Changing the World

Our mission in Worthington Schools is to empower a community of learners who will change the world.  We want our students to know that they can and will change the world in big and small ways.  Helping our students internalize this mission is accomplished daily in our classrooms in conversations with our teachers and other trusted adults.  Additionally, as a school district we have created visuals that are displayed at each school with current students sharing how they plan to change the world.  Hopefully this takes an abstract mission and makes it more concrete and realistic to our students.  

Our current “change the world” displays have been displayed in our schools for two years.  One of the students who is featured in Bryce Presser.  When the display was designed and his picture taken he was a young middle school student.  I’ve walked by his picture and “tweeted” it out many times but I hadn’t met Bryce personally until recently.

Here’s the cool thing….Bryce really is changing the world!  As part of his quest to earn his Eagle Scout badge (only 4% of scouts ever achieve this rank.  It’s seriously elite.)  Bryce decided to create book lending libraries for Worthington Estates, Slate Hill and Worthington Park.  The project which he titled “Worthington Worthiness Library” is a collection of books focused on diversity and inclusion designed to help students see themselves in the literature they read.  He built cabinets on casters so they could be wheeled in and out of classrooms.  He then filled the cabinets (which in and of themselves were amazing with his attention to detail) with a significant collection of books.  Last week Bryce presented the projects to each of the schools.

Bryce has changed a great deal since his picture was taken for our mission and vision displays.  His hair has grown out, he has a different understanding of the world around him, and he is developing into a mature high school student.  It’s so incredibly cool to see Bryce not just in print on our display but living our school district mission and vision in our community.

In Worthington Schools our students will change the world.  Bryce Presser is an excellent example of that!

  • – Trent Bowers, Superintendent
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Learning Continues

As we begin the final 8 weeks of this school year there is great optimism. We’re actively working to make every remaining day in this school year count and we’re planning for how we can best serve our students’ learning needs throughout the summer months.

Last April we started to realize that not only were we unlikely to return to in-person schooling for the 2019-2020 school year, we were equally unlikely to experience in-person learning during the summer of 2020.  Our staff evaluated what was possible and rallied to offer our high school get-ahead courses in math and science, high school credit recovery, and smaller versions of our Summer Reading Camp, Literacy and Math Foundations, and Reading and Writing for English Learners intervention programs.  We also partnered with 6Crickets to curate and offer virtual summer enrichment courses.  All other programming was cancelled.  We served approximately 470 students during the summer of 2020.

Planning for the summer of 2021 began during the late fall/winter surge in COVID cases, and despite the uncertainty, we committed to prioritizing in-person learning for our K-2 students.  Leaders from central Ohio districts collaborated to create the BRIDGE to Achievement and Well-Being foundational framework with its pillars of

  • social-emotional well-being
  • academic achievement
  • culture and climate
  • equity and accessibility  

Using this foundational framework, Worthington has prioritized connecting students with summer opportunities in the Post-Pandemic Extended Learning Plan (see pages 12-13). Members of the Academic Achievement and Professional Learning (AAPL) team, in partnership with building principals and teachers throughout the district, have worked (and are continuing to work) to provide intervention to students who need assistance and to provide extension opportunities for families seeking extension.  All programs are further designed through the lens of increasing a sense of belonging within the school community.  We anticipate serving well over 1,500 students in the summer of 2021.

The 2021 summer programming window is June 7 – July 1, and there is an extended learning session July 6 – July 16 for high school students who need additional time for credit recovery.  Summer speech language support will be offered July 6 – July 30.  Please visit the 2021 Summer Programs webpage to learn about our mix of traditional and new learning opportunities.  We are particularly proud to offer building-based intervention in our elementary schools and to provide transportation (if needed) for all district and building-level intervention programs, including high school credit recovery.

Online registration opens Monday, April 5 for enrichment and skill-building courses.  Students enrolled in the federal school lunch program are eligible for discounts.  Communication to families of students eligible for district-level intervention will be sent during the week of April 5 and online registration will open at that time.  Communication to families of students eligible for elementary building-level intervention will be sent the week of April 12 and online registration will open at that time.

We are looking forward to eight weeks of “all-in” learning to finish the school year and hope you consider extending learning into the summer months.

