By Robert Connelly
Chris Berni came back to Fitch High School this year as a principal after previously serving as a principal at Austintown Middle School.
When he entered the library for the first time since graduation, “this area looked exactly the same as it did in 1987 with the same books, setup and furniture,” said Berni, 12th-grade principal.
The district had two full-time librarians, but after they retired, their positions were not filled and the district had one librarian. As the library didn’t have someone helping students and teachers full time, use of the space dwindled, according to 10th-grade Principal Tracy Herrholtz.
Then the district brought on Sheila Henline, beginning this school year, as a substitute librarian. The Fitch librarian position was absorbed into the district librarian position after the previous Fitch librarian retired.
Henline also said the library was the same as when she graduated from Fitch.
Berni said they began taking out old and no longer relevant books starting at the end of October, and this past month they removed four shelves and moved them to other district buildings. Those shelves had the carpet cut around them, and Berni said they had not been moved since Fitch opened in 1968.
Henline went through the books and got rid of any that were no longer connected to the curriculum or hadn’t been used in a while. Berni said those books were picked up by teachers, students, community groups and churches. “Some of these books came with the school,” Herrholtz said.
Herrholtz said the space has not been developed yet as school officials decide what to do with the area. Yet to be decided is installing hardwood floors for performance poetry or leaving it as an open area with carpet floors for group work, she said.
Herrholtz and Henline said there have been more student activities in the library, leading to higher numbers of students using the area on a weekly basis. On a bulletin board just inside the library, there are fliers for the different groups that meet weekly, from Pinterest to poetry. The glass walls leading into the library are currently painted from current students depicting the “Divergent” book series, currently in movie theaters. Henline said they will change the design to something new for May.
Henline was surprised by some of the things she found while going through the shelves. She discovered photographs of the old steel mills that have been closed for decades. “The steel industry basically disappeared in the 1970s. This is GM [General Motors] country, and I expected to see more of that,” she said.
Henline said she is in the preliminary stages of trying to do something with the photos but wants to present the pictures to students of the new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs. She said she hopes “to show these kids where they came from.”
Future changes to the library depend on donations or using the resources already available to the district, Berni said. He said the changes are an attempt to bring Fitch’s library up to “21st century” technology, an overall message for the proposed 4.1-mill bond issue on the May 6 ballot to build a new Fitch High School. The bond would act as a loan over 37 years, and the state would pay $31 million of the estimated $68 million project to build a new building on the current Austintown campus.
Under the proposed bond, students would still go to school in the current Fitch while the new building is built with an estimated open date of 2018.
Berni said there is no set end date for the changes in the library and they will continue to look for ways to incorporate more technology and space for students to use.
“We have big visions and little space and no money,” Herrholtz said.