A Community Conversation on the Heroin Epidemic

DSworthlogoAs a parent raising my children in Worthington there are many things that cause me concern.  I think that’s the nature of raising kids in society today and I feel really lucky that our family is connected to an amazing community and we have access to significant resources.  In 2016, one of the things that gives me the most fear is Heroin.

In the United States we have an epidemic of Opiate addiction and Heroin.  It’s affecting communities across the country and unfortunately, Worthington is no different.  Last fall 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).

On August 1st we will be partnering with the City of Worthington, Drug Safe Worthington, Senator Rob Portman, Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office to participate in a community conversation on the Heroin epidemic.  The event will be hosted by the McConnell Arts Center in Worthington and is scheduled to begin at 5:30 P.M.  Those who attend will learn about the disease of addiction, warning signs and preventive measures as well as have an opportunity to converse with experts who will answer questions and connect families with resources.

By partnering together as a community we will make Worthington a safer place for all of our children.  Please consider attending this event.  You can RSVP to Stephen White at Stephen_White@portman.senate.gov

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent



Ohio’s Start Talking! Youth Drug Prevention Initiative


Last week we wrote about the book Dreamland which looks at America’s Opiate addiction.  This week we wanted to pass on some information from the Ohio Start Talking campaign which I hope is a helpful resource for Worthington families.  – Trent Bowers, Superintendent

“Summer break is upon us, and for tweens and teens this means no homework, plenty of free time and less supervision. While a majority of youth will find healthy ways to keep busy, some, unfortunately, will use their unsupervised freedom to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Now that your kids are no longer in school, how can you be sure that they will stay out of trouble this summer? How do you know that they won’t get involved with drugs? It’s time to Start Talking!

Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich and First Lady Karen W. Kasich launched the Start Talking! youth drug prevention initiative to give parents, guardians, educators and community leaders the tools to start the conversation with youth about the importance of living healthy, drug-free lives. Whether it’s at the swimming pool, on the baseball diamond, around a campfire or at a family picnic, Start Talking! gives adults research-based tools and resources to help prevent substance abuse before it starts.

Start Talking! is rooted in national research that shows teens whose parents talk to them about the dangers of drugs are up to 50 percent less likely to use than children who do not have these critical conversations with a trusted adult.

The initiative features three main components:

1) Know! provides free, twice monthly emails that offer Parent Tips to families to help them talk about the risks and consequences of drug abuse.

2) Parents 360Rx features a free, downloadable toolkit to help communities come together to support local prevention efforts. The toolkit includes a video, discussion guide, handouts and other resources to decrease the risk of children taking illegal drugs or abusing prescription medicines.

3) 5 Minutes for Life is a program led by the Ohio Highway Patrol, the Ohio National Guard and local law enforcement in partnership with high schools and the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA). Troopers, law enforcement officers and Guard members talk to student athletes to encourage them to become ambassadors who lead peer-to-peer conversations that promote healthy lifestyles.

Here are more ways you can encourage your kids to make smart, healthy decisions this summer:

  1. Take advantage of life’s teachable moments to reinforce the drug-free message.
  2. Don’t let them go to unsupervised parties
  3. Maintain an open channel of communication
  4. Keep unsupervised time to a minimum
  5. Always know who they’re with and what they’re doing
  6. Acknowledge and reward positive behaviors
  7. Encourage them get involved in summer activities
  8. Help them find a job
  9. Set a good example

We all can play a role in preventing youth drug use. Don’t underestimate the effect that the things that you say and do have on shaping your children’s opinions and attitudes towards life. Be upbeat and driven, be compassionate and caring, be a role model, be a talker and a listener.

Visit www.StartTalking.ohio.gov to get started. Follow Start Talking! on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for more details as they become available.  Have a safe, healthy summer!”

by Sarah Smith, Director

Ohio’s Start Talking! Youth Drug Prevention Initiative



DreamlandAs a 43 year old man working in public education I end up in many conversations that begin with “kids today….”  Undoubtedly the person I am talking with is describing how the current generation of teenagers is somehow not as well behaved as “our” generation was.  What’s interesting is that our internal survey data does not show that.  Actually our internal survey data shows that students today participate in less risky behaviors than students of previous generations did.  They’re more discerning and show better judgment.  Certainly some things have changed over the past 20 years.  For one, our recent survey data shows that our students believe that marijuana use is more acceptable and less risky than is cigarette usage.  This surprised me but it probably shouldn’t have as national norms have certainly shifted here.  And then there is heroin.  Our community, like every community in Ohio, has been hit by heroin.  Often I’m asked the question, “How did we get to this point?  What would make a teenager try heroin?”  These are legitimate questions and if you really want to know the answers you need to read Dreamland by Sam Quinones.

I just finished reading Dreamland and was fascinated from the first page until the last.  Here’s what the Christian Science Monitor had to say about the book:

“At least 300,000 Americans use heroin, according to the latest statistics. From 2010 to 2013, the number of deaths from overdoses tripled from 3,036 to 8,257. Not coincidentally, since 1999 the number of prescription painkillers prescribed and sold in the United States has quadrupled, although incidents of chronic pain have not. Heroin use thrives on a disturbing symbiosis with painkiller addiction: 3 out of 4 new heroin users have reported they had previously abused prescription painkillers.  

And these twin addictions have spread in places one wouldn’t expect: Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee. The face of opiate addiction is no longer the inner-city homeless or actors in Greenwich Village. It’s suburban white kids in Columbus, soccer moms in Nashville, rural men in West Virginia.

For decades US pharmaceutical companies had been trying to create a non-addictive drug that could effectively control chronic pain. The 1995 FDA approval of Oxycontin, a drug almost chemically identical to heroin, occurred when insurance companies were increasingly reluctant to cover long-term treatment of chronic pain via effective but expensive techniques such as physical therapy and counseling. Purdue Pharma, which owned the patent to Oxycontin, reassured everyone it was non-addictive. When the company sales representatives cited non-existent studies demonstrating that Oxycontin could be used safely to treat chronic pain, doctors were all too willing to listen. Soon patients were hooked. People who didn’t suffer chronic pain but had heard about Oxycontin’s effects were eager to try it. And retirees who could get prescriptions began selling the pills to supplement their retirement income. Scams for getting and selling the drug multiplied.

Then the Xalisco Boys came to town. One of the finest narrative and journalistic accomplishments in this book is Quinones’s portrait of this drug-dealing network whose members are both business paragons and criminal geniuses. They all come from a poppy-growing region of Northwest Mexico and sell black tar heroin, which is cheap, potent, and easy to make. Their dealers are paid a salary, so they have no incentive to dilute their product to maximize sales. Since violence almost always draws the attention of cops, the dealers seldom carry guns.  And since police and the press like big drug busts, large quantities of heroin in one location or with one dealer are rare. And they have a customer service ethos that matches Apple’s or Trader Joe’s, along with a delivery policy similar in spirit to “Domino’s 30 minutes or less:” Did a customer feel overcharged? Was the driver late? You’ll get free extra heroin next time. Was a driver unfriendly? Expect an apologetic phone call from his boss.

The Xalisco Boys also multiplied their return on investment in superior product and customer service by seeking out territories where there were no competitors. They avoided the American Southwest and the biggest cities, which were overflowing with drug dealers. The untapped markets were in places like the dying industrial Midwest, where members of families deep in second-generation unemployment were desperate for something that would make them feel like (in the words of one drug user) “king of the world.” They had already discovered Oxycontin and doctors who would write a prescription without asking questions. And if that doctor got caught, the Xalisco Boys were ready to step in with a product that gave the same high. And no more waiting in line at the pharmacy: The Xalisco Boys delivered.”

This is the story of how opiate addiction spread and it’s something we all should read.  Please pass the word.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent

Lessons I Learned from Nick

treesI spent last week hiking 40 miles or so of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  Because we have zero experience and were hoping not to get eaten by a bear we worked with Wildland Trekking who provided us a guide and a group to hike with.  (You can read more about our trip on my Exponential Impact blog.) For four days Nick Weaver helped us navigate our trails and in the process I learned a number of things from this 24 year old.

As a backcountry guide Nick’s job is immense.  It’s multifaceted and requires a significant amount of competence as well as skill in working with people.  Over the course of our trip we forded many different streams.  Some you could rock hop, others had old log bridges, and several needed to be crossed with rushing water up to our knees or thighs.  Since we were deep in the backcountry any fall on a slippery rock could make it difficult to get the needed help.  On every single crossing Nick reminded us that we were not finished until we were on dry land.  It was easy to focus early during the water crossing but the greatest danger was often getting careless as we neared the end.  Nick’s words reminded me that seeing a project to completion is true success.  It’s easy to focus early on, but getting safely across means paying attention to detail all the way through.

In addition I was often reminded by Nick that slow and steady was the way to go.  I wanted to accomplish our daily mileage and was tempted to power up hills and rush down the other side.  Nick reminded me that the trip was much more of a marathon than a sprint and taking care of my body today would pay off on the trail the next day.  He also reminded me to stop often and recognize the views, the waterfalls, the amazing array of trees, and wildlife.

Nick showed me that if you speak with passion people will listen.  Throughout our trip Nick pointed out the different types of trees, what was old bear poop and what was fresh bear poop.  He explained the history of the area and how the Smoky Mountain National Park was formed.  When Nick talked about the history I was really interested.  When he talked about the trees I could have cared less.  But, Nick was so excited about each tree that his excitement was contagious.  I couldn’t help but pay attention and by the end of the trip I was pointing out trees myself.  Nick’s passion for the area and all that it entails reminded me of our great teachers.  No matter what they teach their passion makes all the difference.

Finally, talking with Nick showed me yet again that preparing our students for their future is critical.  In talking with Nick he stated that most in his generation just can’t imagine working for one company for 25 or 30 years.  They’re entrepreneurial and Nick himself is working to secure a patent for an idea related to outdoor equipment.  We have to prepare our students to think critically, to be adaptable and collaborative.  They’ll need to navigate a work world that is much more project driven and will be less and less corporate.  Those who produce will reap the rewards but there will be very few jobs where just putting the time in will provide income.  Nick will do well in this world but it’s our job as a school district to help all of our students learn and grow the skills needed for the future. (Check out Tony Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills.)

I spent last week in the woods but along the way I learned a lot from a 24 year old.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent

Be Present

IMG_7974Worthington Schools is a large organization with 1,250 employees.  It’s our expectation that as you interact with our employees it is a positive experience.  We expect that our employees are “present” and thus really engaged in your needs.  Do we hit the mark 100% of the time?  No.  But we are actively striving for improvement.

With that goal in mind a family recently shared a story with me that warmed my heart.  I heard the story from the grandfather of the students who will be attending our school district this fall. His daughter had been living out of state for the past decade.  Because of a recent change in their family situation she would be moving back to Worthington and had rented a home in a Worthington neighborhood.  In May they registered his grandchildren for the 2016-2017 school year and made an appointment at the school so the students could see where they would go to school.

The grandparent shared that our school principal dropped everything to give them a tour.  The principal showed them each area of the school, gave high fives, provided them with pencils with their new school name on it and really made them feel welcome.  In addition, the principal was able to spend some time with this man’s daughter to learn about her children’s recent transition and he assured her that he would place the students with empathetic teachers who would help the children grow and also would be attuned to their social-emotional needs.  The grandfather was really thankful that they had been provided this experience and he wanted me to know about it.

When he told me this story, I thought immediately that this is exactly what is supposed to happen.  Our principal did exactly what we in Worthington would want.  I’m certain that something else didn’t get done.  It’s possible that another parent’s phone call had to be made later in the evening or that some bus discipline was delayed.  There are always trade-offs, but by being present our principal helped a family who needed to feel things were going to be O.K.

I’m proud to work with people everyday who are willing to drop everything and make certain a family is comfortable coming to school!

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent



BelievelandIt’s true that sometimes the importance of sports in our culture is blown out of proportion to reality.  As a public school district we want our students to participate in co-curricular opportunities because we want to them to learn important life skills like working hard, working together with teammates, persevering when things are difficult, etc…  Of course, we also want our students to have fun.  But, if we’re not careful, sometimes sports can become a bit too important.

