Volunteers Make it Happen

CCIn Worthington we offer an amazing array of co-curricular options for our students.  Many happen because someone in our community chooses to volunteer their time and efforts.  I was reminded of this recently while attending the John Blaine Invitational Elementary Cross Country meet at Colonial Hills Elementary.

On a cold, November Saturday morning several hundred elementary students from across Worthington, and from as far away as Marion Pleasant, gathered at the Colonial Hills South Field.  For several years Colonial Hills has been the gold standard for elementary cross country.  Physical education teacher, John Blaine, encourages his students to run at every recess.  Parent volunteers, Suzanne Guy and Rachael Estepp, have taken the baton and have made elementary cross country into a full season.  

On this morning the spiral mile was well marked and the spectator area was flagged off and jammed with parents sporting stocking caps and cradling their warm coffee.  There were t-shirts for sale as well as the ability to purchase a pancake breakfast.  The students went off in heats for their race by grade level and whether they finished first or one hundred and first they were encouraged the entire way.  

This year Evening Street Elementary created their inaugural cross country team.  The team was organized and coached by parent volunteer Stephan Cooke.  Mr. Cooke organized practices, sent reminder emails to parents, purchased neon green t-shirts for the kids to run in and generally went about corralling 50 or 60 K-6th grade students.  It was a big job and without his decision to volunteer a team for Evening Street likely would not have happened.

On Saturday morning Stephan was really busy with the kids so I decided to find his wife Sherri and thank her for allowing Stephan to volunteer his time.  That’s when I learned the rest of the story…..Sherri smiled, laughed a little and said, “Funny you should say that.  I found out about Stephan coaching the team when I read the emails that the school sent out.  When we talked about it he said, ‘I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to say no.’”  Classic!  Not only was Stephan committed to volunteering, he was so committed that he risked trouble at home!  (Luckily, Sherri is super awesome and was very supportive!)

Because of volunteers like Suzanne Guy, Rachael Estepp, and Stephen Cooke, several hundred students ran elementary cross country in Worthington this fall.  It may not be cross country at your school but at every one of our Worthington Schools this week someone is volunteering and something good is happening for our kids because of it.  Please take a few minutes this November and thank them!  It’s Worth It!

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent

Safety Concerns

whsfront2Nothing is more important than the safety of our students.  Unfortunately, we live in difficult times and dealing with potential threats has been part of the public experience.  Sadly, we’ve dealt with this at both of our comprehensive high schools this fall.  This week, we had two incidents occur that have caused us great concern and are now creating rumors throughout the community.  Here’s what happened and where we are at this point.

On Monday afternoon, a staff member at TWHS thought he saw a male student flash a gun out of a car window as he was leaving campus.  The staff member was uncertain of exactly what he saw but immediately reported it to school administration.  In an abundance of caution the administration immediately referred the situation to the Worthington Police Department.  The police not only came to campus to take a report, but they went to the home of the student in question that evening to investigate.  As of this writing I cannot be certain whether there was a weapon on campus or not.  But we have treated the situation like there was and the student is not allowed on campus at this time.

Also on Monday, we were alerted by a parent that his child had heard another student had posted a picture on Instagram that looked like a threat.  The student had not actually seen the post but had heard about it.  We talked with several students and none had seen the post, but they had heard about it.  Again, using an abundance of caution we reported this to the Worthington Police.  Again, they acted proactively and went to the home of the student.  The police were able to confirm that there was a post on Instagram but the student was adamant that he had not intended to make a threat.  From a school standpoint we don’t take chances and this student is also not allowed to be on campus.

All day Tuesday the Worthington Police provided extra support at school.  We did not have any expectation that the police presence was needed, but we felt like taking every proactive step possible was the right move. In addition, Mr. Gaskill sent out communication to all TWHS families about the potential weapon on campus.  Tuesday and Wednesday were quiet school days without any issues that were outside the norm.

Last night students began to share with one another that there was a potential threat.  Our administration spoke with many students and determined that the threats described were just variations of the actual events from Monday.  As students shared with one another, the rumors grew and parents became uneasy.  Eventually the rumors made their way to social media and a large segment of our community became concerned.  I began to receive texts and phone calls from people I know alerting me to the potential threat.  We again contacted the Worthington Police and as of this writing we have no evidence to believe there was any additional threat.  But, yet again, our police presence at the school has been stepped up to assure parents and students that school is a safe place.

In our society today every school district is forced to deal with these issues.  In this case I was very thankful that our Worthington students and parents were proactive and reached out to tell us about potential threats.  It’s critical that we all partner together to make sure our kids are safe.  Furthermore I’m thankful that our police department has been an outstanding partner.  They have followed up on everything we have asked and they continue to provide support.

