Athletics and Band

On July 30th I made the decision to suspend athletics based upon the recommendation of Columbus Public Health.  Since that time Worthington Schools has worked diligently to try and work through the maze of seemingly conflicting information that guides Ohio athletics during this unprecedented time:

Here is what we know:

  • The Director of the Ohio Department of Health authorizes certain activities for contact and non-contact sports.  In his order dated August 1, 2020, the Interim Director of Health authorized contact practice to begin for all sports.  Intra-team scrimmages and contests are currently limited to non-contact sports, unless the contact sports team complies with Section 10 of the Order.  We have heard that Section 10 may be removed from the Order in the near future but that remains to be seen.
  • The Ohio High School Athletic Association has issued guidance that supplements the ODH August 1, 2020 Order.
  • Franklin County Public Health issued two communications which outline FCPH’s recommendations.  The first communication, issued July 29, 2020, discusses that extracurricular activities be discontinued.  The second communication, dated August 3, 2020, describes the basis for the July 29 recommendation, distinguishes between “orders” and “recommendations.”  In addition, and despite its recommendation, FCPH describes how it will continue working with schools.  FCPH provides additional advice” if a school decides to have extracurricular activities, including placing students in cohort groups of 9 or less with a staff member and following OHSAA and state guidelines.
  • Columbus Public Health issued recommendations advising districts to discontinue athletics.

Worthington Schools also worked to make certain our insurance carrier was apprised of the various orders and recommendations in an attempt to limit community liability.

We believe it is in the best interest of our athletes and our community to follow public health guidance.  Obviously, the challenge is that the guidance has not been consistent.  Based upon our review of all orders and recommendations we believe getting our athletes back on the field in a safe and responsible way is in their best interest from an athletic and social emotional perspective. 

In order to be responsible, all athletes will be asked to have a signed waiver by their guardian.  When fans eventually are able to watch athletics we’ll ask fans to sign waivers as well.  Furthermore, coaches will submit to training in order to meet the ODH guidelines.  Worthington Schools will allow non-contact sports (as defined by the ODH order) to begin immediately.  Contact sports (as defined by the ODH order) will come back in pods.  Competition may or may not be possible for our contact sports this year depending upon future ODH orders.  Band will begin working with musicians in pods.

I recognize that this process of due diligence has taken longer than we would have liked it to and has impacted all of our athletes but I’m especially sorry to our golfers who missed scheduled competitions.  We’re in a time where we’re dealing with things that haven’t been dealt with in our lifetime.  I’m certain that there will be many more challenges as seasons progress and I don’t expect much will be as it normally has been in the past.  Please bear with us as we seek to provide the balance of safety and opportunity.

Individual coaches and directors will follow-up after this communication with specific communication regarding their activity and schedules.  There is an OCC middle school meeting next week and we’ll evaluate a safe and responsible middle school sports programs after discussing this at a conference level.  More middle school information will come from schools in the next few weeks.  

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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Making decisions for this fall in the time of COVID

Making decisions for this fall in the time of COVID has proven to be the most complicated and polarizing experience in my 25 years in public education.  I’ve read the American Pediatrics Report and the CDC report. I’ve seen the CDC revise their report.  I’ve read data that suggests COVID may not be a significant concern for our students and I’ve read data that suggests COVID may be a significant risk for many in our community because of age and underlying health concerns.  Doctors in Worthington, who I have great respect for, have urged me to open schools and allow students to play sports.  Other Doctors in Worthington, who I have great respect for, have urged me to do the exact opposite thing.  How do you navigate what is true?

Last week both the Franklin County Public Health and the Columbus Health Department issued recommendations to schools that we begin the school year online and that we suspend sports and extracurricular activities.  Worthington Schools falls under the Columbus Health Department.  Their recommendations for sports and extracurriculars were very black and white.  Franklin County’s recommendations may have had a little more grey. 

Ohio is a local control state.  Thus these are only recommendations. Local Superintendents and Boards of Education have the ability to still make their own determinations on whether a school district follows the recommendations.  Choosing not to follow the recommendations may potentially have significant liability consequences.  But maybe it doesn’t.  A district wouldn’t really know until they are sued for their decisions.  

In Worthington we’ve chosen to follow the public health recommendations.  Some of our community members who have provided feedback appreciate this stance.  Others have called me names and questioned whether I really care about kids.  It’s amazing that we live in such a polarizing time that choosing to follow the recommendations of public health can be construed as not caring about what is best for kids.  But if you’re on social media you know that’s exactly where we are.

While local boards can choose not to follow a recommendation from public health, do we really want that?  My own kids practiced with their high school sports teams in pods for sports all summer.  I was personally comfortable with that.  Thus, I’d be personally comfortable with them continuing to do that today.  But just because I have those personal feelings doesn’t make them right.  I don’t have the expertise in this area to know what’s right and while I have great respect for the Worthington Board of Education they don’t have the expertise to know what is right either.  Many community members may be comfortable if we were to choose not to follow the sports recommendation. But is it appropriate for us to pick and choose which recommendations we choose to follow and which ones we don’t based on our personal thoughts or personal experiences?

