Striving to be Abnormal

DareNiyX4AEtYBbWinter hung around for a long time in Central Ohio this year.  Mentally that can be difficult for students and adults alike. We’ve all been confined to the same people inside our crowded schools for a bit too long.  Our weather combined with a difficult public discourse on almost every issue seems to put many of us on edge. We can be irritable with one another. Sometimes we can be uncivil in our zest to prove our point.  It feels like sometimes everyone is just plain angry about something.

I recently heard a local pastor speak and he provided some perspective for me that I have found useful.  Here’s what he said:

“Difficult people are normal.  YOU are somebody’s difficult person.  Somebody is praying for grace to deal with you and with me.  People who break commitments are normal. Not getting your way all the time is normal.  Being frustrated is normal. Being misunderstood is normal. It’s normal for things in this world to break down.  It’s normal for technology not to work. It’s normal not to have all the money that you want. It’s normal to misplace things.  It’s normal to be hassled at your job. It’s normal to not have a perfect relationship with everyone in your extended family. It is normal.

We have this 21st Century ideal that life is supposed to be comfortable, that it’s supposed to be easy, that everything should come easy.  The reality is life is often hard. And, that’s normal.”

As we work through challenging issues together as a community it’s normal that we won’t all see things the same way.  As we interact with one another in the classroom or the school hallways or on the athletic fields it’s normal that we’ll find some interactions difficult.  

Spring will someday arrive in Columbus and that will help.  We’ll all get outside and we’ll have some space from one another.  But, what helps me most is to reframe my thinking and to understand, what we’re experiencing is normal for human behavior.  

My hope for Worthington Schools is that while we understand the behavior may be normal we strive to better than normal. Let’s make Worthington a community that honors differences by communicating with others in positive, constructive ways. We’re unlikely to always hit the mark.  But together let’s strive to be abnormal.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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A Celebration of Social/Emotional Learning That Inspires Students to “Change the World”

Shirt designAuthor Robert Barr, in his book Building a Culture of Hope, noted that  “…the social and emotional learning celebrated in a culture of hope [provides] the foundation of personal strength that is necessary to keep kids traveling a pathway toward their better life.”

Inspired by the Columbus-based Harmony Project, Worthington’s “Hands and Voices of Hope Project” has begun its inaugural year of building and supporting students of character and purpose by cultivating their personal strength for Perseverance to change themselves, Responsibility to change their schools, and Compassion to change their community.

Supported by a grant from the Worthington Educational Foundation, the Hands and Voices of Hope Project began as the vision of the district’s 11 elementary school principals and the Director of Elementary Education. The idea was a simple one: identify students of great potential, and invite them to be part of a community of learners seeking to build a sense of pride, purpose, belonging and optimism that they could share with other young people around them. Their roles as “Character Ambassadors” would mean committing themselves to:

  • self-improvement related to their academic life at school,
  • modeling improvement in their schools by leading for character, and
  • demonstrating improvement in their local community through service.

In each elementary school, 10-15 students in grades 4-6 were nominated by their principal. Upon accepting the invitation, the students then began meeting regularly with their school’s principal and other school Ambassadors to dialogue together about decisions they make to act upon the three commitments, using a project reflection workbook authored by the elementary leadership team to monitor their work on personal improvement goals, as well as the contribution(s) that they make to their school culture.

To fulfill the commitment to community service, the Director of Elementary Education organized three projects, partnering with local service organizations that held special interest for the student Ambassadors. Each Ambassador was asked to commit to one Saturday of service in addition to their school work.

Through the community partnerships, the Hands and Voices of Hope Project connected with The Sedona Grace Foundation which provides assistance to families in need with resources to keep and maintain the health of their pets, which provide emotional support to students. The Ambassadors led a pet food drive that provided donations of 327 pounds of dog and cat food – the largest donation ever for the Foundation. In addition, Ambassadors showed up on a Saturday morning to pack 1500 biscuit bags for the Foundation – a four-month supply!

On Saint Patrick’s Day, Ambassadors worked with the Family Mentor Foundation to build more than 550

“Buddy Bags” using donations they had collected. “Buddy Bags” are provided to needy boys and girls throughout Columbus, stocked with enough breakfast, fruit, snack, and dinner items to feed a child for the weekend. The food used was another result of the character leadership that the Ambassadors demonstrated through their school-based food drives.

Additionally, the Ambassadors were able to donate more than 1000 pounds of food items to the local Worthington Resource Pantry.

The final community service project will involve a local artist, Jeremy Jarvis to create a public work of art that will share a visual message of hope and character. With creative input from the students themselves, Jarvis mocked up a four-panel mural that students will work collaboratively to complete on the weekend of April 14-15. The mural will hang in the Worthington Education Center on permanent display, when not being used as a presentation piece that will travel to elementary for Ambassadors to share and discuss their journey of hope and character with fellow schoolmates in the coming year.

Finally, in Harmony Project style, the Ambassadors will invite their parents and teachers to share an evening of musical reflection and celebration on April 30 at Worthington Kilbourne High School. The “Celebration of Hope Concert” will allow our student Ambassadors to celebrate their work and the adults who supported their journey.

The Hands and Voices of Hope Project is one of the many ways that, in Worthington Schools, we invest in cultivating personal strength and a sense of purpose and character in our students. Our Character Ambassadors are truly living out our district mission: “To empower a community of learners who will change the world.”

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
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Recent Columbus Dispatch Article

On March 20, a Kilbourne Middle School student was arrested by Worthington Police and charged with inducing panic after allegedly threatening to bring a gun to school. With the arrest and disciplinary actions, there is no ongoing threat.

A recent news article has reported that Worthington Schools administrators delayed in informing police about the threat. We understand how concerning this is.  The administration assessed the information. They have an ongoing relationship with the student and worked directly with the student before contacting law enforcement.  The threat was not ignored.

We are currently reviewing our communications expectations and assessment of threats. Based on our reflections of this event and the community concerns around this incident, we will be instructing our principals that if a threat comes in after hours or on the weekend that involves a weapon and they are unable to fully investigate, they should call the police immediately.  In addition, our administration will undergo training this summer regarding threat assessment.

We take every threat seriously.  We all agree that the safety of our school community is our top priority.  In Worthington, we care about our students, staff, and visitors and strive every day to provide a safe yet welcoming learning environment for all.  Should you have any questions about the safety of your students’ school please contact Randy Banks (rbanks@wscloud.org) 614-450-6000.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
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Planning for our Future

visual_object-117313I recently read an article in the Columbus Dispatch about a group that is questioning whether the costs of school repairs and remodeling are good for Grandview City Schools.  Grandview Schools, like Worthington, Columbus, Upper Arlington and Westerville are all school districts with aging infrastructure and like us they are working on a plan to address their needs.

While we all have similar needs with aging buildings, an increase in student enrollment, etc… each school district has created a plan that they believe works best for their community.  Upper Arlington recently passed a massive $230 million bond issue to replace their high school and renovate all schools.  Columbus City Schools has replaced 19 buildings over the past decade.  Grandview and Westerville are working on their plans.

In Worthington, our plan began in 2015 with a partnership with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission.  This State of Ohio organization brought teams of architects and construction experts to walk each Worthington school.  They provided individual assessments of every system within our schools.  Based upon the OFCC reports, we learned that to bring our schools up to a statewide standard we needed $260 million worth of replacements and renovations.

After receiving the OFCC assessments, we partnered with Cooperative Strategies to create a facilities master plan.   Sixty-one community members invested 18 months to create a plan that would address our aging buildings, balance high school enrollment and create capacity for all students.  (Our enrollment has grown by 1,000 students in the last five years and is projected to continue to grow by another 800 students in the next five years.)

We intend to come forward with this plan in phases.  Phase One would require funding of approximately $70 million dollars.  (There will be additional dollars needed for technology and buses.)  This would provide capacity for our elementary schools by moving 6th grade to the middle school.  It would address our aging buildings by rebuilding Worthingway Middle School and Perry Middle School (Perry would reopen as a 6-8 grade middle school, while Phoenix and Worthington Academy remain on that site).  The plan balances high school enrollment by moving to 4 traditional middle schools (plus Phoenix) with two middle schools feeding to each high school and by moving a current TWHS feeder elementary to the WKHS feeder pattern.

This is just Phase One of our plan.  We’ll propose to come back to the community in 2022 with Phase Two of the plan and likely back again around 2026 with Phase Three of the plan.  By phasing the work we are able to maintain our state mandated debt limits and hopefully make the work more affordable for community members.

Certainly, Phase One does not solve every issue in Worthington.  As our enrollment continues to climb, we have multiple elementary schools that have exceeded their capacity.  Redistricting our students is not an option that will solve our capacity issues because all schools are utilizing their full allotment of classroom space (even Sutter Park and Phoenix).  Therefore, we will continue to overflow students to other schools when they enroll in a specific grade level without space. We have already added modular classrooms at Colonial Hills and Worthington Hills and until Phase One of our plan is complete (Fall of 2021), we will add modular classrooms at schools as they are needed.  We project that we will need to add modulars at multiple schools over the next several years.