We are in school today and we believe school is a safe place for our children.  As a district we will not tolerate weapons or threats of any kind and we will make certain that if students make those choices there will be significant consequences.  If threats occur it’s important that our students and families continue to alert us immediately.  You can be assured that we will take them seriously and we will do everything possible to keep our schools safe.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent

Approving School Calendars

WorthingtonAt the Wednesday, November 11th regular Worthington Board of Education meeting we will approve school calendars for the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years.  In creating a school calendar there are many variables that need to be considered.  The most public variable is when the school year begins and when the school year ends.  In Worthington, we began August 19th this school year and when these calendars are approved we will be scheduled to begin August 17th next year and August 16th in 2017.  We’ll end both school years around May 24th.  

For the past several years across Central Ohio there has been a shift to begin a little earlier in August and get out earlier in May.  Just five years ago a typical school year in Worthington would have begun around August 23rd and ended around June 8th.  Our new calendar is a result of attempting to meet the following articulated priorities:

  • Provide Worthington students the best opportunity to grow and achieve
  • Allow high school students to complete first semester exams before winter holiday
  • Create high school semesters that are as close to equal as possible
  • Have consistent instructional blocks of time
  • Have as many five day weeks as possible
  • Be free from late-starts and early-releases to increase consistency
  • Work with the state testing calendar
  • Meet community expectations for schooling in Worthington

The proposed calendars mirror the calendar from this school year.  The calendars have very few Friday’s and Monday’s off that are not holidays and they are free from late starts and early releases.  We believe this consistency is good for our students and helps our families.  In addition Ohio Revised Code does set legal requirements for the time students should spend in school.  In Worthington our community expectation is that the minimum is not good enough, thus our students will spend significantly more time in school than the state requires.

Under ORC the elementary school year must be at least 910 hours.  The secondary school year must be at least 1001 hours.  Using the most conservative calculations possible the Worthington elementary year will be 1,049 hours or roughly 24 days over minimum.  The Worthington secondary year will be 1,176 hours or roughly 27 days over minimum.

Finally, the school calendar is personal.  Some families love going to school in August because high school students in co-curriculars are already practicing and thus vacationing then is not possible.  Conversely some families believe we should start after labor day in order to preserve more family time.  Some families like having as many five day school weeks as possible, others would rather see some more breaks for students and a less compact school year.  While these proposed calendars may be viewed differently depending on your personal circumstances or the age of your students, we believe they meet our articulated goals and will serve our students and our community well.  Furthermore the proposed calendars are consistent with the proposed calendars in our surrounding communities.

2016-2017 Calendar

  • The first day of school is Wednesday, August 17th
  • Winter Holiday begins Monday, December 19th.  Students return Tuesday, January 3rd
  • Spring Break is April 10 – April 14
  • The last day of school is Wednesday, May 24th

2017-2018 Calendar  

  • The first day of school is Wednesday, August 16
  • Winter Holiday begins Monday, December 18th.  Students return Tuesday, January 2th
  • Spring Break is March 26 – March 30
  • The last day of school is Wednesday, May 23th
  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent

Heroin in the Heartland

60 minLast night (11/1/15) the CBS News show 60 Minutes ran a story entitled “Heroin in the Heartland.” As part of this story a graduate from Worthington Kilbourne HIgh School was interviewed.    The premise of the CBS story is that heroin is cheap, easy to get, and in the words of CBS, “used by the kids next door.”

Sadly, there is nothing in this news story that is surprising to many of us.  For several years now we have worked with families whose children have become addicted to prescription pain medication and/or heroin.  We’ve lost several Worthington graduates to this epidemic.  What we’ve learned through working with these families is that addiction can happen to anyone.  The families affected by this addiction are “good” families who have “good” kids.  Unfortunately, once addiction begins it is very, very difficult to overcome.

As a school district we have worked to be proactive in our approach to educating students and families about opiate abuse. We have partnered with organizations such as “Drug Safe Worthington” to bring in speakers for our students and families. We’ve hosted “Tyler’s Light” and “Operation Street Smart” multiple times in order to better educate our community.  Several years ago we partnered with the Worthington Police so they could  implement a prescription drug drop box so residents could easily dispose of pain medication (this is critical as most opiate addiction begins as prescription pain medication abuse found in family medicine cabinets before escalating to heroin).