  • Kelly Wegley, Director of Academic Achievement and Professional Learning
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Starting Over

As we begin “All-In” schooling in Worthington today we’re excited!  This is what school was designed to be.  (Well, what school was designed to be with mitigation strategies in place such as masks, 3 feet of distancing, etc.) But with that in mind, we recognize that it’s been over a year since students have gone to school five days a week.  Thus, it’s been over a year since our students have had to get up early each morning, over a year since they went to school and then had co-curricular activities in the evening and had homework to complete.  A year is a long time and we’re concerned about the transition for our students.  

As I’ve been thinking about this transition to everyday school, the analogy that comes to mind for me is starting a running program.  For years I was a runner and would attempt to run each morning before work.  As I trudged through the streets of Worthington I would see Colonial Hills Principal Sherri Berridge running with her dog, Instructional Coach Julie Payne gliding effortlessly by me, and Thomas Worthington teachers Tom Kaczmarek and Andy Cox taking up the entire sidewalk.  Running for me was never easy and mostly it was because I would be consistent for a while and then take time off.

Starting up after taking time off was always a shock to my system.  When running, I usually attempted to run four miles each day.  After an extended break, I might start by trying to run a mile and it would hurt.  Eventually, I may work up to two miles, then maybe over time, I’d work up to three or four miles.  After a few tough weeks, my body would adapt, and while my runs were never easy, they became the norm.

We think going to school every day for our students may be similar.  This Spring going every day and having homework in the evening will be a shock to the system.  We understand that we can’t start back where we ended a year ago and expect our students will be able to handle it.  Our teachers are cognizant that we’ll need to ease into every day schooling and even that may feel difficult for many.  Over time our students will be able to handle more and eventually, we’ll get to a place where every day school is challenging but manageable.

Using the running analogy as we think about the next two months, our goal is not to come back and start with four miles every day.  That’s likely not realistic for many students.  Our goal is to start with a half-mile and slowly build back the stamina our students used to possess.  By fall we hope to be running effortlessly like Julie Payne does.

We won’t be there quickly.  We don’t need to be.  The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and that step starts today!

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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State of the Schools 2021

Worthington Schools is a community organization that is dedicated to meeting our mission of empowering a community of learners who will change the world.  As an organization, we’re committed to providing consistent communication and promoting dialogue with our community.

With that in mind, tonight (3.15.21) we’ll release our Virtual State of the Schools presentation for 2021!  It’s certainly been an unexpected, wild, controversial, crazy year.  And, we’re not done yet…For State of the Schools this year we’re going to attempt to provide our community with some important information about our schools and then on each of the next several evenings, we’re going to release new stories via video that highlight our amazing students and staff members, who even during the pandemic, are thriving and doing really cool things.

It’s been a challenging school year and if you watch our video this evening we’ll attempt to address that in an honest way.  We’ll then talk about what we believe will be our shared positive future.  There are exciting changes ahead with new middle school learning spaces, feeder pattern changes leading to balanced high school enrollments by student count, socio-economics, and student diversity.  We’ll touch on our response to the pandemic learning in our Bridge plan and our work with diversity, equity and inclusion.  Finally, we’ll talk about finances and our next round of facility improvements.  We’ll do all of this in just fifteen minutes.

Over the next two weeks, you’ll get to see some personal stories of students and staff members who are making a difference in our schools and in our community.  Beginning this evening we’ll release a new video on Facebook, YouTube and our Worthington Schools website at 7:00 P.M. each night.  You won’t want to miss them!  Please share them widely on your social media and with your friends.  Thanks for investing in Worthington Schools.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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A Year of the Pandemic

It’s been almost a full year since Governor Mike DeWine announced that school would be closing for a period of three weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Monday of that week last year, I was publicly saying that we would move forward with our annual Pancake Day as scheduled.  By Friday all of Ohio was shut-down.  Following the announcement of the original school closure, our team was in the office until 10:45 pm planning for the next several days. No one could have predicted the twists and turns we would face over the next 12 months or that we continue to face.  Remote learning, what’s that?  Hybrid learning? All-In?  We’ve had to learn and grow together and adapt.

Our students, families, and school staff have absorbed the challenges and changes of the last year incredibly. Support, flexibility, and perseverance are all words I would use to describe our community’s collaborative work in dealing with COVID-19. There have been bumps in the road and disagreements, but each person has strived to do the best they can for Worthington. It shows in our words and actions. However, as we moved through this school year, there was always a sense that we would repeat the initial experience we had in March of 2020. 

