The new superintendent of Houston ISD is defending his decision to convert school libraries at a number of campuses.

Now, he’s opening an invitation to one of his critics — Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Turner’s comments came during a City Council meeting on Wednesday where he questioned the change.

“I’ve always been a strong proponent of libraries — especially in schools, in neighborhoods where kids are challenged for a number or reasons. When you close the libraries you have gone too far,” Turner said.

In an open letter addressed to Turner, Superintendent Mike Miles invited the mayor to see the changes for himself when school starts next month.

“I would like you to join me at some of these campuses during the first week of school. You will see first-hand the unique attributes of this model and its ability to support student achievement,” Miles wrote.

The library closures affect some of the “New Education System” campuses, aka “NES” schools. They include 57 schools deemed high priority for the district to help improve student outcomes.

Miles explained that the libraries will transform into “Team Centers” where students can gather to do homework and study, and books will still be checked out using an honor system.

But, as the mayor pointed out, the “Team Centers” are also where disruptive students will be sent to learn virtually.

“Libraries will be available to students who are dropped off at school before classes begin, or after school before they go home,” HISD said. “Depending on each campus’ needs, some library spaces may be repurposed into team centers, which are designed for students to continue working, individually or in teams, throughout the school day.”

Librarian and media specialist positions at 28 HISD campuses were eliminated when Miles took over. Those employees had a chance to re-apply to work at libraries at other non-NES campuses in the district.

HISD said the 57 additional schools that opted into NES will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

The move is almost a complete 180 from Miles’ predecessor, Millard House II, who aimed to put a librarian at every school under his former five-year plan. According to our partners at the Houston Chronicle, Miles said the decision partly comes from “prioritizing resources to meet specific outcomes, including closing the achievement gap, raising student proficiency, and preparing kids for the future.”

Miles will be meeting with families on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Sugar Grove Academy.

There are three more meetings planned before school starts:

  • July 29 at 9 a.m. – West Briar Middle School
  • Aug. 1 at 6 p.m. – Stevenson Middle School
  • Aug. 2 at 6 p.m. – Attucks Middle School

School starts on Aug. 28.

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