Several years ago Worthington devoted a full-time teaching position to working with our students and community to help them remain drug free and to help decrease bullying in our schools.  Lori Povisil (lpovisil@wscloud.org) works in this capacity to coordinate student-led initiatives to live drug free.  In addition, she teaches parent education classes called “Insight” in an effort to allow parents to partner with their children to make good choices. And, over the past three years our school district has added three mental health specialists that work to connect students and families to positive resources before students turn to substances.  Finally, just last month we made the decision to partner with local law enforcement to bring drug sniffing dogs into our schools.

All of these efforts are important and part of a comprehensive approach to helping our students.  As a school district we will continue to be diligent.  The 60 Minutes story sheds light on the fact that heroin is a problem in our community and in every community like ours across the nation.  I’m proud that a graduate of Worthington Kilbourne High School had the courage to speak to 60 Minutes and I’m hopeful that this story, and that courage, will spur others to have open conversation about addiction and abuse.  As a community we must partner together to help keep our kids safe.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent


Worthington Twitter Challenge #ItsWorthIt

twitter-challenge-post-shortWe’re beginning the fourth week of our Worthington Twitter Challenge.  Over the past three weeks those who have been participating with us have been answering a question each day and posting it on their Twitter account.  Each post is categorized by the hashtag #ItsWorthIt so that you can search responses anytime.

Our goal for the Twitter challenge is simply to connect our educators and our community.  It’s to learn from each other and hopefully to build the habit of open communication using the Twitter platform.

On Day #8 of the challenge each participant was asked to share a professional read that they found valuable.  There were many interesting books shared including some such as Mindset by Carol Dweck and The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon that I really value.  But, for my book I chose Making Hope Happen by Shane Lopez.


In Making Hope Happen Lopez writes about proven strategies and techniques for building a high-hope mindset and for meeting short- and long-term challenges. He brings the research alive through the stories of real people students, parents, teachers, small businesspeople, and civic leaders who made the most of their own hopes and generated ripples of hope that transformed their schools, businesses, and communities.

The book is organized into four parts, with the first two (“Thinking About the Future” and “Choosing a Better Tomorrow”) describing the science of hopeful thought and its implications. Parts three and four (“Practicing the Three Hope Strategies” and “Creating a Network of Hope”) provide strategies for creating a better tomorrow by enhancing levels of hope in our own lives and by making our hope go viral. By the end of the book, you’ve learned the fundamental truths of hope: that hope matters, hope is a choice, hope can be learned, and hope can be spread to others.

Making Hope Happen is important for our students.  Battelle for Kids explains it best when they explain that students must be prepared to navigate the many challenges of life, which can be unpredictable, even with the best of plans! Hope is the state of mind that helps students navigate life’s twists and turns, and keeps them moving forward, even when obstacles arise. Hopeful students believe their future will be better than their present and they have the power to make it so. Hopeful students understand there are multiple pathways to success and anticipate obstacles and plan for them. When students have hope for the future, they take their education more seriously and bring positive ideas and lots of energy into the learning process, which in turn makes emotional engagement in learning more likely.

If you have not created a Twitter account, consider doing it today and joining the final week of our challenge. It’s free and can be easily created and conducted on your smartphone or computer. Steps to Set Up a Twitter Account  If you’re in the market for a good book, check out Making Hope Happen by Shane Lopez.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent

Navigating State Testing Changes

Worth OhioSeveral weeks ago the State Board of Education set cut scores for the PARCC assessments that were administered in Ohio in the winter and spring of 2015.  In doing so Ohio made local decisions and some critics feel like those decisions have lowered the bar for Ohio students.  The Columbus Dispatch wrote about it in the September 23rd edition with an article titled:  “Critics: Ohio will wrongly rate some students on track for college.

Assessment has become a major industry and a driver of policy in public education.  The setting of cut scores is not an exact science and it’s important that parents and community members know how a cut score was set in order to understand what the assessment results are actually telling us.

For some background on setting cut scores, Catherine Gewertz wrote in Education Week that: The two common-assessment consortia (PARCC and AIR) are taking early steps to align the “college readiness” achievement levels on their tests with the rigorous proficiency standard of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a move that is expected to set many states up for a steep drop in scores.  In Ohio, the State Board of Education set cut scores that generally show 60 to 70 percent of students are “proficient” or better, according to preliminary results of new assessments given last spring based on Common Core Standards.  However, only 26 to 46 percent of Ohio students hit the college ready measure under benchmarks set by the PARCC.

The American Institutes for Research issued an “explainer” in July of 2006 about how states set passing scores on standardized tests. It leads off its section on cut scores with this:

“On a technical level, states set cut scores along one of two dimensions: The characteristics of the test items or the characteristics of the test takers. It is essential to understand that either way is a inescapably subjective process. Just as academic standards are ultimately the result of professional judgment rather than absolute truth, there is no “right” way to set cut scores, and different methods have various strengths and weaknesses.”

The paper goes on to talk about setting cut scores, and some of it is pretty technical, but it returns repeatedly to the notion that at various critical junctures, some human being is going to make a judgment call.

So, did Ohio set the cut scores too low?  Time will tell and I’ll leave that for the experts to determine.  When we see our (PARCC) scores it’s important that whether the scores are good or not as good as we would like, we’ll need to remember that the Ohio legislature determined we should not give these tests again.  Thus, we’ll have scores for last year and last year only on these tests.

Secondly, and most importantly, our goal is to make certain that every student in Worthington is life ready when they leave our school district.  This means that they are ready for college or their chosen career and that they possess the necessary soft skills of grit and perseverance.  Assessments help us gauge this, but they will never tell the whole story.  If you read the newspapers it’s easy to believe that our students aren’t learning what they need to.  I believe it’s just the opposite.  Our students are learning more than students of any previous generation!  If you’re able to come sit in one of our classrooms, any one of our classrooms, and see what our students are doing you will be impressed!

Last year I served as the evaluator of the 8th grade teachers at Phoenix Middle School.  One of my jobs was to evaluate 8th grade math teacher Kevin Hall.  I hold a doctorate in education and have taken advanced statistics classes and applied those advanced statistics in research.  But, sitting in Kevin Hall’s Math 8 class was eye opening.  They might as well have been speaking another language. The material and the learning going on was so far above my understanding I was blown away.  Parents throughout our school district will tell you a similar story.  Our students are learning at high levels.

The reality is, our students today have to learn at these high levels.  The world has changed and our students must now be ready to compete on a global scale.  Doing what we’ve always done is not good enough.  Over the next month or two we’ll begin to see the assessment results from last year’s new assessments.  We’ll analyze the data and look for systematic areas for us to improve.  We’ll use the data to help make personalized plans to help students grow.  And, we’ll work to keep all of it in the right perspective.  The assessment results tell us a story, just not the whole story.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent


Running at the Back of the Pack

12063700_526660990830890_5553563036379970156_nWhen I was a kid I would lace up my Zips tennis shoes and run as fast as I could.  Unfortunately I could never run as fast as Chris Szabo.  Chris was just plain fast and she could run all day.  As I’ve gotten older I have accepted the fact that while I run most days for fitness, there will always be someone faster than I am.

At last week’s Worthington Warrior Wellness run 1,500 of our students and staff came out to conquer the one-mile course.  As sometimes happens in Ohio our beautiful 70-degree weather changed drastically and Friday night set in at 48 degrees, rain and wind.  It was bone-chilling cold and yet….people still came.  They came to challenge themselves as they would run the course, crawl through mud, and jump over obstacles.  They came to buy hot chocolate from the Kona Ice truck and they came to listen to Bailey Andrews sing a stirring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.  I’m proud of all of our students who challenged themselves and attempted the course, but I’m particularly proud of Worthington Estates students Alex Cole and Charlie Holtsberry!

Alex and Charlie are not natural runners.  As humans most of us enjoy those things that come easily to us.  I’ve always assumed Chris Szabo loved to run.  She was so good at it.  But for Alex and Charlie the one mile course would be a significant challenge.  They would have to push themselves to finish the course and they would be forced to do this publicly in front of the 3,000 or so spectators that I estimate were at this event.  Most of us wouldn’t have the courage to do this.  Instead, we’d have chosen to stay home and play it safe.

Alex and Charlie chose to go for it and by their side was Worthington Estates Physical Education Teacher Bryan Troast.  Bryan takes physical fitness very seriously and he runs a Worthington Estates Fit Club for his elementary students.  It’s part crossfit, part elementary gym class, and Alex and Charlie have been active participants.  While Alex and Charlie would have to work extra hard to complete the Warrior Run, their teacher Mr. Troast would be with them every single step of the way.  He encouraged them, he pushed them, and he picked them up from the mud.  From my perspective, that’s what it’s all about.

We want every student in Worthington to push themselves farther than they once believed was possible and we want a trusted adult to partner with them every step of the way.  It will still be difficult for the student, just like it was difficult for Alex and Charlie, the student will still have to do the hard work, just like Alex and Charlie, but each student should have someone partnering with them like Mr. Troast.

Last week Alex and Charlie conquered the Warrior Run.  There were some really fast kids in this run, but I was most proud of our students who ran at the back of the pack.  Those who really challenged themselves and those who accomplished their goal.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent