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Sara Wiebke

P-12 Literacy and Library Media Coordinator at the Utah State Board of Education
Educational Leadership and Policy, M.Ed., 2019

What is the Role of a P-12 Literacy and Library Media Coordinator?
Sara’s job is best described as high-level coordination, support, oversight, guidance, and some compliance. She also bridges silos and works with other departments, agencies, and stakeholders, making sure that nobody is left out. Sara, and her 11-member team, work in early learning and literacy space at the Utah State Board of Education.

What Does a P-12 Literacy and Library Media Coordinator Do?
One of Sara’s responsibilities is leading the Utah State Board of Education’s implementation of Goal 1 of the Strategic Plan, which is 1 of the 4 main goals in the Board’s Strategic Plan. Goal 1 is Early Learning—each student starts strong through early grades with a foundation in literacy and numeracy. Within this goal, the four strategies are 1) Promote high-quality instruction in every early grade classroom; 2) Increase optional access to high-quality extended-day kindergarten programs; 3) Increase optional access to high-quality preschool; and 4) Increase engagement of families with young children in early learning experiences. The Board has lots of things going on, but they all come back to the strategic plan, ensuring high-quality education in early learning.

The LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Language and Spelling) is a recent project Sara and her team submitted a proposal for to help advance high-quality literacy instruction. LETRS professional learning has been provided for K-3 educators and coaches in over 80 districts and charters across the state. The project includes an administrative component called LETRS for Administrators, which is being provided for elementary administrators in schools where educators are taking part in LETRS. For the next 2 years, this large project will require lots of coordination and oversight.

Sara’s job can also include drafting bills with legislators or helping them to understand students’ needs and outcomes. For example, Sara may run legislation to improve student outcomes. Currently, Sara is running a full-day kindergarten bill with Representative Waldrip in hopes that any family in the state who feels full-day kindergarten is best for their child would have that option by 2024-2025 regardless of where they live in the state.

Sara and her team also provide support to districts and charters who are not meeting early learning goals. She might start by asking what a healthy literacy program looks like, then help districts and charters with self-assessment, and provide them with a variety of guidance and resources. She and her team visit successful schools, evaluate what makes them successful, then compile the analysis and tools into resources for other districts and charters to learn from. Sara and her team must ensure the resources provided align with the State Board of Education’s strategic plan. All work that takes high-level coordination, evaluation, budgeting, guidance, and bridging silos.

To ensure equitable outcomes and policies, Sara starts by asking other departments, like Special Education or Assessment, to review proposals, standards, plans, and resources as more voices lead to a stronger, more inclusive policy. She also works to increase student and educator success. For instance, Sara is currently leading the English language arts standards revision for P-12 students and is hoping to complete the Board timeline of this process by December 2023. In addition, Sara led teams to create three new competency-based endorsements in literacy and library media, along with building microcredentials for educators to earn and show competency. These endorsements provide educators with multiple ways to earn each endorsement, rather than having university courses or Praxis test be the only option.  Although Sara primarily works with and support districts and charter schools, she and her team also oversee numerous grants and programs. Sara and her team help individual districts and charters understand how to apply for funds and spend awarded funds in compliance with the law. In this way, they both act as stewards of the public’s tax dollars and help schools fulfill the intent of publicly funded programs.

What Does it Take to Become a P-12 Literacy and Library Media Coordinator?
Sara was working at the State Board of Education as a K-3 Literacy Specialist and knew she one day hoped to become a coordinator. She also knew the best way to get the role was to earn a K-12 administrator master’s degree. Sara earned the degree and was promoted to her current role before she finished the program! “A master’s degree in educational leadership opens tons of doors,” says Sara. “You can work at the district level, school level, or take on other leadership roles, or be a coach.” The ELP program also gave her lots of transferrable skills—skills that can be used in a variety of non-educational settings like business. “Leaders and leadership skills are needed in just about any setting,” says Sara. “I received a well-rounded education, and we were all prepared to be a leader in some form.”

Another skill that Sara finds helpful is storytelling. Sara frequently finds herself asking adults to do hard things, to take on extra work without extra pay, or to completely change how they do something. Stories help people understand why the extra work or change is necessary. For example, when change was needed, Sara started by asking administrators and educators to think about their greatest fear and showed pictures of common fears like snakes, high places, flying in a plane, and so on. She then asked the audience to imagine having to face that fear every day. Of course, most people had PTSD just thinking about it! She then told them that this was the fear of kids who couldn’t read. “Every day, kids that can’t read have to go to school and face their fear. Fear of being embarrassed and teased. Fear of disappointing their teacher. Fear of upsetting their parents. The change was necessary to help kids,” says Sara. When she presented these changes to the legislature, she had a picture of 100 children and then grayed out half of them. “This is what happens at the end of third grade,” she told them. “At the end of the year, half our kids can read at grade level and half our kids can’t.” These kinds of stories put people into the data and help remind everyone they are working for the benefit of kids. In fact, Sara has a note written in red font with the words, “What is best for kids” that she keeps on her computer. “It’s how I approach every problem, every solution,” she says.

How Do You Prepare to become a P-12 Literacy and Library Media Coordinator?
Sara feels the ELP program prepared her and her peers to tackle the issues they face as professionals. The social justice focus gave them the skills to deal with a diverse group of people. Social justice and equity skills taught Sara and her peers how to listen, how to be open to other people’s points of view, and even how to be open to changing their own minds when receiving new information and data.

The program also helped Sara develop her own diverse voice, which is critical for someone dealing with such a diverse constituency. Some days Sara is on the Hill fighting for bills that will help Utah’s kids, another day she might be running a day-long institute on improving reading, and the next she might be working with community partners like United Way or Voices for Children, and the next she might be revising standards. No two days are ever the same. “You have to be flexible and be a good communicator,” says Sara. “The Utah State Board of Education is unlike any other educational role. It’s almost like working for the biggest district in the state,” says Sara. It includes urban areas, rural areas, every kind of diversity, and all sorts of different needs. You need a diverse voice to serve a diverse constituency.

The diversity in voices started right with Sara’s program. Her peers included new schoolteachers, experienced schoolteachers, coaches, and some administrators working at the school level and others at the district level. “The variety of our roles brought in a lot of different perspectives to each class, each topic,” says Sara. “The faculty created a safe space for us,” says Sara. “We got to ask uncomfortable questions, share our opinions, even when they weren’t popular, in an authentic way. If we don’t develop the vocabulary and tools to have difficult conversations, then we won’t be able to serve the people we work with, which are diverse.” Of course, Sara thinks her cohort was the “Best cohort ever,” and she is happy that her college peers went on to be principals or assistant principals, coaches, and hold various roles in administration.

Sara has graduated and is working, but she still loves running into her ELP instructors. “Seeing them on the other side, I realize how much work they do. They aren’t just there in the classroom providing instruction. They do so much more,” she says.