“Who’s got it better than us?”

Tree (1)First a disclaimer:  I’m a life-long Buckeye fan.  My dad has a degree from Ohio State, I have a degree from Ohio State, my wife has a degree from Ohio State.  Growing up in Worthington I may have learned the Ohio State fight song before the National Anthem. We’re Buckeyes.  Now with that said….

 “Who’s got it better than us?”  Current Michigan football coach, Jim Harbaugh, often reminds his team that they’re really lucky in life.  Jim had heard that phrase throughout his childhood from his parents.  Certainly Michigan would like to win more football games.  I’m sure they would like an easier class schedule. I’m sure that sometimes things are hard, fans make things personal, and egregious things happen.  But ultimately, things are really good if you’re a Division 1 football player in the Big Ten playing at Michigan and thus, “Who’s got it better than us?”

As the leaves change in Worthington and the crisp fall weather arrives, that phrase has echoed in my thoughts.  “Who’s got it better than us?” No-body! We’re blessed in Worthington Schools. We have a supportive community, teachers that are dedicated, talented and committed to making a positive difference in the lives of kids.  It’s easy to look around and believe that someone else has it better than we do. Certainly things can be difficult in public education day-to-day, but Worthington Schools has 1,300 staff members striving to empower a community of learners who will change the world.  We’ve got 10,700 amazing students and a community of 62,000 residents who volunteer and support our district. We’re really lucky in Worthington!

 Who’s got it better than us?  No-body!

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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Worthingway & The James

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My aunt has been in the hospital at The James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State for the past several weeks.  Thus, for the past few weeks, I have attempted to go see her in the hospital every few days. The James is a remarkable place for many different reasons but every time I’m there I’m impressed by just how pleasant the experience is.  From the moment you walk into the hospital you are struck by the abundance of natural light and the thoughtful design that helps you transition from one space to another. In addition, the hospital room is well thought out and built for modern conveniences.  It’s still a hospital but the experience of being there is much more pleasant than the old hospitals of my youth.

As we begin to break ground on our middle school projects at Worthingway and Perry/Phoenix, I can’t help but be excited for a similar future for our schools.  The schools we’ve designed have abundant natural light with modern teaching and learning in mind. They’re still schools which are part of a child’s compulsory attendance but I believe the experience of learning in our new spaces will be more pleasant than our current schools, which for some of us are the schools of our youth. 

Do we need new hospital buildings in order to help people recover from illness? I don’t know the answer to that. The building space is probably not the most important factor.  It’s likely that having a pleasant experience may aid in recovery but is only one of many factors. School buildings are probably similar. Our current buildings are fine. They’re getting the job done.  But fine isn’t the standard we should aim for. Generations of students will benefit from investments in new spaces just like my family is benefiting from the investments Ohio State has put into The James Cancer Hospital.

Unfortunately, new spaces are not cheap in 2019.  Today’s construction costs are more than we predicted back in 2016. We do believe the investments we make in our new spaces will be worth the increased costs.

No one wants to spend time at The James.  But if you have to do so, they’ve made it very pleasant.  Likewise, in the fall of 2021 I hope you walk into our middle schools and think, “Wow, this is a space I’d like to spend time in.”  

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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City, Schools & Pools

PoolsWhen I was growing up, my friends and I would ride our bikes from my house on Hard Rd down Linworth Rd to Wilson Bridge.  From there we would carry our bikes over the guard-rail on Wilson Bridge, ride down a dirt path where we would intersect with the Olentangy Trail.  We would ride south on the trail to the Worthington Pool. When we got to the pool we’d stash our bikes and climb the fence on the west side of the pool property at the bottom of the hill. I don’t remember ever paying to get in.  Thirty-five years later I realize the pools could have used that admissions money (…and it was wrong to sneak into the pool. We should have paid because it is the right thing to do. I’ve been paying a family membership for 5 people for the past decade attempting to pay a penance.)

The Worthington Pools facility opened in 1954.  It is run by a non-profit group called Swiminc and is not a traditional “city” pool that receives tax revenue from the City of Worthington.  The pool sits on school district land which we lease to Swiminc at essentially no cost. The parking lot for the pool is the shared parking lot for Thomas Worthington High School students and athletic events.  In 1976, with donations from members and individuals purchasing community bonds, the natatorium was built and turned over to Swiminc to run. The district currently pays $125,000 annually to Swiminc so that our water polo, swim and dive teams can use the facility.  Under the terms of our new agreement, we also may pay an additional $75,000 each year for operating costs of the facility. Of the hours that were used in the natatorium last year, the school district use accounted for only 20% of the usage. (We do have the prime hours before and after school.)  The rest of the usage was Worthington Swim Club, WAVE swim team, adult lap swimming, etc….

Like many things throughout Worthington, the pool is nearing the end of its useful life.  The natatorium pool had a life expectancy of 30 years. We’re going on 43 years. The outdoor pools are potentially in worse condition.  An inspection shows that the North Pool is losing roughly 3,000 gallons of water per day and may be beyond repair. The Middle Pool and and South Pool are in better condition but don’t meet current standards.  The locker room facilities and concessions were built with 1950’s standards.  

The question on the table is where do we go from here?  If Worthington is going to have a community pool, where will the funds come from to support it?  What role should the City of Worthington play and what role should the school district play? Monday evening we held a joint meeting of the Worthington Board of Education and the City Council from the City of Worthington.  The future of the pools was only one issue we discussed but it was the major issue on the table.  