Every local school district has to make their own decisions on these issues but in Worthington we don’t believe our personal feelings or our amatuer readings of the COVID data should guide decisions for almost 11,000 kids.  We have to trust that whether we agree personally or disagree personally the professionals in public health have a much better understanding of navigating COVID and are looking out for the best interests of our community.  We’ll continue to meet with public health and provide them with our professional assessment of the consequences for schools, students, and families of potential decisions and I believe they will continue to listen to our perspective and factor that perspective into their recommendations. If public health recommendations change our plans and decisions may change. But ultimately as a district we believe following the recommendations of public health to be the most appropriate path in these very challenging times.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
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Moving Back to Remote Learning

As summer has progressed, we were hopeful that we’d be in a stronger position by August and have the coronavirus under control, but unfortunately the Columbus region is a hotspot with significant community spread. Tuesday morning, Central Ohio Superintendents met with Dr. Mysheika Roberts of Columbus Public Health and Mr. Joe Mazzola of Franklin County Public Health. Based on case counts, positivity rates and trend data, they have advised schools to start the year with all students in remote learning. You can view their guidance documents here and here

With this updated guidance from public health, Worthington Schools will begin the school year on August 31st in our remote learning phase.  For the stability of both families and teachers we plan to stay in this remote stage for the first quarter of the 20-21 academic year which ends October 30th.  We’ll reassess our ability to return to in-person schooling by October 15th with public health officials but would not make any change in our teaching mode before November 2nd.  In addition, based upon recommendations from public health – all athletic, band, and extracurricular activities will need to be suspended at the end of today’s activities.  

Our staff will continue to be ready for all of the options in our Back to School Plan, which has been updated to reflect the information that was shared by CPH and FCPH. For those considering the full semester online option, this change may affect your decision making. Please review the additional information below.

We will continue to closely monitor the virus in our community on a weekly basis as we may be able to move to hybrid or all-in learning later this school year, although the guidance Tuesday suggested that all-in learning would likely not be possible until a vaccine is widely available and implemented. 

For me this is a very disappointing day.  We want to bring all of our students back in-person as soon as possible; that remains our goal. In-person classroom instruction is critically important to student development. We are committed to doing this in the safest way possible for all. As I watch the reopening of our society after the stay-at-home order, things seem to be very inconsistent and hard to reconcile.  How can daycares increase classroom sizes while we close?  How can club sports compete all summer while school sports cannot?  It’s impossible to rectify or to understand.  But regardless of these seeming inconsistencies, we’re committed to following the guidelines from public health officials and I certainly don’t believe ignoring those guidelines is an option for a public school district such as Worthington.  

We know that this isn’t what parents, students, teachers or administrators want school to look like this year – this is temporary. We are looking forward to the day we can safely be back in our classrooms and school buildings and hope it will be as soon as November.  

Between now and August 31st both the district and individual schools will communicate regularly so students and families are prepared for our August 31st start.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

View our updated responsible restart plans here.

View our updated FAQ here.

Find updated Online Program information for parents of elementary students (PreK-6) here

Find updated Online Program information for parents of secondary students (7-12) here

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Updates to “The Plan”

Last Monday we shared our Worthington Responsible Restart Plans with our staff and Wednesday we revealed those plans to the public.  Based upon feedback both internally and externally we are going to make some shifts to the plans in our school calendar and in the online learning option.

School Calendar

The 20-21 school year will not begin until Monday, August 31st.  The rest of the school calendar will remain as previously approved (other than we’re going to close for the November election on 11.3.20).

We’re going to move the school year back based upon recommendations from our teachers and from Columbus Public Health.

Contractually our teachers come back to work on August 17th.  In a normal school year two days before students come to school is always difficult but we make it work.  In the request for a change of the student start date our teachers association said: 

“The main reason is that our teachers need the time to work with colleagues in their building to make sure the Hybrid Model starts as successfully as possible.  The Hybrid Model brings many challenges to the academic learning that will create extra work and training for our members.  Given the time with the building cohorts, our teachers will be able to work creatively to have the model work as successfully as possible.  

We also believe that getting our members back in their classrooms and work areas can give us, and the district, time to evaluate safety concerns specific to room layouts, transition times, lunches, planning times, and the other inevitable issues that will come up when we are ready to have students enter our doors.

We also have concerns regarding families having until August 7th to make their selection for the online learning option.  We believe none of us really have a solid idea of how many of our families will take this option.  If 100 take the option it will not need a lot of adjustment.  If 1,500 take the option we will need to alter many plans, staffing and schedules.  We are not sure how that can happen in that short of time knowing the demands already in place.”

Secondly, Columbus Public Health sent us a recommendation last week that we do not start in-class learning until our community sees four consecutive weeks of a downward trend in new cases.  As we’re all painfully aware, cases in our community have been rising.  We’re hopeful that this trend reverses and we can meet this Columbus Public Health recommendation to begin in-class learning in our hybrid model on August 31st.  If cases do not decline we will be prepared to open in our remote model.

Online Learning Option

When we released our online learning option we shared that we would partner with the Ohio Online Learning Program for our Worthington Online Learning Academy.  Depending on how many students sign up at a given grade level or at a given school will determine if the teacher is a Worthington teacher or an Ohio Licensed teacher provided by OOLP.  I outlined our challenges with economy of scale in our blog “The Plan.”  If you’re considering this option, plan on the teacher being an OOLP teacher.  Maybe it will be, maybe it won’t.  We just won’t know until we see how many families choose this option.  

Our challenge is that as a district we have seen a significant reduction in state funding and we’re losing revenue from several significant areas because of COVID, while spending significantly more on PPE and enhanced cleaning.  We want to provide an online option but that’s an additional cost and we want to do it without adding additional staff which is a long-term cost.  Once we move teachers and staff around what do we do when families start wanting to come back to school?  How do we move staff back? Will there be classroom space if we moved the teacher online but only a portion of the online students want to come back and we now need teachers both online and in the school?

All that said, we are going to make four changes to accommodate families:

  1. The online commitment will be for one semester only.  A second commitment period will happen late fall for the second semester.
  2. High School student grades in the online program WILL count in a student’s Worthington grade point average.
  3. We’ve added a second informational meeting on July 28th in addition to the informational meeting on August 3rd.
  4. We’re moving the commitment date to August 10th.

We are not planning another survey of families.  Commitment on the sign-up form by August 10th will then allow the district to move forward with planning and staff adjustments.

Since we released our plans a number of people have reached out with positive and affirming remarks.  A number have also reached out with concerns.  That’s just where we are.  COVID stinks!  No one likes where we are right now.  But each week we’ll work to do the best we can to serve the students of Worthington as best as is possible in the situation we’re all in.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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The Plan

Last spring our community came together and met an incredible challenge with finishing our school year with remote learning.  I’m very proud of what parents and educators accomplished together.  As we look to the start of the 20-21 school year reopening schools in the midst of COVID-19 is proving to be another massive challenge.  Today, I want to share our Worthington Schools Responsible Restart plans.  They’re very similar to everything we have released previously.  Because the State of Ohio created a color based county-by-county warning system we’re changing from our colors to the monikers: “All-In”, “Hybrid” and “Remote.”  None of us know what will happen for certain this fall but I plan to make a recommendation to the Board of Education on July 27th so that teachers and families can plan as much as possible.

As Superintendent I’m tasked with making a recommendation on what school should look like in a time where the only real agreement is that there is significant disagreement about the correct path forward.  I’ve read the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations and the guidance from the State of Ohio.  We’ve talked weekly this summer with the Columbus Public Health Department and the Franklin County Public Health Department.  The guidance from public health says that assessing symptoms, wearing masks, enhanced cleaning protocols, hand washing, and social distancing are very important.  The first four are fairly easy to implement with some changes we plan to put into place. Unfortunately, social distancing in our schools, and on school buses is very difficult.  Because I’m not the expert I’ll default to public health. Based on what we know today, and based on the fact that Franklin County is in Red, in order to implement the recommended social distancing, I believe teachers and families in Worthington should be planning on a hybrid (50% of students each day) start to the school year.  That could change before August 19th but I believe you should plan with that in mind. (We are currently planning to open schools on our regularly scheduled start date of Wednesday, August 19, 2020 but will continue to evaluate our school calendar as new information becomes available.)

I recognize that a hybrid model is not what anyone wants.  I recognize that it will be extremely difficult for childcare and I understand that while teaching during COVID-19 we will unlikely be able to utilize some best practices and may not be able to do some of the things we love to do.  But, having students in school, even part of the time, is likely better for most students and families than the remote learning we had in the spring.  We’re in a mode where we’re not yet where we want to be.  We need to accept better before we can someday get back to best.

Where we begin the year may not be where we end the year but we need to begin somewhere.  Please take some time to review the plans, FAQ and hybrid calendar and one page plan we’ve released (all families in Worthington Schools will receive these documents via email).  Individual schools will communicate specific plans for the beginning of the school year at each school.  

A couple of items have come up repeatedly since the blog post “What’s the Plan?” last week and I’ll address them here:

1.  We’re planning to divide our students based upon the alphabet (A-K for Group A and L-Z for Group B) for the hybrid (formerly yellow) model to allow 6ft of social distancing.  Several families have asked for us to use neighborhoods to divide our students instead of the alphabet and that is something we’ve evaluated.  There are two major issues.  The first and most important is simply equity.  Neighborhoods more than anything else correlate to economics and thus in looking at this we created scenarios where there were major discrepancies with socio-economic status and ethnicity between the school days.  Second, if you work to create the desired equity by using neighborhood attendance this requires totally different bus routes on A days and B days and longer transportation times creating challenges for consistency of drop off and pick up times while at the same time challenging our newly limited busing capacity.

2.  In our hybrid model, we’re planning for basically an every other day school schedule for students.  We’re doing this because we believe it keeps kids connected to school and their teacher much more than other options do.  We don’t believe that teachers who are teaching students physically in their class will be able to engage students at home to the level some may believe they will.  We believe that schedules, where students are in school M-Tu and then off W-Th-F, provide too much time for most students to be away from their teachers and that schedule does not provide enough accountability for many students to stay on top of their work on their own for five days.  In addition this allows us to feed students and send food home on their off days.  You will see districts in Franklin County do different things.  I personally believe we need students in school every day that we can safely bring them into the building and we need teachers teaching in school every day.  

3.  Parents have said that they would like the online option to be taught by a Worthington teacher.  I get that and it’s a compliment to our teachers.  We feel good about the online option we have set-up and will offer to those who commit to it.  In regards to a Worthington teacher, we don’t believe a teacher should have 24 students on their roster where only 21 show up and he/she is expected to teach the others online.  In addition, being fully online is very different from our emergency remote learning.  We believe a full curriculum is needed and that someone trained in facilitating that curriculum will be much more effective than one of our teachers attempting to do this as an additional task may be.  Finally, we have a very poor economy of scale in Worthington Schools.  For example, if 3 students from every 4th grade class choose to stay home online we may still need all current 4th grade teachers in their classroom at school. But we’d now have an additional 99 students to teach online.  That’s at least 2 online teachers needed just for 4th grade and we can’t take those from our current roster of 4th grade teachers.  Maybe at the high school in certain courses that will be a different story with economy of scale or maybe the desire for online will be so great that we need to do something like shutting down one program we currently offer to move those teachers to online for this year.  We’ll know more about what we may do as families commit to the online option.  Time will quickly tell, but it’s unlikely to be a Worthington teacher families have come to know and love.

4.  Kindergarten is a massive challenge because we offer both an All-Day Kindergarten (ADK) and Half-Day Kindergarten (HDK) option.  If we start on the hybrid schedule (formerly Yellow) all Kindergarten would run as A/B like everything else in the school district.  If we move to All-In at some point ADK would be every day and we would begin charging again.  But we plan to keep HDK at an alternating all-day on the A/B schedule.  This is because in an AM/PM set-up one teacher handles 2 classes.  Under a Hybrid 50% socially distanced model that one teacher can still only handle 2 classes but would need to be able to handle 4 classes.  We plan to assign some other elementary certified staff to handle the other 2 kindergarten classes at 4 of our schools.  If we went back and forth throughout the year from hybrid to all-in to hybrid, etc., keeping K on the alternating A/B schedule allows them to keep the same teacher and the same classroom location all year and not have to move from the newly assigned teacher back to the previously assigned HDK teacher, etc. This is a different half-time kindergarten model than we normally operate.

5.  I’ll reiterate that we understand that by only bringing in half the students to school per day we’re creating significant childcare challenges for families and for teachers who have students in school.  I’m concerned about this and it weighs heavily on our thoughts.  I hope that our COVID numbers in Franklin County recede and that a hybrid model can be temporary.

Since March this COVID pandemic has challenged us.  Reopening is proving to be as difficult as closing down was.  The one thing that hasn’t changed throughout the pandemic is that things seem to change every day.  Stay tuned!

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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20 Steps At A Time

In this social distancing world, we had an opportunity in June to head to Colorado and distance in the Mountains.  While Worthington has an elevation of 863 feet, where we stayed in Blue River, Colorado sits at over 10,000 feet.

While we were in Colorado I wanted to attempt to climb a Colorado 14er.  According to Wikipedia In the mountaineering parlance of the Western United States, a fourteener is a mountain peak with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet (4267 meters). There are 96 fourteeners in the United States, all west of the Mississippi River. Colorado has the most (58) of any single state; Alaska is in second place with 29. Many peak baggers try to climb all fourteeners in the contiguous United States, one particular state, or another region.

The closest 14er to Blue River is called Quandary Peak.  Quandary is the highest summit of the Tenmile Range in the Rocky Mountains.  It’s located in the White River National Forest and is the only fourteener in the Tenmile Range. At 14,265 feet Quandary ranks as the 13th highest peak in Colorado. As far as 14ers go it’s one of the easier climbs.  (That’s kind of like an easy marathon.  No such thing for me…) 

The Quandary Peak trailhead begins around 10,800 feet and once hiking above 11,800 feet the treeline recedes and you’re on a rocky exposed trail.  This route is ranked as being easy on a good trail, with exposure to dangerous drop-offs being rated as mild. However, the final section of trail climbs 1100 feet over the final eight-tenths of a mile to the top, making this a very strenuous segment with snow and a few mountain goats on the side.

For this hike, I was super blessed to be able to climb with my daughter Peyton who will be a senior at TWHS this fall.  We set out early in the morning and while the climb is in no way technical at that altitude all movement uphill is difficult.  We were strong for the first few hours of our hike.  But, for that last mile above 13,000 feet climbing through the snow with the wind whipping across the mountain, we knew we needed a strategy if we were going to make it to the top.  

We were huffing and puffing at this point and our strategy turned out to be 20 steps at a time.  We’d commit to going up 20 steps and then resting to catch our breath.  Then we’d take 20 more steps and rest again.  This was going to be a very slow process but it was the only way we could move forward.  As we got close to the summit the route was snow-covered.  To make progress we had to move down and change routes.  There were areas of the snow we could get through but we still needed to cross the snow.  Eventually, 20 steps at a time we made it to the summit!

That was our lesson both personally and professionally.  In Worthington Schools, I’d like to move from point A to point B easily.  I’d like to be done with this COVID-19.  I’d like to be able to answer everyone’s questions about what the future holds.   I’d like to have an easy answer for how we will fix racial justice throughout the school district. But, right now the best we may be able to do is move 20 steps forward at a time.  It’s slow and steady.  It’s maddening at times, but we will make progress.  Eventually, if the progress is consistent, it will pay off.

20 steps of progress is still progress.  This year in schools everywhere it may be like climbing a mountain.  My guess is that we’ll move forward and sometimes we may actually have to move back again before we can move forward.  But with persistence and patience, we’ll succeed together.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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What’s the plan?

What’s the plan? Like you, I wish I knew the answer.  I do know that whatever is decided will be very polarizing and will not satisfy a significant portion of our community.  That’s just the unfortunate reality of seemingly all decisions made in regard to COVID-19.  Here’s where we are at this point on July 1st.  We’re still waiting for the State of Ohio to release its recommendations.  At this point, we expect those tomorrow, but we’ve expected them for the past few weeks so we’ll see.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released its recommendations.  We’re analyzing those currently and they may heavily influence our decisions.  My hope is that we can provide specific plans by July 15th.  In this rapidly changing environment, those plans will be subject to change.  

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced that he would like to see students back in school in the fall. We would too! We are committed to bringing our students to school the maximum amount of time as permitted while following the guidelines that will be set forth by the Governor and our Health Department. In order to be prepared for the various scenarios we may face, the district has created three options as we plan to restart school in August of 2020. The options have become known as Red, Green, and Yellow.

  • The Red option is one where students continue to stay home and engage in online learning. This option would look much like an enhanced version of the remote learning at the end of last school year. 
  • The Green option would bring students back to school full time with new safety protocols in place. It will consider both the teaching and learning experience as well as day-to-day operations such as transportation and food services.
  • The Yellow option is a combination of both the Red and Green. It will bring students to school on some days and have students participate in remote learning some days. 

I assume you’re most concerned about our Yellow plan.  We’re planning a 50% model where a cohort of all K-12 students attends Monday and Wednesday and every other Friday.  The other cohort of all K-12 students will attend Tuesday, Thursday, and every other Friday.  This will provide all students with regular classroom instruction and accountability.  We’ll use the alphabet to determine cohort and recognize that some families will need to choose a name for their family.  This will allow all students in the same households to be in school on the same days.  All kindergarten will run the same way as grades 1-12 do.

We are planning for an online-only option for those students who have pre-existing conditions or family members with conditions that require that they stay home.  In order to make sure that the option is a standards-aligned, guaranteed, and viable curriculum for online learning, our thinking at this point is that we plan to contract this out through an Ohio educational partner.  Participating students will be assigned to a licensed educator from the partner or from our district, depending upon the number of students at each grade level who commit to going only online.

There are many more pieces to the plan that we’ll outline by July 15th. We’ll be able to discuss transportation, masks, daily schedules, etc…  But for the many of you wondering what we’re thinking, this is it right now. It’s all subject to change based on available information.  No final decisions on a plan we’ll follow come August 19th have been made. While we’ll release more info by July 15th, it may be August before we make final decisions in collaboration with the health department on which plan we will implement to begin a school year.  I hope we’re Green!  We may need to be Yellow.  It’s still possible we may have to be Red.  We’re attempting to be ready for any and all possibilities.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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Taking stock of our district finances

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The end of June is the close of our fiscal year and thus a good time to review where we are as a school district financially.

As of the close of the 2019-20 school year, we had an available balance of $95.7 million in the District’s main operating fund. This is a direct result of tremendous voter support of an incremental operating levy and bond request in November 2018, as well as state funding changes that impacted our District in a positive manner. Higher than previously expected, student enrollment growth is putting pressure on both operations and the capital plan, but we believe we can accommodate this growth for the near term with existing resources.

Long term contracts with both labor unions were recently approved and run through June 30, 2023, providing modest 2.25% increases to base wages while gaining hiring, evaluation, and work schedule flexibility for management. We feel the agreements are in the best interest of all parties.

Our self-funded employee health insurance fund has a healthy reserve balance. Claims had been trending up during the first half of calendar year 2020, but the COVID pandemic slowed that trend. Although the long term impact of COVID on our health plan is unknown, projections illustrate claims to end up within a few percentage points from original predictions. We anticipate future increases of 8-12% which includes inflationary trends. Our self-funded workers’ compensation insurance fund has continued to experience low claims, resulting in several years of decreased rates and we do not expect any change in the near term.

We have secured fixed utility contracts for several years for natural gas and electricity, and installed a state of the art fiber network that connects our 21 locations with 10-gigabit internet service. This will provide the District with plenty of bandwidth to implement standards and online assessments. Our operating budget includes $1.5 million for Chromebook replacement which will help ensure assessment capabilities without interruption, and our capital budget includes $1.1 million for server and interactive display replacement.

Additional modular classroom units will be installed this summer at Brookside Elementary, joining the existing ones at Evening Street, McCord, Colonial Hills, Worthington Hills, and Bluffsview. This will accommodate our growth until the first phase of our capital plan is completed at the middle school level in the fall of 2021.

COVID has disrupted our economy in countless ways. How soon we return to normal and what the new normal will be is very uncertain. Governor DeWine announced the implementation of $775 million in cuts and reductions, including $300 million in state funding reductions to K-12 schools.  That’s understandable when you consider the economic impact of the pandemic right now. But, the impact of these cuts will be significant.

The average deduction for school districts in Ohio was 3.7% in line with what we thought would occur, but the methodology resulted in our reduction being 10.48% or $2,193,375.  In light of this new information, we are estimating an additional reduction of 10% for FY21.  As of today, it’s hard to predict whether FY22 will return to a normal level or continue at the reduced level. We’ll need to take a conservative approach.

The loss of $2.1 million in state funding will likely be “made up” the first year by us finishing this school year under budget by about 1 million, plus $750,000 in stimulus funds.  However, nothing will then cover next year’s projected loss of $4 million, and the assumption of continued reduced state funding in the years beyond that as well as a loss of potential revenue from ADK, Preschool, Food Service if students are not in school every day, the extra costs for online education and the extra cost for PPE for students and staff.

In an attempt to conservatively manage our resources budget reductions of $1.77 million were implemented this summer in response to economic uncertainty and reduction in state funding related to the COVID-19 shutdown. These include:

  • A modified hiring freeze: 15 less positions than previously anticipated ($1.02 million)
  • Reduction in extended days for various certified staff ($0.10 million)
  • Reduction in new curriculum materials from previous projections ($0.25 million)
  • Reduction of $110,000 in transportation from previous projections ($0.11 million)
  • Reduction in substitute costs due to reduction in PD opportunities ($0.09 million)
  • Reduction in building carryover of supply budgets ($0.20 million)

Further budget reductions may be necessary next school year depending upon how the State’s economy rebounds and what methodologies are used for reductions made to public schools.  We’re in a wait and see mode on this.

Thankfully, voters overwhelmingly approved a new incremental operating levy in November 2018 that generated an additional $5.9 million in calendar year 2019, and will eventually increase to a total collection of $17.6 million annually that, in conjunction with outlined budget reductions of 1.77 million for next year, should stabilize our budget through 2022 and allow us to maintain our levy cycle, assuming the economy begins to recover. 

Voters also approved an $89 million capital bond issue that will be used to increase capacity at the middle school level, allowing us to move 6th grade from our elementary buildings to middle schools in the fall of 2021, freeing up space at the elementary buildings. Buses and technology will continue to be maintained with a portion of the funds, as will maintenance projects at many of our buildings. This is in alignment with the first phase of the Master Facilities Plan approved by a community group in December 2017. The second and third phases would need to be funded through future bond issues, tentatively planned for 2022 and 2026, and should align with existing debt maturities with the goal of minimizing actual tax increases for homeowners.

Next year is sure to be full of challenges as we seek to return students to school in a time of COVID-19.  As we do so, we’ll need to do more with less because of the loss of expected revenues.  

If you’d like to review our full budget document you can do so simply by clicking here.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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Taking Steps in the Right Direction

This week shook us to our core in many ways. We listened to and engaged with the Black voices in our community and have reflected upon where we find ourselves at this moment in history on this issue.

Now must be different. We must take real steps to address racial inequities and a history of exclusion. We must take them now. And we must take them again, and again, and again…while continuously critiquing and evaluating our progress, particularly when we fall short. This is an endeavor where we have to be intentional and commit every day.

Over the past year, our goal in Worthington has been to grow our district’s focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as an essential priority for a healthy learning community.  This work “lives” in the foundation (strategy 1) of our Academic Goal House: All teachers will create a culture of empathy and support that scaffolds all students’ academic, social, and emotional success.  However, it is threaded through the other three goal areas, as academic excellence for ALL is a priority in this work.

2019-2020 has been a year of learning for leaders and plan development.  The DEI core team members (Angie Adrean, Cathryn Chellis, Rodney Hopkins, Tori McCloud, Sarah Pettigrew, Ben Rule, Aric Thomas and Kelly Wegley) demonstrate the commitment to all areas of the goal and bring a variety of perspectives (e.g. elementary/secondary, admin/teacher/classified, African-American/Latinx/White, LGBTQ+).  To build shared understanding of the work, core team members participated in 

  • facilitator training for the Culturally Responsive Practice Modules developed by the Ohio Department of Education in partnership with Wesley Williams 
  • an Equity Institute sponsored by the Educational Service Center and facilitated by Cynthia DeVese and several others

This team facilitated a professional learning experience for the Cabinet that included a case study focused on discretionary spaces within a classroom, personal stories from Worthington students and staff, individual goal-setting following a diversity beads inventory, and an opportunity to consider actions within the systems each of us influences.  

This team also facilitated Conversation Sessions that grew out of October 18th sessions for both certified and classified staff facilitated by Wesley Williams on “The Urgency for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading.”  Following the event described by Jazmine Rogers during her speech at Sunday’s Worthington Educators and Friends for Justice event, Aric Thomas and Pete Scully invited parents from both WKHS and TWHS to join the conversation, including Jazmine’s parents, Ted and Sharita.  Although the last two Conversation Sessions for 2019-2020 were postponed due to the Covid-19 extended closure, they are rescheduled for this fall.  

The Curriculum Liaison Council and Superintendent’s Advisory, including the TWHS Diversity Club, were also engaged around culturally responsive teaching and issues of equity.  This work continues even now with conversations between Worthingway teacher Ellen Speicher and a group of her students to discuss how we can better structure our curriculum so that all students can “see themselves” in the learning.

Nearly 200 staff members, including the entire leadership team, have participated in DEI-focused professional learning at the district level, and several buildings, including Slate Hill, Worthington Estates, KMS, Worthingway, and WKHS, have extended this learning as a staff.  We are in the midst of a series on Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading for a district team that includes representation from every building, is representative of the diversity in Worthington Schools, and is designed to support the development of building teams to champion this ongoing work.  As Lillian Wade expressed so eloquently on Sunday afternoon, students – all of our students – deserve to hear the voices of writers such as Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and others.    

Over 150 individuals are registered for the Impact of Implicit Bias, a course that builds on the learning modules from the Kirwan Institute at OSU, and this course will be facilitated by 15 staff members (admins and teachers) who participated as learners in last winter’s pilot, or who have otherwise engaged in this learning and are partnering with pilot participants.  Over 100 Worthington educators have signed up for a book study on Waking Up White.

Further, the Board of Education Policy was updated December 9 in the areas of non-discrimination.  In all areas where the protected classes included “sex,” policies now read:  “The Board of Education does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression…”

Language similar to that in BOE policy is to be added to WEA, WESP, and administrative agreements.  And, I recommend 

  • the Welcoming Language document authored by community member, parent, and school volunteer Ray Lees be used to support development of an anchor document for all staff 
  • the creation of gender identity and expression administrative guidelines establishing Worthington Schools as a safe space for LGBTQ+ students and staff 

With the support of the Worthington Board of Education, we plan to add the new position of Coordinator of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.  This will be an administrative and cabinet level position at the Worthington Education Center because we know that a more inclusive curriculum, school and workplace positively impact our entire school community.  Someone specifically doing this work will add focus, provide a resource to families, and send the message that this is a priority.  The Coordinator of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion will serve as a strong and vocal champion for diversity, equity, and inclusion across all programs associated with the school district. The ideal candidate will be a visionary and transformational thought leader, who has demonstrated experience and influence in achieving positive change in an academic setting in the areas of diversity, inclusion, multiculturalism, community partnership, economic development, and educational and employment equity.

Additional plans for the future include 

  • establishing attendance at a Poverty Simulation as a requirement for all staff (post-COVID-19) within the next five years for existing staff and within three years of employment for new staff
  • continuing the Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning (CRTL) series with the district team in a blended format and supporting the development of CRTL action plans within buildings; federal funds (Title IV) will be designated for performance contracts for diversity, equity, and inclusion building champions, a practice in line with neighboring districts, including Olentangy and Bexley.
  • continuing to offer The Impact of Implicit Bias at the district level and making the course available to buildings, with the goal that all staff complete the course (or demonstrate engagement in comparable learning) prior to August 2022.

We must not make the mistake of believing only exceptional people can do this work, or that the Coordinator of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will somehow be able to effect all of the changes needed.  This work belongs to ALL of us, and it is not optional.  It demands that we take responsibility, that we take action, that we engage with one another in the difficult conversations, that we dismantle systemic oppression that harms the lives of people of color and other marginalized individuals right here in Worthington Schools.  

