fewer students in each class, especially at the secondary level where class sizes typically range from 35-40 children. As it stands, teachers struggle—how can an English or History teacher give anything but short, less frequent writing assignments or a math teacher work one-on-one outside of class with a struggling student when they teach 175 students every day? I would also dramatically reduce the amount of state testing the schools are subject to and encourage teachers to build curricula that are flexible enough to be guided by the interests of the unique students they have in their classrooms each year. The biggest obstacles to my dream are money, space and the top-down approach that states take with their local school districts in this modern era. I understand why we’re in the situation we’re in, but it’s frustrating!
How, if at all, does your personal and professional experience with boarding school education impact your work with public education?
It’s had a huge impact on my work with public education and vice versa—I always cross-seed the best ideas I see and feel very lucky that I have two quite different worlds open for me to explore and share.
What do you see as the major challenge facing the McBean Library? What major changes have you made or are you planning to make in the coming years?
Helping students navigate the firehose of information that comes at them in the digital age is a huge challenge. I also survey students every year and see that they continue to prefer to read physical books, and yet they’re on technology constantly. This means, frankly, that some students don’t do much independent long-form reading—the books they read during the year are the ones they’re assigned in class. This reliance on finding information on the web and from short articles may negatively impact how adept students are with building a deeper topic understanding and with sense-making in research. It’s a struggle.
The most significant change coming our way is the re-purposing of the Raymond Dining Commons into a new academic center for the school, including our new school library. Construction will hopefully get underway in about a year, and we’ve been having great conversations with the architects about our continuing and future needs to facilitate physical and digital research, increase collection access and circulation, encourage curiosity and quiet, independent study, and provide opportunities for collaborative learning, while also meeting our additional community role as a place for recreational reading, meeting and relaxation. It’s going to be a wonderful space!
What is something people might not know about the McBean Library?
Some people may not know that the upstairs office where Mr. Barton and Ms. Fortner are now and the downstairs office that holds Ms. Barry and Mr. Weis were built as group study rooms, which is why they both have windows facing into the library–so the librarians could keep an eye on any shenanigans! They may also not know that its namesake, Atholl McBean, was one of the founders of Valencia, California, and when they drive on the McBean Parkway near Valencia and Santa Clarita, there’s a tie back to Cate School.