On the other hand, sometimes sports can be incredibly positive.  Sometimes they make you smile, cheer, and even hug a stranger.  That was my experience last night watching the Cleveland Cavaliers win the NBA title.  Cleveland won.  No, seriously, Cleveland won!  This is the first major sports title for Cleveland since the Browns won the NFL Championship in the pre-Super Bowl era in 1964.  The city that endured “The Shot”, “The Drive”, “The Fumble”, “The Mesa”, and “The Decision” has finally seen the curse lifted.  The mistake by the lake is no more, Cleveland won!

The Cleveland Cavaliers were the first team to win a game seven of the NBA finals as the visiting team since 1978.  They are the only team to win the NBA finals after being down three games to one.  After going down three games to one ESPN gave them less than a 5% chance to win the series.  And, they were Cleveland.

Yesterday my daughters and I went to a country music concert at Ohio Stadium.  I followed game seven on my phone, when I could get the phone to update, which was difficult with 55,000 other people trying to do the same thing.  With less than three minutes left in the game I moved to the single TV showing the CAVS game under the C-deck concourse.  I crowded in with a couple hundred other fans to watch the last few minutes.  When Kyrie Irving hit the three that ended up winning the game I found myself high-fiving and hugging people I had never seen before.  It was a joyous moment!

Here’s the thing, I’m not really a pro basketball fan.  I watch the highlights on ESPN but I don’t stay up late enough to watch the games.  Last night though transcended basketball and sports.  It was about Cleveland, and about Ohio.  It was about the underdog coming through.  It was about a hometown kid leading his city to a title.  It was fun and when sports are fun they’re good!

Here’s hoping that our fall sports teams in Worthington have that much fun!

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent



A Blog about the Blog

Blog.jpgAt our regularly scheduled Worthington Board of Education meeting last evening (6/13/2016) our Director of Communications Vicki Gnezda presented a report regarding our communications outreach efforts and our plans for next school year.  As part of the discussion on communications Board of Education President Marc Schare remarked, “you should write a blog about the blog.”  Immediately I thought that was kind of ridiculous…but upon reflection (Mr. Schare is my boss) this is a blog about the blog.

I began writing our original blog Exponential Impact in June of 2012.  Over the past four years we have posted 250 different entries which have been viewed over 71,000 times by 37,935 visitors.  An additional 219 followers subscribe to this blog and receive the entry in email form every time a post is published.  When we first started blogging my goal was simply to tell stories about Worthington Schools.  In my position as Assistant Superintendent I was witness to many “inside baseball” moments and I wanted people to see the good things and great people who are part of this school district.  I also wanted to share that educators are human too.  From time to time I would also share memories from my time as a student in Worthington and relate those to our school district today.  

Over time the blog evolved and I found myself utilizing the blog to also explain why things happened as they do, such as how elementary class size is determined, or when we may close school because it’s too cold outside, or even the rationale for having a canine search of our secondary schools.

In January of 2014 we began a second blog site Absolute Excellence which has become our primary blog site and is listed on the front page of the Worthington Schools website as the Worthington Blog.  Our goal is to publish at least one post each week and this is the 150th post on that site.  Those 150 posts have been viewed on the site 95,479 times by 69,300 visitors.  180 followers subscribe to the blog and our most read post ever was written in January of 2015 when I attempted to explain why we did not close school for snow when many surrounding districts did.  (We just value school more….just kidding.  This is a very passionate issue on both sides.  We make the best decision possible with the information we have at the time.)

Today I publish much more frequently to Absolute Excellence than I do to Exponential Impact.  When I post to Exponential Impact it will be connected to Worthington Schools but is likely more personal in nature.  We plan to continue to blog each week and sometimes more often.  We’ll use it to highlight cool things that are going on and to communicate rationale behind decisions.  If there is something you’d like us to write about, let us know.  We’re always looking for new ideas.  

You will find the blog on our website on the left hand side or we post to the Worthington Schools Facebook page, the Worthington Schools Twitter and my personal Twitter.  I’d encourage you to subscribe to the posts so you don’t miss anything of interest and to encourage those you know to do likewise.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent