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Librarian honored for opening new worlds to her students

by: Ray Pitz, Beaverton librarian Kelly Kuntz was recently honored by a state organization.

Kelly Kuntz can still remember the first librarian she knew and how that woman allowed her to read the more challenging selections usually reserved for older folks.

'She recognized I was a reader, and she gave me the opportunity to explore,' said Kuntz.

Throughout the years, Kuntz too has let numerous students explore their own worlds through the school library.

This month she was named the recipient of the 2006 Distinguished Library Service Award for School Administrators.

The Oregon Educational Media Association, the group that represents school librarians and media specialists throughout the state, presents the annual award.

'I was delighted,' Kuntz said of the award.

Kuntz, the Beaverton School District's coordinator of instructional technology, oversees the district's 47 school librarians and the librarian at the Welcome Center.

In addition, she's responsible for instructional technology and the integration of that technology in classroom instruction, which is mostly related to computers.

She noted that she often has held positions related to media or technology, attributing it to her love of tinkering with electronic items.

'I think it was because I took apart a vacuum cleaner when I was 10,' said Kuntz. 'I took it apart and got it back again.'

A bunch of critters

In education since 1971, Kuntz began as a high school librarian in California's Napa Valley and spent six years as a fifth-grade teacher in that state.

While in California, Kuntz wrote three federal grants to pioneer multi-media technology that later became part of a national K-12 model for library media centers. However, Proposition 13, the 1978 California property tax limitation initiative, took a chunk out of school funding, forcing elimination of school librarians.

Moving to Oregon, Kuntz spent 10 years at Hiteon Elementary School where she made sure her library sported an ample amount of crawling critters including an iguana, snakes, mice and a one-eared rabbit named Van Gogh.

'The highlight for me was to put books in the hands of eager readers,' she said. 'I loved it.'

No stranger to accolades from fellow librarians, 15 years ago Kuntz was nominated as the state representative for the National School Librarian of the Year award sponsored by the Association for Educational Communication and Technology.

Kuntz went to Washington, D.C., where she was named as the national winner of the honor in 1991.

In 1995, Kuntz became a teacher on special assignment at the district's central office working on library support and half-time in instructional tech support. She would later move into her current position.

Always welcome

One thing Kuntz is particularly proud of in the Beaverton School District is the high caliber of librarians throughout the district, all of whom possess teaching certification as well as a library endorsement.

'And that does make us unique,' said Kuntz, pointing out that many neighboring districts lack such stringent requirements.

Also, Kuntz said the importance of librarians has been documented time and time again with 14 statewide studies, all that show measurable student academic achievement when a school has a strong library program complete with certified personnel and support staff.

Libraries also play a big part in the literacy of students, she said, giving them a place to develop a lifelong love of reading.

'You can teach a child to read but having a library makes it like a candy store,' said Kuntz.

Kuntz noted that while teachers may only spend a year with students, librarians in elementary schools can have contact with those students for as long as seven years, providing memories that can last a lifetime.

That became apparent last summer when Norma Zabel, a longtime Ridgewood Elementary School librarian, passed away.

During a memorial service, Kuntz said a 17-year-old student gave a moving recollection of Zabel and how she had created an atmosphere in her library where 'he always felt welcome.'

Kuntz will be recognized for her award on Oct. 14 at the Oregon Educational Media Association's fall conference in Salem.