Chop Wood, Carry Water

chopwoodMy friend, Trish Laughman, recently recommended that I read Joshua Medcalf’s book “Chop Wood, Carry Water.”  In it, Medcalf tells a story of a young boy who always dreamed about becoming a samurai archer. At one point in his life, he buys a one-way ticket to Japan and begins his schooling. The sensei, every day, had him chop wood and carry water, something everyone in the village did to survive.

Many of us get caught up in the end results of what we’re working toward or the way things will be when we finally achieve something. But the truth is, getting to where you want to go or being successful doesn’t mean that the work that lead you there goes away.

In Worthington Schools our most important goal is to empower a community of learners who will change the world.  This time of year we’re relentlessly focused on helping every student pass their third grade reading assessment or their high school end of course exams.  At times the task is overwhelming, but if we chop wood and carry water every day the end results will take care of themselves.  

For us in our school classrooms it’s about following the process of sound formative instruction in the teaching process.  It’s about setting appropriate learning targets for each lesson, making certain our students understand and connect to those learning targets, and providing them feedback as they progress.  It’s about effective and targeted guided reading lessons at the primary level, making meaning from informational text and writing daily to make thinking visible in every classroom.  It’s about creating formative and summative assessments that develop high rigor critical thinking, problem-solving and design thinking.  And it’s about engaging the students in their learning

If we chop wood and carry water each day the results will take care of themselves.  Our job is to focus on the process and what actions each of us should be taking daily.

Chop wood, carry water….

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent

Managing our Enrollment Growth

chartThis column was originally published 2.23.17 in the ThisWeek Worthington News.  I’m choosing to share it on our blog as well because I believe it is important for all Worthington residents to understand both our actual enrollment growth to date and our projected enrollment growth over the next five years.  This growth will impact many of our decisions moving forward.

Worthington Schools place a great emphasis on creating a welcoming environment and embracing challenges and differences so all students have an opportunity to succeed.  Year after year, we are recognized for our high-quality, dedicated staff and challenging academic programs. As a result, our student enrollment is growing. Worthington is one of the top ten growing school district in the state of Ohio. That’s not a fact you would expect from a suburban school district that is landlocked.

Since our last operating levy in 2012, some residents may be surprised to learn that our student population has increased by 877 students. In addition, according to facilities experts DeJong-Richter, moderate projections are showing that we could possibly add another 800 students over the next five years.

I believe many families are choosing Worthington because of our excellent schools and the quality of life in this community. Home sales are bringing in younger families with children, we are seeing an increase in the number of multi-family housing units and there is significant reinvestment in our community. It’s great to be a part of a vibrant community.

This growth in our enrollment will be a challenge to the District.  Nearly 20 years ago, Worthington had about the same enrollment as today. However, back then, we did not offer all-day kindergarten, nor did we have as many students with special education needs as we now have. These services take considerably more classroom space than what was allocated for such programs two decades ago.  

In addition, programs now housed in the Perry building (Rockbridge Academy, Phoenix Middle School and Worthington Academy) have become important, sought after educational options for students across our community.

We are working to manage this growth. The fact is, like a growing family, eventually we will have to change how we do some things.  Before any decision is made about the future of our schools, we will put together a Master Facility Plan with input from our residents.  The District is currently working with students, parents, community members and facilities experts to explore all options to determine the direction of facilities and enrollment planning for Worthington Schools.

As our district grows, so does our commitment to serving our students and families. To share ideas and hear feedback, we will hold our third Master Facility Planning community meeting at two locations on two different dates: March 14 at Thomas Worthington and March 15 at Worthington Kilbourne, both starting at 6:30 p.m. At this meeting, we will be presenting draft options and asking you for feedback on those proposed options.

I hope you will consider joining us and being a part of the conversation. We want to hear from you.

-Trent Bowers, Superintend




Online Learning, Blended Learning, and the Double Robot

robotWhen I completed my Shadow a Student challenge at McCord Middle School a few weeks ago one of my takeaways was that technology is omnipresent throughout the day.  Students used their smartphones to access information and practice skills and they often grabbed a Chromebook from the cart and use it to write, do research or even play a game.  What I didn’t see during my day at school was a physical textbook.  I assume our students have them, I know we purchase them, but on the day I was at McCord I never once laid eyes on one.

Technology is changing much of what we do in public education.  Our Worthington Academy program utilizes online learning.  Next year, 18 of our high school courses will be offered to students in a blended format.  In the blended format, a few days a week students will meet with the teacher for more traditional instruction, full class discussions, and other learning activities.  On the other days, students will have the flexibility to take more personal responsibility for their learning by completing online assignments, engaging in digital conversations, and meeting individually or in small groups to push their learning forward.

Technology is not only changing how we work at school, it’s also allowing one of our elementary students to stay engaged with his class while he is at home.  At Worthington Estates Elementary, we have a young man named Jacob.  Jacob is facing many physical challenges and hasn’t been able to come to school much this year. The Director of Assistive Technology of Ohio, a statewide disability technology program in the College of Engineering at Ohio State, has allowed Jacob and Worthington Estates to utilize a Double Robot, a mobile “tele-presence” device.

The device is basically a small Segway-type robot with an iPad on it that Jacob controls from home through an app on his iPad. He is able to use both iPads to watch, listen and participate in classroom discussions. If need be, through the app, he is also able to maneuver the robot throughout the school to take part in activities taking place outside the classroom. While Jacob cannot attend school physically, by way of the robot and technology, he is able to stay connected to his learning and possibly more importantly, to his classmates.  How cool is that!

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent


Shadow a Student 2017

ellaLast week I participated in the Shadow a Student Challenge designed by the School Retool Network.  A year ago I spent the day at Thomas Worthington High School shadowing Quinn Mottice.  This year I  chose to participate again and I spent Wednesday, February 1st at McCord Middle School shadowing 8th grade student Ella Brown.

The goal of the Shadow a Student Challenge is for administrators to gain a better perspective on the student experience.  When Dr. Neil Gupta joined our administrative team a year ago he brought a very student centered focus to our team and I appreciate that he pushed me and other administrators to invest the time to experience what school is like for our students.

In thinking about my day at McCord I came away with several thoughts.  The first thing that jumped off the page is that we have great kids at McCord.  I was impressed throughout the day as students were comfortable conversing with me, they seemed to enjoy the company of one another, and they spoke highly of their teachers and the school itself.  The kids take genuine pride in being a McCord Wolf.  In my own experience as a student at McCord in 1986 I don’t remember the enthusiasm for school that our students today expressed.  

The second thing that I experienced is that academic rigor is real.  We began our day in Nikki Meyer’s Integrated Math One course working on frequency and statistics.  Second period took us to Spanish One and we were immersed in the spanish language throughout the period.  In the first two periods of the day I experienced high school level coursework, but I also experienced learning that was authentic and experiential.  In math, students were working in teams on their statistics and in spanish they were competing using a smartphone program called Quizlet.  They worked on spanish while the program randomly reassigned them into small teams for quick competitions.  Three times Mrs. Scott, the teacher, said that this would be the last problem and three times the students said, “Just one more…” and eventually we ran out of time in the class.  I am proud of our teachers at McCord.  They are teaching at a very high level in ways that our students enjoy and that also help them learn to apply the content they are encountering while building the critical soft skills of collaboration and communication.  In education today we know that while we need our students to learn at very high levels, what they know is less important than what they can do with what they know.  Districtwide we’re attempting to shift to more authentic project based learning and assessment so that students are engaged in meaningful tasks.  I witnessed positive examples of this throughout my day at McCord.

The third thing that struck me is that while the learning was engaging and rarely were students seated for significant periods of time, we need to find ways to create classrooms where furniture is more conducive to today’s learning.  The traditional student desks and chairs are functional and durable but they’re not places where anyone wants to spend significant amounts of time.  We have elementary classrooms moving to more flexible seating and we have some high school classrooms with multiple stand-up desks but as we look toward future purchases furniture is an area that could significantly improve the student experience.  choir

Finally, I learned a lesson that we all know, but sometimes forget.  The kids will always outsmart us as adults.  I spent some time with a student at McCord who has a fitbit and the family rule is that the student has to walk a set number of steps each day before he/she can watch Netflix.  As a parent I thought this was brilliant.  It’s a constant battle in our house to keep our kids active and not watching too much Netflix.  But our students always find a way to outsmart us.  In this case I witnessed the student passing the fitbit around to different friends all day long.  By the end of the day a cadre of friends had walked the requisite number of steps and the student was free to watch Netflix when he/she got home.  I love kids!

Thanks to Ella and the students and staff at McCord for making my day a great day.  If you ever have a chance to spend a day in our schools I’d encourage you to take advantage of it.  I believe you’ll walk away encouraged both by what is happening in our schools and by the kids who will be the future of our community.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

You can see more about the day on my twitter feed @tbowers3 #shadowastudent