Groundhog Day Forecasting!

It’s Groundhog Day!  Each year in Worthington the Worthington Chamber of Commerce holds a Groundhog Day Event where leaders from the City of Worthington, The Worthington Libraries, and the Worthington Schools forecast what is to come for the future.  This year the format was a panel discussion in which I was fortunate to participate in.  The format for the event was a question and answer format.

Each member of the panel was asked to make an opening statement, and in my statement, this is what I said:

Worthington Schools is a mission driven organization. Our mission is to empower a community of learners who will change the world. We want to empower our students.  Empower is to give authority to the students.  Our community has almost 11,000 students in our school district in 20 different schools.  Our district has 1,325 staff partners and almost 68,000 residents of our community. Our students will change the world.  They’ll be the next generation of teachers, small business leaders, and chamber members.  They leave Worthington ready for college or the workforce.  Our community supports Worthington Schools, and that was evident at the ballot box in November.  We’re very thankful for that community support, and we take that support very seriously and are committed to making sure each child in Worthington Schools has the best possible experience and education.

What is the biggest challenge facing Worthington in the next year/10 years? How is your organization working to address these challenges?  

Immediately navigating Phase Two of our Master Facilities Plan in rebuilding Thomas Worthington High School, renovating Worthington Kilbourne High School, and rebuilding the Natatorium are significant and exciting projects.  These projects need to happen on time and within the budget while working with our community through the inevitable disruption and change.  But, quickly we need to pivot and work with the community to create a plan to deal with our aging infrastructure at the elementary level for Phase Three.  These needs are still real and we want to be able to provide a better environment for our youngest learners. Finally, we’re poised to continue to see enrollment growth, and we are working hard to create life-ready graduates with the necessary self-regulation skills and are driven to succeed.

What are the two or three most important factors on which you are providing personal leadership to improve the quality of life in the City of Worthington, to improve the quality of education in the Worthington Public Schools and to improve the quality of services provided by our libraries? 

Worthington Schools is committed to strengthening our community partnerships. We’re continuing our strong partnerships with the City of Worthington and the Library system but also community organizations like Swiminc, WYB, and the Worthington Education Foundation.  Recently, Perry Township has partnered with us in a Safe Routes to School plan and they continue to be an excellent partner for our schools.

What is the most innovative thing your organization has done in the last three years?  

For this school year, we changed all school start times so high school students can better meet the research based sleep guidelines for students in grades 6-12.  Thus far, this change has been wildly successful, and we see more engaged learners and less discipline issues at the high schools.  Two years ago we rebuilt and moved to 6-8 grade middle schools.  This change has been great. Academically we have totally invested in and revamped how we teach reading to our students with the Science of Reading. 

How can average citizens get involved and make a positive impact in your organization? 

Soon we will kick off a community process to determine the skills, knowledge, and dispositions that all Worthington graduates should possess.  We’ll want our community to participate in this Portrait of  Learner engagement process.  Worthington Schools is always looking for volunteers for our elementary Ready for Reading initiative, and we’re continually looking for mentors for our older students.  Overall, we want our community to continue to engage in community meetings and coffees.  These are our communities’ schools and thus, we constantly want your constructive input.  

What final thoughts or announcements would you like to leave us with?

Worthington Schools are in a really good spot! These are incredibly exciting times with the development of new high schools – really a once-in-a-generation kind of project.  Our dedicated staff is working hard everyday to help students rebound from pandemic challenges and make sure Worthington remains a district of choice in the competitive Central Ohio education market.  We want every child to feel seen, heard, valued, and challenged.  Everyday we strive to make this happen.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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Here’s One Reason I Love our Public Schools

I love working in public education for many reasons!  One of those reasons is that we’re committed to doing everything we can to help each student who attends our schools. It doesn’t matter whether the student is well off or in need, whether the student is able bodied or has a disability or whether the student was born in the United States or recently settled here.  Our school community will welcome every child.

Worthington Schools continues to welcome multilingual students from around the world.  In January 2023, we are the learning community for students born in over 95 countries, and at least 1560 of these students live in homes where more than 60 unique languages are spoken.   

Many of these multilingual students qualify for support as English Learners (ELs) per Ohio Department of Education (ODE) criteria.  We are now serving 755 ELs, representing a net growth of 71 students compared to December 2021.  If enrollment continues at the same rate as in the recent past, we could exceed 800 ELs by May 2023.

Every student and every family has a unique story.  This story was recently shared with me and I felt like it was worth sharing with the broader community:

“In November, we welcomed a new family with four children from a central African nation.  They connected to us through a local refugee resettlement agency and their arrival involved many hours of communications between our Worthington Schools Welcome Center, the agency caseworker, and the school staff.  While their enrollment required additional effort from us, it was a privilege to be the destination for a resilient family who had to leave so much behind to get to Worthington. 

The two older children courageously began classes at their assigned high school, in spite of speaking almost no English.  The EL teachers quickly learned that their previous learning opportunities would best be described with the acronym “SLIFE”: Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education.

But the younger children did not begin school.  Their mom was insistent that they ride a bus, even though they lived within the walking radius of their elementary building.  Was it because the school day began before sunrise, and the path to school was through a new country, a new city, and a new neighborhood?   Was it because a strong mother, who had protected her babies through a perilous journey, was nervous to send them out alone into the morning darkness?  

After several ineffective message exchanges through their caseworker, we were able to reach mom directly on her neighbor’s phone with the help of a 3-way interpreter call service.  Not surprisingly, listening to the family taught us a lot.  First, they needed a better route to school; without knowing the side streets, their trial walk to school took them 40 minutes to travel what should have been 15.  Second and more importantly, the air was too cold and they had no winter clothes.  With Google’s help, we learned that the average daily temperature in their home country is 82 degrees, year round.  Winter in Ohio must have been a shock.

A community of people sprang into action.  The school collected warm clothes with help from staff and PTA contributions.  The elementary EL teacher readily agreed to meet at the family’s apartment to share a delivery of coats and to walk with the family to school so they could see that this neighborhood was quiet and the route to school was walkable.  The school principal and teachers met the family at the doors that day equipped with a bright welcome and the voice of an interpreter on speaker phone.  Mom, dad, and children said “thank you” with the universal language of a smile. They had bravely ventured out into the unfamiliar once more, and they have walked to school every day since.

In a recent interpreted-conversation with mom, she said, “We are so thankful for our school.  Our children come home so happy and they are always well-fed.  We can visit the school… and we know that people will listen to us.”  One of her children added, “Right now our hearts are settled.”  While such a long, difficult journey began on the other side of the world, this family is experiencing that in Worthington, the next step is one we will take together.” 

It’s not always easy, but Worthington Schools is proud to learn from and serve students from all over the globe.  And…it is cold here this time of year!

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent  

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Keep the Main Thing, the Main Thing

We’re nearing the end of January but we’re already working hard to be prepared for the 23-24 school year that will begin next August.  For us, that means “keeping the main thing, the main thing” and making sure we continue to hire the best, most dedicated teachers around.  Nothing is more important than the teacher in the classroom.  A good education can change anyone.  A good teacher can change everything.

“The single most important thing in a child’s education is the quality of the teacher.  Making sure a child spends the maximum amount of time with inspirational teachers is the most important thing.”

With that in mind, we’re already beginning to screen and interview teaching candidates for next school year.  You can view our open positions on the Worthington Schools Website.  Please share these openings with those you may know that have an interest in teaching in Worthington.

Additionally, one of our goals is to diversify our workforce.  Over 35% of Worthington students are students of color and we’d like each child in Worthington to see positive role models in their school that looks like they do.  With this in mind during this spring semester, we are engaging with OSU Professor Mary Sterenberg, Assistant Professor of Practice – School of Communication,  and her students in the Public Communication Campaigns class that she teaches.

Through this no-cost opportunity, Worthington Schools will become a “client.”  Forty (40) students (in small groups) will create six (6) comprehensive campaigns for us. 

Assistant Superintendent, Angie Adrean, Director of Human Resources Jeff Maddox, and Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Toya Spencer are partnering on this – and have asked students to create a campaign that focuses on:

 1) Generating interest in field of education / “reframing” the narrative of teaching profession

 2) Positioning Worthington Schools as the district of choice for quality minority teachers

We can’t wait to see the campaigns developed by the Ohio State students and to put them into action in our hiring process.

Worthington Schools has over 800 amazing teachers who live our “Be Kind to Kids” ethic and work to make a long-term positive difference in the lives of students and families.  They are amazingly committed and see their work as more mission than job.  It’s mission critical that we “keep the main thing, the main thing” and continue to attract the next generation of Worthington educators.  We’re working on that right now!

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent 

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Coming Soon….Portrait of a Learner

As we continue to pursue our mission to empower a community of learners who will change the world, it’s important to constantly reflect and engage the community to ensure we are meeting the needs of our students for graduation and beyond.  As we begin to rebuild our physical high schools it’s important that we also focus on what is happening within those walls.  Since we know that the world is changing, and our students need lifelong skills, experiences, and learning to be prepared, we are planning to actively engage diverse perspectives from our staff, students, parents, and broader community in developing a “Portrait of a Learner”, a collective vision that articulates our shared aspirations for every student. 

Now more than ever, learning experiences for our students must not only provide for the acquisition of rigorous academic content, but must also foster critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, and other aspirational skills and mindsets our students need to thrive.

By partnering with Battelle for Kids our Portrait of a Learner will be locally developed but designed to position our students to compete globally. It will be the first step in framing a new vision for Worthington Schools. From our kindergarteners to our seniors—this work has an enduring impact. Each of us will play an important role in making our Portrait of a Learner a reality for every student as we continue to create meaningful learning experiences every day. And, once we create our Portrait, the exciting work of implementing this new vision begins.

We are in the beginning stages now in engaging our district administrators and leaders to better understand this process and consider ways to engage our community to not only create our Portrait but consider practices to embed it into our school community and culture.  In the Fall, our district will be identifying a dynamic Portrait Design Team that is diverse and represents all aspects of our community—including students—to help co-design the Portrait. Through this process, we’ll work with our community to ask:

  • What are the hopes, aspirations, and dreams that our community has for our young people?
  • What are the skills and mindsets that our children need for success in this rapidly changing and complex world?
  • What are the implications for the learning experiences we provide in our school systems?

We will share our progress along the way, as well as invite the entire community to share their input next Fall.  Our hope is to have a final product by this time next year. We are excited for our continued pursuit to reimagine our schools to provide the best environments for our students to succeed and flourish. 

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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Small Deposits

Last week our Director of Elementary Education, Rob Messenheimer, shared this excellent story. “This past weekend my younger daughter Ella discovered an old joke book that belonged to her sister. That turned into her wanting to tell really bad kid jokes to anyone that would listen. Here’s one that caught my attention as we head into the new year: What’s the problem with New Year’s resolutions?…They go in one year and out the other (Bad, right?).

This time of year it is easy to want to reinvent ourselves by setting new goals or resolutions. However, oftentimes it is best to remind ourselves of what we are already working toward. Rather than rethinking goals, our time is better spent thinking about our actions and if they need to adjust in order to move closer to our goals.”

My hope would be that across each of our schools we are finding ways to reconnect our staff with our commitments made at the start of the year.

If we want to achieve our goals as individuals, as a school, or as a district, we have to be sure our actions are aligning with our goals.  And we know that it’s not one single action that makes the difference.  It’s every staff member throughout Worthington Schools and every parent in the school district each making small deposits, consistently over time, that makes the difference.