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
  • Kelly Wegley, Coordinator of Academic Achievement and Professional Development
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Insight on Current Events from a Worthington Teacher

With the tragic death of Black Americans George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and the resulting protests in most major cities this weekend, I reached out to Worthington teacher Tori McCloud to better understand her perspective.  Tori is a Worthington graduate and a Worthington Estates teacher.  She is a Black American and leads on our team focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Tori’s words are important because they shed a light on a perspective that as a White American I can’t fully understand.

“There is so much pain, sorrow, and distrust within so many Black Americans right now and we are looking for a positive change.  I have hope that we can listen to their needs and work together to achieve more trust, not only within our community but within our country as well.  There needs to be a safe place with the space for tough conversations to be had and honest questions to be answered.

I cannot speak for all Black voices as my Black experience is not the same as others. However, my Worthington upbringing combined with my love of educating and empowering others provides a unique advantage in times such as these to help bring people of all sides together. I wanted to share with you this Facebook post I created a few days ago.  My purpose was partly therapeutic and partly to provide a window into how many Black Americans are feeling right now. 

For many People of Color, seeing stories like the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers sends us literally into the 5 stages of grief….a fresh cycle starting up again with each story that’s plastered in the media of another black man killed by the very people meant to protect them. 

How about children of color? What must this be doing to their own mental health? How about parents of black boys? DENIAL, ANGER, FINDING MEANING, DEPRESSION….and the nail in the coffin…ACCEPTANCE…because nothing ever seems to change. We start living a self-fulfilling prophecy….we start becoming the very people we’re expected to be…we lose our sense of self. To my Non-POC friends, I want you to imagine what this cycle would do to you if you were frequently going through a new loss. What would your mental health status be? How would you cope? What would you do to stop this cycle? 

POC’s (people of color) don’t need to know these victims personally or what they were doing up until the moment that led to their death. We are connected by the color of our skin, by the many instances of similar situations we share despite variations in career status, income, education, marital status, etc. We are intertwined through the degradation of our character in misguided attempts to rationalize the irrational and unfortunately, by the many predetermined outcomes from our criminal justice system, covering up the actions of public servants ‘gone bad’, who are meant to protect us. 

And no, we don’t readily condone behavior that may have gotten police involved in the first place and most realize that not all police officers are bad. But this kind of epidemic isn’t about “bad cops”. This is about the poison of fear and its power to cause havoc on our society. Fear affects rationalism, whether it’s fear of getting killed by a police officer, fear of a suspect reaching for a weapon, or fear of rights and liberties being taken away. WHEN are we going to talk about FEAR? It’s a natural reaction…it’s not going away anytime soon. We need to handle it together or NOTHING gets accomplished.

This issue didn’t happen overnight and it won’t be solved overnight. Maybe you’re already aware of this but generally, there’s a very potent mistrust in the black community of institutions in general, especially schools. I don’t know if it’s as obvious to Non-Peoples of Color, but that is another reason I think that we don’t have a strong African-American parent base in our district, at least from my vantage point.  

When Families of Color choose to send their students to Worthington, they do it because they want their child to have the best education possible, and they are hoping and praying that even though they’re in the minority, their child’s experience here will be welcoming, safe, supportive, and an overall positive experience for their children; socially and academically.  In fact, I’d argue that’s what ALL parents want for their children when they enter school.  However, at the same time, many Families of Color are holding their breath just waiting for that other shoe to drop. The shoe is a questionable action or reaction taken by either a member of the district, a white student or their family. Whether it be a difference in disciplinary action, a lack of support from teachers, not getting the same opportunities as their white peers in taking honors classes, being “labeled” with a disability, etc. 

In my experience, observations, and communications with other black parents, they often don’t show up to PTA meetings and important stakeholder meetings because they don’t believe their input will actually change things.  They don’t believe they’re truly stakeholders because they don’t feel their needs are as valued as the needs of the majority of stakeholders, who are white.

This is why transparency is so incredibly vital, as well as reaching out multiple times in various,  culturally responsive ways to gain their trust. Only then will they start feeling valued as true stakeholders in this incredible district. I’m not sure if they’re even aware of what our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team has been up to so far, but I feel that we should share those successes fairly soon.

I hope my sharing has been more helpful than redundant. I know you understand there’s lots of hurting going on right now in the black community and frankly, in all communities. I am choosing to hold on to hope that this will still be a fresh issue in our community’s mind once we can get together again and that the same brave Non-POC’s who choose to be allies now, will be just as passionate in the future as well.”

In Worthington Schools may we have the love, imagination, and courage to be better, do better, and work together to build something better.

  • Tori McCloud, First Grade Teacher and Culturally Responsive Practices Lead Learner
  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent 
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