Like our neighbors in other inner-ring suburbs, we see student enrollment growth as families choose to live in these desirable communities.  At the same time we have aging infrastructure that has to be addressed for the long-term health of our school districts and ultimately the desirability of our communities.

We’re excited about our community driven plan and look forward to partnering with our community over the next decade to make it a reality.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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Student Voice & Potential Walkouts

ua_walkout_2.jpgAs nationwide student walkouts are being discussed we’ve received a number of questions regarding how Worthington Schools will handle these events.  Here is the guidance that we’ve sent home to families.

We are heartbroken over the senseless loss of life, horrified by the gun violence and general interest in guns in society, and yet as a school district we are still interested in maintaining an environment that is open and welcoming to both our students and the public. These are really hard things to balance. 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.

Student voice is powerful and should be at the center of our school cultures. We know that our  schools work everyday to improve and amplify student voice. Student voice is generally protected by the First amendment. Our schools have a responsibility to help students navigate tough social situations and learn how to use their voice in an appropriate way.  Our administrators have already been engaged in dialogue with our student leaders about the importance in maintaining a peaceful environment.  If our Worthington students are planning or implementing some sort of walkout, protest, or rally, we will evaluate the situation and respond appropriately.

We are aware of the numerous school walkouts protesting school violence that are happening or are being planned in the upcoming weeks or months. If a student feels compelled to protest about any topic that is important to them, we encourage students to select an event and time that does not interrupt their learning or potentially cause a disruption at school. If a student walkout is being planned during school hours, we encourage students to speak with their principal.  

In the event students do protest during school hours, we are having conversations with our staff on how we would handle such a situation.  Our top priority–as always–will be to maintain a safe environment for all students. To accomplish this, we will adhere to the following guidelines should a student walkout occur: students choosing not to participate in a protest will remain in class with their teacher; students choosing to walk out of school during school hours will be encouraged to achieve their goals in the safest and least disruptive way, such as by congregating in a safe area, away from traffic; and, when possible, we will coordinate with local law enforcement to assist in the monitoring of any protest in order to ensure student safety.

Finally, while the recent events in Florida may certainly warrant political action and strong student voice, our core mission is student learning. Frequent and regular disruptions to the school day are counter to our mission, even if they are for good reason. We recognize that this type of organizing is a potential leadership experience and provides some real experiential learning. We are supportive of student voice, do not wish to suppress it, but also want to remain focused on student learning.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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Striving to support all children in our community

DWGEASGW0AIaZZtI’m proud to work in Worthington Schools for many reasons.  But, one of the reasons I’m most proud of is that I believe Worthington is a community that strives to take care of everyone’s child.  Now, that doesn’t mean everything gets taken care of and that we don’t have people struggling, but I do believe most people are good and they want to make a positive difference not only for their own child but for the children of others in our community.

With that in mind, I am pleased to share information about an organization that can help people needing assistance in our school district. Worthington Bridges provides a platform for sharing kindness and giving in our community. Through the use of technology and social media, Worthington Bridges engages the community to help identify needs and then connect community members to help fill those needs.  

Worthington Bridges works in collaboration with existing non-profits, faith communities and service organizations in the Worthington community. When other organizations cannot fill a need, Worthington Bridges posts the need to its website so those who have the resources can help. This is all accomplished keeping the donors and recipients confidential.

Worthington Bridges launched in late January, joins the other Columbus suburbs of Westerville, Gahanna, Grove City and Dublin.  Since the launch, Worthington Bridges has already helped collect clothing for families, purchased a bus pass for a parent to get to a new job, and raised funds for a ROX program.  This community has a great history of supporting those in need, and residents are already stepping up to change lives.

You can be a part of Worthington Bridges in a couple ways. First, I encourage you to subscribe to receive notifications. Visit WorthingtonBridges.org and click the “join the bridge” link. After you complete the form, you will receive notification when needs are posted.  Also, I would like to invite you to be an advocate for families in our district. We’re in the process of training district counselors on how to enter specific needs. Please reach out to the building counselor or principal when you see a need. They will help determine what resources may exist and engage Worthington Bridges as necessary.     

I’m excited to have this new community resource, and I hope you’ll join the bridge that connects Worthington through acts of kindness.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
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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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