A message about safety in our Worthington Schools

schoolhouseLast week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida has pushed the safety of our children to the forefront of local, state, and national attention. As we struggle to make sense of another senseless act of violence in a public school we’re left to ask unanswerable questions such as “why?” and “what can be done that will keep our students safe?” As the Superintendent of Schools and as a parent of children in Worthington – I sincerely wish we lived in a society where we didn’t have to be concerned about safety.  

In Worthington, we have worked diligently to prepare our schools, our staff members, and even our students should we ever experience a senseless act.  Several years ago all Worthington Schools were modified to include secure entrances and to make sure the perimeter of every school is locked throughout the student day.  Our staff members have all been trained in the ALICE (run-hide-fight) incident response system and our staff members have worked with students to respond in a similar fashion should it ever be necessary.  For each school, we have established “rally points” where students would go should such an event occur.

Every school principal in Worthington Schools carries a walkie-talkie.  By simply changing the channel they have direct access to the Worthington Police dispatcher which can immediately send police to the school.  In addition, every school office is equipped with a panic button that goes directly to 911.  Finally, Worthington has a safe schools hotline (1-866-871-0926) where students, parents or community members can anonymously leave tips should they suspect an act of potential violence.

School safety in Worthington is a three-pronged approach.  Secure buildings and strong plans with accompanying training are important, but we recognize that many events are triggered by mental health issues or by feelings of isolation.  Our third prong of school safety is attempting to help our students deal with their mental health needs.  In Worthington, we employ three full-time mental health specialists that work with our students as well as a partnership for therapeutic counseling services where we refer students and families to North Community Counseling.  

Most importantly, our staff members are committed to providing school cultures where every student knows they have a trusted adult in their school that cares about them and believes in them.  “See Something, Say Something” is more than a slogan.  Our students and staff are comfortable talking with one another and it’s students who will most likely be best positioned to alert our staff of potential safety concerns.

In Worthington, the safety of our students and staff is our primary concern.  We’re attempting to be vigilant every day and we need every community member to partner with us.  There are immediate actions each of us can do to be part of the overall effort.

  • Listen to the young people in your life. Take the time to engage in active conversations. With teenagers specifically, this can sometimes be a challenge. It requires time. As a family, put away the devices at dinner and listen to what’s taking place. Speak with your children about “See Something, Say Something” and encourage them to reach out if they know someone who needs help.
  • Log into your child’s social media accounts, photo stream, and text messages. Your children have no expectation of privacy from their parents – be proactive and make it a priority. In almost every tragedy, there were warning signs. Follow your children’s posts and sign-up for alerts. Follow your children’s friends . . . intentionally know what is happening in their lives.
  • If something bothers you, if your gut tells you something is wrong, step-up and do something. Don’t let yourself be talked into a narrative of inaction. If you have knowledge of a specific threat, call the police.
  • Finally, if you have concerns about someone else’s child, call them. I know it is uncomfortable; we all know that no one wants to hear bad news. But ask yourself one question, “if someone has concerns about my child’s safety and health, would I want to know?” If you have concerns, make the call. It could save a life.

In Worthington, we’re committed to making our schools ever safer.  As Superintendent, I wish there was a single answer that would make schools safe.  We can’t ignore what happened in Florida. This tragedy has started a dialogue that is broad and sustained. It has caused us to review many of the safety measures we have in place and explore other opportunities for growth and new ways to support our kids physically and emotionally.  

As we continue to evaluate and improve our plans and our facilities, we’re open to your thoughts and your ideas about safety.  Assistant Superintendent, Randy Banks, leads our school safety initiatives.  You can reach Mr. Banks at rbanks@wscloud.org.   In Worthington, we want every child to feel safe and comfortable at school. If your child has concerns or feels unsafe, please contact any member of our school district staff to discuss these concerns.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent

Safe Schools Hotline: 1 (866) 871-0926

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Can we learn something from a town in Vermont?

NorwichI’ve been watching the Winter Olympics this month.  I enjoy the human interest stories such as Chloe Kim’s and the drama of watching Shaun White stick his final run in the men’s halfpipe to win the Gold.  Thus, with the Olympics upon us I have been intrigued by a recently released book titled, Norwich: One Tiny Vermont Town’s Secret to Happiness and Excellence. I had a chance to read the book last week and this is a really interesting story of a small Vermont town that has produced more Olympians per capita than any other place in the country.  

Norwich, Vermont is a small town with a large impact on the Winter Olympics. This town of 3000 residents has sent someone to every Winter Olympics for the past 30 years. It has produced 11 Olympians, all but one since 1984 – 3 have won medals. (They do not have a participant this year.)  The towns folks kiddingly say that it is something in the water. But in reality, the book supposes that it is in the way they raise their children. More than in most places in the United States today, these Norwich kids are allowed free rein to choose what they want to do, and what sport to play, often becoming involved in multiple sports, depending on the season. As a result, the kids are more likely to  love what they do and truly want to see others reach their full potential. Because of this ongoing record of sending athletes to the Olympics, these rising stars learn from the example of those who came before them, and in return, when their time comes, most want to stay in Norwich and give back to the community that supported them in their endeavors. The author stresses that Norwich is a town where ‘everyone wants success for everybody else’.

Norwich’s population is certainly not representative of the country as whole and their per capita income and proximity to Dartmouth College provide some unique advantages. But there are potentially lessons to be learned by the town’s child-rearing philosophy that could be replicated in any community with parents, coaches, and administrators committed to following a few simple principles: Treat your neighbor’s child as your own (in Norwich, parents are invested in everybody’s children, not just their own. They foster an environment in which the success of one child is celebrated as a victory for everyone); frame sports as a really fun thing for your children to do on their way to longer-lasting achievements rooted in education and give children ownership of their activities.  

Finally, the parents of Norwich seem to keep things in perspective (something I will admit to struggling with at times).  They are not setting out to develop Olympians. Their aim is to use sports as a vehicle to instill in their kids a lasting love of the outdoors and physical activity, learn life lessons, and develop lasting friendships. They recognize that in the big picture, relationships matter more than championships.

I hope you’re enjoying these Olympics!

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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What is the role of the smartphone in schools?

features-cell-phone-ch.jpgIn schools around the country the use of electronic devices continues to evolve; it is no different in Worthington Schools. Our goal is to balance the curriculum, 21st century skills, availability of technology, appropriate – and safe – student behavior, with the development of respectful, responsible digital citizenship. This is proving to be a challenging road to navigate, but certainly one we are committed to travel along with our students and families.

In 2012 when we instituted our current technology plan we became a Bring Your Own Device school district.  As a district we provide 7,500 mobile devices that operate on a Google platform.  Students are encouraged to bring their own devices if they wish to utilize them at school.  This includes the use of smartphones.

Smartphones are powerful computers that can be used in very beneficial ways for student learning.  Unfortunately, they can also increase distraction.  The increased use of personal devices, especially access to social media and electronic communications, have impacted our school environments and student cultures.  This impact is causing us, as well as many other school districts, to rethink our cell phone policies.

Last Tuesday at 10:00 A.M. I received a text message from my dad in Florida.  He texted a picture of something he was eating to me and each of my three daughters who were sitting in three different Worthington Schools at the time.  Within several minutes each of my daughters had responded to the text stream several times.  Before I saw the first text there were 13 comments back and forth.  I had to get on and text “ENOUGH!  Dad, quit sending texts to my kids during the school day, and girls, stop responding and pay attention in school!”  (BTW: this happened.  I’m embellishing nothing.)

As a parent it’s really convenient to be able to communicate with my child during the school day.  However, our kids are also communicating with one another during the day and I’m left to wonder how much distraction from learning this is causing and how much loss of face-to-face interaction with peers is occurring.

Our technology plan is well intentioned.  Smartphones have educational benefit.  On one hand, it’s our job as educators not to take things away from students but to help them learn how to utilize the tools they have and when things are appropriate and when they are not. On the other hand, as we all learn more about the addictive nature of our mobile technology we may need to rethink the role of the smartphone in the classroom.  

Current practice allows for teachers to set smartphone policy for their class.  However, we could create schoolwide policy.  Schoolwide policy could be: “Students will be asked to keep their handheld or wearable devices (ie. Smartphone, game systems, Apple watch, etc) in their lockers during the school day. ​Students will be able to bring personal laptops, Chromebooks, or E-readers to the classroom. If students need to communicate with their parents during the school day, they should come to the office. Parents can call our office line and our building secretaries will connect you with your student.”  

What do you think? Do we need a change in our smartphone policy?  Would you support a change to our smartphone policy?  Are we best to leave our policy as is with teacher discretion?  No decisions or changes are imminent on how we deal with smartphones but it’s something we’re always evaluating.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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State of the Schools 2018

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Last week Puxatony Phil saw his shadow and if his prognostication is to be believed we have six more weeks of winter in Worthington. One of the most difficult parts of winter for me personally is that once I’m inside in the evening I don’t want to go back out.  It’s cold and dark out there!  If you’re like me in this regard, this Wednesday evening you need to fight through that tendency.  Yes, it will be cold.  Yes, it will be dark and quite possibly there will be snow on the ground.  But you don’t want to miss our State of the Schools presentation at Worthington Kilbourne High School.

We do a State of the Schools presentation as a public event that is designed to provide communication about our school district to all interested parties.  We’ve designed our event to be part pep rally for public education in Worthington, part celebration of our great Worthington kids, and part information sharing about challenges we’ll need to partner with our community to tackle together.  If things go as planned, the program should last 75 minutes.

For this event we have student groups who are excited to perform from across the school district.  Just coming to see our talented kids perform will make the evening worth your time.  We also have multiple videos that will highlight talented students and staff engaged in meaningful work.  They’re really special stories.  In between these performances and videos I’ll share information about Worthington Schools that we’re proud of and I’ll highlight some of our upcoming challenges.  Every administrator in Worthington Schools will be present and thus the evening is a great opportunity to come out and meet our team.

Sure, you could watch the event on Facebook Live or you could watch the videos we put on our website afterwards.  But did I mention that we’ll be serving cookies and coffee and…we’ll have some other surprises!  Finally, there is an energy in the room that is created by principals, teachers, families and community members coming together in support of our schools that you can only experience by being there in person.  Don’t miss it!

I hope you’ll join us for State of the Schools 2018, Wednesday February 7, 2018 at 7:00 P.M. in the WKHS auditorium.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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The Secret Skills for Future Success

GoldenAccording to the 2017 PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, Americans overwhelmingly want schools to teach children non-academic skills, like how to be cooperative, respectful of others and persistent problem-solvers – placing more importance on that type of learning than even on how students perform on standardized tests.

A strong academic record is certainly important, but it’s been my experience that academic record is not the only indicator of our students’ future success.  Employers have also found out that personal traits may be more important than academic record. The traits that seem to be the secret to career success are:

  • Attitude – Having a positive can-do approach to everything.  Confidence can be tough for students especially after a rough semester or a transition from one level to another.
  • Teamwork – Being able to work with others and feeling comfortable entrusting others to perform as they should. (This is tough for some of our top students especially as it relates to our CPM Mathematics program.)
  • Communication Skills – This is the ability to connect with others in a variety of situations.  Surprisingly it’s not so much the ability to write or give presentations, but having a genuine ability to relate to others.  In a day of electronic technologies, our students have limited appreciation of what real human communications is all about.
  • Work Ethic – This is the ability and discipline to put forth effort to achieve.  This is something that all of our students have been developing.
  • Problem Solving Skills – Students are getting a heavy dose of math and science, but problem solving skills relate more to the ability to see problems where others don’t, to deal with ambiguous information, to formulate an analysis approach, and to use the analysis to arrive at a decision.  A lot of problem solving is based on intuition and judgment.  Students can have this skill but may not perceive themselves to be strong in math.
  • Consistency – Consistent performance is valued more than bursts of outstanding performance and occasional lapses of performance.
  • Continuous Learning – Students need to have a passion for developing themselves outside of what they are being taught.  Every great leader that I’ve known has a continuing desire to learn.
  • Supporting Others – Success in any endeavor is rarely a singular activity.  Students need to help each other and be willing to seek out help from others.  

I hope that you will see our teachers have purposely embedded opportunities for students to develop these traits as your student goes through our schools.  These traits don’t develop organically.  Students, teachers and families need to be conscious of a need to develop these traits and take advantage of the opportunities provided to do so.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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Please be a champion for kids

RoxHappy Monday!  Worthington was off school last Monday to celebrate the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.  Angie Adrean (our Chief Academic Officer) and I were able to attend the City of Worthington’s Community Celebration.  It was a great opportunity to see our Worthington students perform and to reflect on the meaning of the day.

Worthington Academy and Phoenix Middle School Principal Adham Schirg reflected on the day in his communication with families.  I thought Adham’s words were poignant and worth sharing broadly:

“Teaching and learning about the Civil Rights Movement has always been a passion of mine.  It was my favorite unit of study as both a student and teacher.  Learning about influential figures and key events excited my interest and curiosity.  People like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Rosa Parks and events such as Brown vs Board of Education and The Little Rock Nine, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 have influenced the course of American social history.

In addition to learning about the 1960’s and the Civil Rights Movement, my parents experienced it firsthand.  I was always able to pick their brain about their personal experiences which brought this era to life in ways that other historical eras could not be understood.  I think the tragedy, triumph and shaping of the American experience during the Civil Rights era attracted me to it.

Since I left the classroom several years ago, I have not been able to teach this unit of study.  However, it always resonates throughout my professional life.  Reflecting, I now understand I can never understand what many people experienced during this era of history.  I have never been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, my gender, or sexual orientation.  However, many of the people in my life had these experiences and continue to experience them.

The question I now have is how do I serve people experiencing social injustice in their lives?  Earlier this year, a colleague expressed his desire to be a champion for all kids.  He said ‘every person needs a champion, especially kids’.  I agree with this sentiment.  Every person needs a champion, an advocate, a mentor and an empathetic ear.  Try to understand before being understood and then fight for each other, especially the most vulnerable.  Reflecting on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and the transformational lessons of our collective past, please be a champion for our kids, our community, and the most vulnerable.  They all deserve it and it will be worth it!”

#ItsWorthIt

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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Words Matter

WordsMatterI graduated from college with a guy named Jim back in 1995.  From 1995 until 2009 I knew nothing about Jim’s life.  We had no contact with one another and went our separate ways.  Sometime around 2009 Mark Zuckerberg somehow realized Jim and I had previous connections and we became Facebook friends.  Jim lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his family and is a college professor. We haven’t spoken since 1995 but I enjoy his posts on Facebook as we often see the world similarly.

Thus this weekend when I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed I read Jim’s post and it hit me “like a ton of bricks.”  Here’s what Jim’s post said:

“My Kindergarten teacher told me I was fat.

My First Grade teacher told me I could be the President.

I remember both moments like they were yesterday.”

#WordsMatter #TeachersMatter #TeachTheChildrenWell

The post was followed by several other Facebook friends commenting on things that they remember being said to them in school.  This struck me as something we can all relate to.  Five second comments made to children often stick with them for the rest of their life.  Certainly not every comment does.  But for some reason in our self-consciousness some comments both positive and negative stick with us and some 40 years later we can remember them like the comments were spoken yesterday.

As a school district my greatest hope is that everyone associated with Worthington Schools is making comments that stick with our students that help them see a positive future for themselves.  My hope and my expectation is that we take our words seriously and that we’re very careful not to share messages that stick with students in a negative way.  Sounds simple, it’s not. We never know what will stick with a person and what will fade away over time.

Jim’s words reminded me that what we say has an impact.  Our goal in Worthington Schools will be for that impact to make a long-term positive difference in the life of the children we work with.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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