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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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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