Thought leader Andy Stanley reminds us that “There is a cumulative value to investing small amounts of time in certain activities over a long period. There are rarely any immediate consequences for neglecting single installments of time in any arena of life. However, neglect has a cumulative effect and there is no cumulative value to the urgent things we allow to interfere with the important things.”

Therefore it’s not what we do once that makes the difference.  It’s what we do every day that eventually moves the needle.  In Worthington Schools we want each child to feel seen, valued, heard, and challenged. To do this we focus on building meaningful relationships and making sure that we consistently express high expectations to each child.  It’s not one thing that moves the needle.  It’s small things each day, day after day, year after year.  

We don’t need to completely reinvent ourselves this January.  Instead we need to make small deposits consistently and they will compound in a positive way.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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You Are Not Alone

Our mission in Worthington Schools is to empower a community of learners who will change the world.  We really believe that our students will graduate and make significant contributions in many different areas.  We’re fortunate to see examples of that all the time.

I had the privilege to introduce a recent Thomas Worthington graduate as the featured speaker for our Dublin-Worthington P.M. Rotary Club.  She’s on a mission of her own to promote suicide education and prevention through her project “You Are Not Alone.” It’s inspiring work.  Here’s what I was able to say in introducing Andrea:

“Andrea Nadolny is a freshman at The Ohio State University studying International Relations & Diplomacy and Italian Studies. At OSU, she is very involved with BuckeyeThon, Mental Health Matters Club, and Salsa Dancing Club. She is a long time Colonial Hills resident and graduated from Thomas Worthington High School in May of 2022.

Andrea is an advocate for mental health awareness and received the highest award in Girl Scouting for creating a unique service project focusing on suicide awareness and prevention. For her project, she developed a series of infographics and two local murals at the Worthington Community Center and the Old Worthington Library. Andrea continues to use her personal story from a loss to suicide to spread awareness and hope on this stigmatized issue.

Andrea has received several awards for her Gold Award project including Columbus Dispatch Everyday Hero Finalist, the Ohio Suicide Prevention Advocate of the Year Award, City of Worthington Good Neighbor Award, ServeOhio Award, and the AmeriCorps Gold Level President’s Volunteer Service Award. Andrea has also been featured on NBC4, the Columbus Dispatch, Worthington Spotlight, and This Week Worthington News.

She hopes that through her project, anyone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts or a loss to suicide know that they are not alone. You can learn more about her project on her website andreasgold.weebly.com.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide or expressing suicidal thoughts, dial 988 for help.”

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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Bond Issue Update

In November our community voted in favor of passing Issue 7 which included a bond issue that will fund phase two of our master facilities plan renovating and rebuilding both Thomas Worthington and Worthington Kilbourne High Schools.

When a community passes a bond issue they are actually providing the school district the authority to issue debt and to tax school district residents to pay off that debt over a period of time.  Our school district bonds are municipal bonds which are loans investors make to local governments. They are issued by cities, states, counties, or other local governments. For that reason, the interest received on the bonds is usually tax-free.  As the borrowing organization, we promise to pay the bond back at an agreed-upon date. Until then, we typically make agreed-upon interest payments to the bondholder. 

Municipal bonds are securities. That means the original owner may sell them to other investors on the secondary market. The price can change even though the interest rate never does.

Our bonds are general obligation bonds and not secured by any assets. Instead, general obligation bonds are backed by the “full faith and credit” of the issuer (Worthington Schools), which has the power to tax residents to pay bondholders.

At the end of this week our Treasurer TJ Cusick and I, along with Assistant Superintendent’s Angie Adrean and Randy Banks and Assistant Treasurer Bryan Cottril, will present in front of major bond rating agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s in an attempt to move Worthington Schools to a coveted triple A rating.  We are currently one notch below triple A and, while 90% of the metrics are out of our control, we believe by demonstrating strong management, engaged leadership, and a vision for the future, it may be possible the ratings analysts move us upward in categories we are currently close on. 

Once the rating process is complete we’re tentatively scheduled to work with RBC Bank and Stifel Nicolaus in late February to actually sell the bonds.  Selling the bonds is the process of packaging the debt into chunks that investors purchase.  When they purchase our bonds they are essentially lending our community money.  This process is important because the better we package the bonds the lower the interest rate we have to pay and thus the less tax money we have to actually collect from our community.

The bond ratings and sale will lead to the beginnings of construction which we expect to start in May of this year.  

We’re thankful to be in a community that supports the capital needs of educating our students and we’re excited to begin the bond process this week.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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2023

Welcome to 2023!  Our students are back in class to begin the second half of our school year this Thursday, January 5th. This time of year is typically defined by people and organizations alike making resolutions or goals. At Worthington Schools, however, we are staying the course by remaining focused on our mission of empowering a community of learners who will change the world. 

One way we accomplish this mission is by being transparent about our finances and continuously looking to the future. That’s why you will soon receive our Popular Annual Financial Report in the mail. This report highlights where our resources come from, how we use them, and projections for our future.

Additionally we look forward to working with our community as we begin the process of implementing the upgrades to our high schools. Last summer, the Worthington Board of Education approved a contract with Schorr Architects to begin the design so that drawings would be available for construction to start in the spring of 2023; a year ahead of schedule to save costs from inflationary increases. On Thursday, December 1st, the architects presented draft designs of the two high schools for more community input. Each of these construction projects will be phased from the spring of 2023 through 2026 which will allow school to continue on site throughout the entire schedule. You can watch that meeting on the Worthington Schools’ YouTube page.

During our January District Leadership Meeting we will kick off our internal process for the Portrait of a Graduate work with Battelle for Kids. A Portrait of a Graduate is a collective vision that articulates our community’s aspirations for all of our students.  Worthington Schools is strengthened when our community is engaged in shaping the future direction of our educational system. This fall, we will invite educators, students, families and community members to join us in the process of building a unifying, collective vision for Worthington students. Together, we will examine how the world has changed and the implications this has for our students.  We will identify and contextualize the competencies students need to thrive today and tomorrow.   

In Worthington, we are so fortunate to have amazing people as part of our organization. It truly is a great time to be a part of this community. The first half of this school year was awesome!  Our team of teachers and support staff are poised to make the second half just as positive! We’re excited about what lies ahead in Worthington in 2023!

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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A Huge, Ginormous, “THANK YOU” to our amazing Landscape, Building Maintenance and Custodial teams

As I write this blog I’m sitting at my desk in the Worthington Education Center.  It’s Wednesday December 28th and outside my window the sun is shining brightly.  Today’s high temperature in Worthington, Ohio is supposed to be around 42 degrees Fahrenheit.  It’s remarkable as Friday’s (12/23) “Bomb Cyclone” event had a “feels like” temperature of roughly 70 degrees less than what today’s temperature will be.

The extreme cold, snow, and difficult road conditions, hit at a good time from a school district perspective.  With school out of session for the winter holiday, learning was not disrupted by the storm.  However, in a large public school district with 19 schools, 4 non-school facilities, 380 acres of land and 1,662,064 square feet of indoor space the storm could not be ignored.  We’re stewards of the community’s buildings and partners with our neighbors.

Thus, this post is really a huge, ginormous, “THANK YOU” to our amazing landscape, building maintenance and custodial teams who all needed to work through the holiday weekend in order to make sure our schools and school facilities were maintained in the extreme conditions.  Each of these employees changed holiday plans and braved very challenging conditions to help Worthington Schools.  We’re grateful for their dedication.

We did ok.  Here’s a brief update on events that occurred over the holiday weekend.  Landscape staff plowed middle and high school lots and drives on Friday for any practices occurring over the weekend.  Custodial staff removed and salted main entrances into buildings on Friday as well and performed a building check Saturday morning for any damaged mechanical systems after the initial storm; no significant issues were reported.  The Landscape Maintenance crew returned on Monday and plowed all building lots and drives and put down treated salt.  

Our Building Maintenance Department was very active as well.  They responded to a call of a flooded athletic lobby at Thomas Worthington High School on Monday morning.  An outside air damper did not close all of the way in the mechanical room immediately above the lobby.  As a result, a backflow preventer froze and broke, spraying water throughout the mechanical room and down into the ceiling and lobby below. Maintenance and custodial staff responded.  The water was shut off and the water in the lobby was cleaned up using a pickup machine.  While there are still repairs that have to be made, the Stephen Gussler basketball tournament, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, is proceeding!

Other storm damaged issues:

Evening Street – a parameter heating water loop froze and drained all of the water out of the system.  The water line has been repaired and the boilers were back up and running Monday afternoon.

Worthington Park Elementary –  univent coil froze and broke in a classroom.  Repair has been made.

Worthington Kilbourne High School  –   A domestic hot water line in room 245 froze and broke and leaked into the wood shop below.  The line was shut off and repairs will be made by the start of school in January.

We continue to address minor heating problems as they are called in.  We do expect to find more broken lines as the outside air temperatures increase and things begin to thaw out throughout the remainder of the week.  

By the time school begins again on January 5th we’ll likely forget what occurred on December 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th but we certainly appreciate the hard work of our team on a Holiday weekend!

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

P.s.  Our grounds department is on Twitter where you can check out videos of their work.  Here

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ChatGPT – The Future?

Technology continues to advance, and as such, I’ve been reading about OpenAI’s ChatGPT, a program that generates sophisticated text in response to any prompt you can imagine.  Some have speculated that this program “may signal the end of writing assignments altogether—and maybe even the end of writing as a gatekeeper, a metric for intelligence, a teachable skill.” (The AtlanticThe End of High School English”) That statement seemed like hyperbole but this is an amazing program that I decided I need to try.

So I typed the following into the prompt box: “Tell a story about how Worthington Schools will work to empower a community of learners who will change the world.”  

Within 30 seconds the system generated the following story:  

“Worthington Schools is a small, tight-knit community located just outside of Columbus, Ohio. The district is known for its strong commitment to education and its belief in the power of its students to change the world.

The district’s mission is to empower a community of learners who will be equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to make a positive impact in the world. To achieve this, the district implements a number of innovative programs and initiatives that are designed to engage and inspire students.

One such program is the “Global Issues” course, which is offered to high school students. In this course, students explore pressing global issues such as poverty, inequality, and climate change, and work on projects that are aimed to make a difference in their local and global communities.

Another initiative is the district’s mentorship program, which pairs students with community leaders and experts in various fields. Through this program, students have the opportunity to learn from and work alongside professionals who are passionate about making a positive impact in the world.

Thanks to these and other efforts, Worthington Schools is able to foster a community of learners who are truly empowered to make a difference. And as the students graduate and move on to college and beyond, they take with them the skills, knowledge, and motivation they have gained in their time at Worthington Schools, and use them to change the world for the better.”

The essay does not show the entire picture of Worthington Schools but for 30 seconds of writing by an artificial intelligence system, it’s pretty darn impressive.  If you haven’t yet heard of ChatGPT you should check it out for yourself. (But please remind your children that for now they still need to do their own writing for class assignments…)

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

P.S.  I may have also typed in: “Why is Worthington Schools better than Olentangy Schools?”

The system quickly told me: 

“It is not appropriate for me to make comparisons between schools or to say that one school is “better” than another. Each school has its own unique strengths and challenges, and it is important to consider a variety of factors when choosing a school for your child. These may include the school’s academic programs, extracurricular activities, location, size, and community.

It is important to research and carefully consider your options when choosing a school, and to make a decision that is best for your child and your family. It is also important to remember that every child is different and that what may be the right fit for one child may not be the right fit for another.”

 🙂

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