In schools and school leadership, working through crises is part of the job. The difference between this crisis and every other one that I have ever been a part of is the continuance of it. Typically, there is a cycle that eventually has a level of closure. COVID-19 has never allowed us to get to that point.

For schools, the correct path forward is still a national debate.  That’s been true in our community as well as surrounding communities.  There is conflicting guidance from different medical groups as well as between neighboring health departments.  Some items are health orders that we must follow and some items are recommendations.  As a local control state, Ohio has left many decisions to the local school district and this has created a community split on the best path for our kids.  Everyone wants what is best for our children.  Unfortunately, everyone believes what is best is what they have determined for themselves.

We’re beginning to see hope.  Our teachers will have been vaccinated and in late March we’re going to reopen our schools to all students every day.  We’re not back to normal but it’s critical that we create academic and social-emotional structures that help our students see success.  Additionally, we’re beginning to look forward and create plans to help our students recover from this difficult time. Our plans will focus on 1) social-emotional well-being; 2) academic achievement; 3) culture and climate; and 4) equity and accessibility.  By prioritizing these four core points, we want to say in a public way that academic advancement post-pandemic requires a holistic response, with an equal commitment to capturing lost learning opportunities within a diverse group of students and scenarios, while also recognizing mental health impacts.

It’s too early to be able to be reflective on what is permanently changed.  We will spend time learning from this experience.  A year has passed.  It’s been a tough year on many fronts.  But in Worthington, our shared future is a positive one and as a school district, we’re committed to partnering with our community as we collaboratively strive to empower a community of learners who will change the world.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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Managing Anxiety with the All-In Transition

It’s hard to believe that it’s now been almost a full year since Governor Mike DeWine announced that school would be closing for a period of three weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic (three weeks turned into months and months turned into almost a year of on again off again in person learning.) But here we are and we’re now at a place that due to the advancements of science our staff will have been fully vaccinated and in late March (22nd) we’re going to reopen our schools to all students every day. We’re excited for this day but since many of our students will have only been in a physical school building for 40 days over the last 12 months the change creates a level of trepidation for even students who are excited about the change. 

So – here we are!  We’re planning for another big transition in an already unprecedented school year.  To help students and families in making this change Lara Ruffing, our mental health team leader for our district,  Toya Spencer our Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Trish Laughman and Linnea Gallo two of our instructional coaches created a video full of helpful ideas and honest reflections.

Because all four of these leaders are also district parents with kids across different age and grade levels.  They can intimately relate to the endless thoughts running through your heads about making the switch to all in learning here in a few weeks.  IT’S BEEN A YEAR since our kids have been in school full time.  So much has changed and happened along the way.  And in a year often based in survival mode, we may be thinking, how in the heck do we get our kids ready for this?  How do we get ourselves ready for this?!?  Do they have 5 days worth of clean clothes that fit?!  (Many teenage boys may not) Am I doing enough?  Am I doing too much?

Their hope is to informally share some thoughts, ideas and conversation starters for you and your household to consider as we move forward, and to remind all of us that we are in this together and can give permission for the inevitable bumps along the way.

Please know that as we talk with you today, our staff is working so hard to prepare for another ‘first day of school’ and build comfort and community within our buildings.  They will work diligently to scaffold our students and help them to feel comfortable with re-entry.

25 minutes of video is a lot these days.  But, don’t be scared off by the time commitment.  It’s worth the investment of your time for sure.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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Recovery and Reconnection

Worthington Schools has been working diligently throughout the 2020-2021 school year to address the many challenges brought on by COVID-19.  We are so grateful to the Worthington community for their support and patience as we have navigated this past year together!

You’ve likely heard that Governor DeWine recently called on all Ohio school districts to develop their plans to address “learning loss” by April 1st. You may be wondering how this will impact Worthington. The good news is that this is something our district has been prioritizing for several months, taking into consideration the needs of students, families, teachers and staff, and we wanted to provide you all with an update on how we are approaching this.  

We continue to strive to support all students both academically and socio-emotionally, and we know that driving positive academic progress as we recover from the pandemic is going to be critical to helping our students achieve success in the future. We also recognize that while all students and families have been impacted in some way by the pandemic, you have each had unique experiences, and not every student is in the same place emotionally or academically. Some students may be largely unaffected or even ahead, while others need enhanced support. The path forward is different for each student and family, and this progress will take time.

Today, we are excited to share with you the creation of BRIDGE, a new framework Worthington has developed in collaboration with other central Ohio public school districts (Dublin, Upper Arlington, Hilliard, Westerville and Grandview) to respond to this unique learning time. BRIDGE is designed to ensure that students at all levels of educational and socio-emotional progress and those most at-risk are supported in positive ways that best suit their individual needs.  BRIDGE is aspirational, flexible, collaborative and driven by data, and we’ve created it in a way that can use our district’s existing resources in a larger, scalable and more meaningful way.

Worthington has been working with our partner districts to share best practices and plans for how to move forward.  Our work is targeted on four areas: 1) social-emotional well-being; 2) academic achievement; 3) culture and climate, and 4) equity and accessibility. By prioritizing these four core points, we recognize that academic advancement post-pandemic requires a holistic response, with an equal commitment to capturing lost learning opportunities within a diverse group of students and scenarios, while also recognizing mental health impacts and creating positive, lasting socio-emotional outcomes for all students.

Over the next several months our Worthington leaders will be building out the four core points of progress for the BRIDGE program, focusing our efforts on enhancing and expanding our existing programs and strengthening our community and stakeholder partnerships. We recognize there are varying levels of learning progress that occurred in the pandemic. We’re going to make all possible efforts to embrace individual students in Worthington where they are and to assure no student is unnecessarily singled out based on their level of learning during COVID-19. Supporting and advancing effective learning opportunities for each student in Worthington will take time and requires flexibility and accommodation.  We also will be looking to our amazing teachers and partners in our community to join us in this effort, to create new programming, and to identify innovative, engaging ways to connect with our students and to focus on both their hearts and minds.

This is work that we regularly do, but the scale of our efforts and the size of the need for these resources is greater than ever. Know that we are focused and driven toward success for each student in Worthington Schools.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
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Panorama Survey Findings

As you may already be aware, building our students’ well-being and social-emotional learning skills is an important goal for each of our schools. In an attempt to discern the best ways to meet this goal we administer a survey to our students from Panorama Education.  By measuring student perceptions, the Panorama Student Survey gathers feedback from students about their classroom experience. Decades of research have shown that student perceptions strongly correlate with learning outcomes and can be an important improvement tool for school systems.

The survey content asks students in grades 3-12 to self-reflect on School Safety, Teacher-Student Relationships, Sense of Belonging, Rigorous Expectations, and Self-Efficacy.  Additionally, our students in grades 6-12 are also asked to self-reflect on Diversity and Inclusion and Cultural Awareness.

In looking at our data from November which includes the Panorama data (towards the end of the document) there were some interesting findings. First, in a year where school has been either remote or hybrid since August, our student relationships with their teacher has actually increased.  This tells me that while this year has been extraordinarily hard on our teachers they have gone above and beyond over and over again to build relationships with their students, to communicate with their students in multiple ways, and to check in with their students when they are not in school.  Worthington Schools is incredibly lucky to have the very best teachers anywhere in Ohio.  And, remarkably our data bears that out.

Conversely, but not surprisingly, our data also shows a steep decline in students’ sense of belonging with their school.  While kids are connected to their teachers they are not feeling connected to their school and to their peers.  Since last March many of our students have physically been in our schools less than 35 individual days at this point.  It makes sense that students don’t feel like they belong. As a school district as we plan to bring all students back to school on March 22nd, this is something we are very cognizant of.  Immediately we need to plan our time so that we help our students navigate this transition back to school and recognize the trepidation they’re feeling.  Additionally, as we plan for this summer and next school year reconnecting our students to positive school-based programs is one of our number one priorities.  

It’s affirming to see teachers connecting with students at a high level. I’m proud of our team. It’s equally concerning (but not surprising based on the restrictions of the past year) to see the data show students feel disconnected.  Recognizing we are still in a pandemic we will urgently work to help reconnect them in safe ways.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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All-In

At the Board of Education meeting last night the board approved a transition to All-In instruction on Monday, March 22nd. 