Worthington City Manager Matt Greeson and I have been meeting with members of Swiminc and we have created a menu of options that we believe should be considered:

  1. Option 1 is a limited investment option of one million dollars from the State of Ohio capital budget plus whatever else Swiminc can contribute.  This would primarily improve the mechanicals at the pool and would not require resources from the city or schools.  
  2. Option 2 is a four to five million dollar investment in the outdoor facilities primarily funded by grants and loans from the City of Worthington, private funds raised by Swiminc and the one million dollar investment from the State of Ohio.  This option significantly improves the outdoor pools for the next 30 years but would not provide some of the amenities that some other communities provide. It leaves the school district to determine how to best work with the natatorium.  
  3. Option 3 is the creation of a joint recreation district that would have taxing authority throughout the Worthington School District boundaries.  If this were done, the joint recreation district would create a plan for indoor and outdoor pools and then present it to the community for tax approval via a bond issue.

For Worthington Schools these are difficult decisions.  We have a long history of successful swimming, diving and water polo teams.  These programs have benefited multiple generations of our students. The natatorium has become a community asset and is used by students and families from all corners of our school district.  However, a natatorium likely costs somewhere between 12 – 20 million dollars, depending on what is built. That’s a similar cost to building a new elementary school. As we look at Phase 2 and Phase 3 of our Master Facilities Plan, our goals of adding the necessary capacity for our student growth and updating our aging facilities continue to be our focus.  We’ll need to come back to our community for future planned bond issues in 2022 and likely 2026 – just to fund those identified needs. Where does a natatorium fit in? What would it replace in those plans? 

The question has to be asked, what if we choose not to fund a natatorium?  In Central Ohio, Upper Arlington and New Albany Schools have their own natatorium.  Many districts run swim programs at local community centers or YMCA’s. In Worthington, the community center was built intentionally not to compete with Swiminc and thus that facility is not an option for our swim, dive and water polo teams.  We could rent space at a local facility for swimming. It would require students to leave our community to swim. It also would likely require practice times late into the evening. Swimming would run much like ice hockey does. Finding adequate times and facilities to support water polo may be extremely difficult.

The idea of not having a natatorium in the future is bleak but there are lots of other needs. We have multiple schools built in the 50’s and 60’s that are over capacity and don’t meet today’s standards.  We have a field house at TWHS that needs replaced. We have stadium bleachers at WKHS that don’t meet today’s ADA standards. We have a maintenance facility behind Evening Street that is on it’s last leg, etc…  This is not a new story. The needs of a large aging public school district are endless and every generation has to make tough choices about where to put the available resources.

I’m not certain how Worthington Schools will proceed.  This communication is designed to put it on your radar and to begin to solicit feedback.  We’ve committed to holding a public meeting with the City of Worthington to get community feedback.  Look for a date and time for that meeting to come out in the next few weeks. In addition, we’ll be attempting to survey our larger school district community on their priorities and will present that data publicly after we have it and before we proceed in any one direction.

I enjoyed Worthington Pools as a kid.  My children have benefited from Worthington Pools in this community.  How to fund the pools going forward is a real question and where they fall on our priority list is as well.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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Atomic Habits

GregThis week marks the end of our first grading period for students in grades 7-12.  Hopefully your student’s grades are reflective of the positive habits that they have built.  I recently read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. As someone who is fascinated by human behavior and a sucker for self-improvement books, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was particularly interested in reading this book because I found myself stuck in a rut of setting lofty goals and then not following through on them. 

A primary example was the summer of smoothies. In an effort to have a healthy diet, I decided I would have a smoothie for breakfast every day for a whole summer (drinking veggies had to be better than eating them, right?). I bought a blender and diligently made smoothies for an entire week. I haven’t used the blender since. 

Atomic Habits helped me understand why I kept coming up short when trying to create a new habit. One of my biggest takeaways from the book was the quote: 

“You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.” 

Without clear systems in place, you end up with a blender in your cabinet collecting dust. 

As we settle into the school year, it’s worth revisiting our goals from the beginning of the year. Do you have a system in place to help your child achieve their goal? If not, how can you help them make the goal a part of their daily or weekly routine? 

  • Greg Garris, Principal Kilbourne Middle School
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Teach Us Your Name

51r+ILzJbEL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_Like much of Central Ohio, Worthington Schools has become increasingly more ethnically diverse over the past ten years.  This shift has added a rich mix of cultures to our community while at the same time exponentially increasing the different names of our students. 

In Worthington, we’re committed to our core value expressed as “Be Kind to Kids.”  Very simply, if we’re going to live this value out in our schools, we owe it to our students to learn their names and how to pronounce them correctly.  This simple act shows respect and value to each of our students.  

Huda Essa is the author of the book Teach Us Your Name She says, 

“As a classroom teacher eager to change the world, I was always looking for ways to build a sense of belonging, confidence, and love in my classroom.  I didn’t realize that the opportunity was literally handed to me in one seemingly simple document: my class roster.

I realized I had the power through my list of students’ names to foster learning and respect for cultural diversity – and to prevent my students from going through the same embarrassment and confusion I did with my own name.

I wanted my classroom to feel like home, so I asked students to teach me to say their names correctly, the way their families did.  Because names come from various languages, it’s not always easy to pronounce every sound correctly, but students saw that I cared enough to make the effort.  Although I had difficulties with some language sounds, my students learned to articulate them with ease. In learning to understand and say their friends’ names, students practiced the language skills that support fluency in other languages.  

Rather than view unfamiliar names as something to be mocked or judged, we can use them as an opportunity to be respectfully curious.  When we share the story of our names and invite our students to do the same, we learn something new, build relationships, and connect across cultures.  Learning a name is a simple and powerful way to change the world for the good.”

We’re working on learning how to correctly pronounce the names of all of our students in our schools.  If you work with students in our community as a coach, club advisor, parent volunteer, etc…we encourage you to attempt to do the same.  #ItsWorthIt

Check out Huda’s TED Talk.  It’s worth 15 minutes of your time:  https://youtu.be/TuGL9_Isfyg

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
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