This is revised from my original thought of April 5th because 1,150 Worthington staff members had received their first dose of the vaccine by Saturday, February 13th meaning that they should receive their second vaccine dose by March 6th and be fully protected around March 20th. Additionally, March 22nd is more in line with Dublin, Hilliard, Olentangy and Bexley. 

By moving All-In on March 22nd we continue to protect our staff by waiting for full protection, and we gain back some valuable instructional time before Spring Break while having the last 8 weeks of school with our students All-In.  This also sets the standard that we will be All-In next school year.

My rationale for moving to All-In at this point would be that:

  • Over the last few months we have seen that our concerns that schools could be places of high spread because they are congregate settings have not been realized in some communities.  (Large suburban districts such as Mason and Lakota in Cincinnati, Big Walnut in the OCC, private schools such as Watterson,etc…)
  • While community spread continues to be high as defined by the CDC, we see a significant decline in our CATS numbers week after week and schools have proven to be safe places with low infection rates. This finding supports the benefits of using multiple mitigation strategies including masks, social distancing, enhanced cleaning and sanitation practices, and hand washing as a means of preventing spread in schools.
  • The addition of the opportunity to vaccinate staff is another mitigation strategy that provides protection.
  • This additional strategy offers the opportunity to move all students back to school with all mitigation strategies still in place with a modification to the social distancing standard. 

Guidelines effective March 22nd include:

  • All safety protocols will remain in place.
  • We will work to maintain a minimum of 3 feet of social distancing in classroom settings and 6 feet during lunch times. (Ohio Schools COVID-19 Evaluation from January 29, 2021 supports 3 feet of distancing with masks in classrooms and on school buses.)
  • Face masks must continue to be worn at all times.  Double masking is encouraged.
  • Practicing regular good hygiene-washing hands, hand sanitizer will continue.
  • Quarantine guidelines remain unchanged (even if vaccination has occurred)

Currently, the Ohio Department of Health recommendations for quarantine include the following steps:

  • Identify close contacts
  • Confirm face coverings and safety protocols were in place
  • If a student is found to be within 3 feet of a person who tested positive with COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes, the student must quarantine from school and all other activities.  If a student is found to be between 3 feet and 6 feet of a person who tested positive with COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes while wearing masks, the student may attend school but must be quarantined for 10 days from after-school activities, including sports.  Finally, if a student is found to be more than 6 feet of a person who tested positive with COVID-19, the student does not need to be quarantined.

By March 22nd it will have been over a year since all students were in our schools.  It’s simply time for that to change as we know our students and families need the routine of school and the academic and social benefits that daily school provides.  

This will be another large transition for our schools, students, and families in a year where each transition has been very difficult.  Hopefully, this is the last transition we make and we continue in this learning mode for the remainder of the school year.

On Wednesday we will communicate to all Worthington families an “All-In” FAQ as well as an updated hybrid calendar for March.  In the coming weeks our principals will communicate specifics about each of our schools.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
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Black History Month

It’s February and since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history.  

As a school district, we believe it’s important to educate all of our students on the vast contributions of African Americans to science, technology, education, the arts and ensuring that we do not inadvertently create a narrative that black history in this country began and ended with slavery. Nor do we want to solely focus on the same individuals most often celebrated such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth or Jackie Robinson. While we absolutely acknowledge their contributions we want to illuminate chemists such as Alice Ball, Dr. Charles Drew or astronaut, Ron McNair and inventors Elijah McCoy and George Washington Carver.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson, creator of Black History Month, as well as author, historian and the second African American to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard University,  believed it was essential for young African Americans to understand and be proud of their heritage. He said:

Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history,” 

I would offer that it is essential for all Americans to understand this heritage as it is part of American history. 

So, in Worthington Schools, we are doing our part to honor Black History Month by focusing on Black agency, perseverance, resistance and excellence.  To that end, for our elementary schools, I recorded four read aloud book selections (Ron’s Big Mission, Martin’s Big Words, We March and Heart and Soul) that can be used during morning announcements, morning meetings in classrooms, or any other way that schools deems appropriate.  For our middle and high schools, I provided the resource: 10 Ideas for Teaching Black History Month.

In addition, we will be creating opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate other “heritage and cultural months” as we proceed through the year so that we can increase our awareness of the vast diversity of contributors to our country and its history.

 – Toya Spencer, Director DEI

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