Many Small Great Things

unnamed (5)Every school year is an adventure.  It’s full of twists and turns and no two years present the same challenges.  Even with that in mind, in a million years, I couldn’t have predicted in Week 32 of this school year we’d all be working from home, attempting to educate 10,600 students who were also at home and with no end in sight to this arrangement.  Crazy times! I hope you’re hanging in there.  

In Worthington we began remote learning last week.  As I looked around the school district, I saw one small great thing happen after another.  We had so many teachers, principals and support staff finding creative ways to reach out and connect with students.  I personally started each day watching the KMS morning announcements on YouTube. We had several music collaborations put together by band and general music teachers that were really special to see and hear.  We had physical education teachers on video providing instruction in how students can stay active at home. We had Worthington Hills teacher Greg Ross attempt to break the internet with his rap music and several young teachers singing and dancing on video that made my family smile.  We had a two principal parade and class meeting after class meeting where students could connect, laugh and engage with peers on Zoom. I’ve never been prouder of our staff than I was last week in the way they worked to engage students. We’re not where we will be with our remote learning as this is all new for us.  But, our Worthington team is making the best of a difficult situation. So many small great things!

As you know our schools have been greatly impacted by the response to the global COVID-19 pandemic and have already transitioned in many ways to accommodate the directives from Governor Mike DeWine and his team. 

Last Friday we received additional guidance – by the governor’s signing of House Bill 197 – on other areas affecting our students of which you should be aware.

  • All K-12 standardized testing and state report card requirements are waived for this school year. 
  • Our local schools were granted the authority to graduate any student who is on track to graduate. This permits schools to grant a diploma to any student that the school district has determined is on track to graduate. We will continue to communicate with our senior students and their parents. Our guidance counselors are available to answer any questions about whether your student is currently on track to graduate. 
  • All districts are permitted to continue providing students with lunch.Worthington Schools Food Service is providing breakfast/lunch pick up at three locations on weekdays. Families can pick up meals between 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the following locations: Thomas Worthington High School, Worthington Kilbourne High School, Slate Hill Elementary.
  • Our local governments – including our school board – may now opt to hold remote/virtual meetings but the public must still have access. While we have the option, we may also meet in person. Regardless, we will notify the public (as always) as to how we will proceed. 
  • Voting in the March 17, 2020 election was extended to April 28, 2020. Voting will occur by mail only. To obtain a vote by mail application, you can call our county board of election office at 614.525.3100 and have one sent to you or you can visit their website and print an application https://vote.franklincountyohio.gov/ 

Finally, I know these times are tough. They are tough in many ways. We see that. We have families with loved ones on the front lines taking care of those who are sick. We have families with lost income. Changes are happening so quickly and with such a big impact. While we cannot take that hardship away, we can support each other throughout all of this. Know that we are here to support you and your child. 

We heard this afternoon from Governor DeWine that Ohio schools will remain closed until at least May 1st.  We will do our best to keep you informed and to work through the changes as they come our way. The most up-to-date information can always be found on our website at www.worthington.k12.oh.us

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

 

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Extended Closure: End of Week Two

unnamed (4)A few years ago I was part of a year long class with 30 Ohio Superintendents put on by the Center for Creative Leadership.  In one of our sessions, we took personality tests and then without names the results were posted on the wall. From left to right went the most introverted in our class of 30 to the most extroverted.  When the instructor placed the results on the wall one result was far to the left of all the others. I thought to myself, “that person is in trouble.” Of course, when the instructor revealed the results, that person was me.

Naturally, I am an introvert (I’m also a Gen Xer) and thus I joke that I’ve been training for social distancing my whole life.  Even with my natural tendencies, the last two weeks have been very strange. Ms. Adrean, our Chief Academic Officer, captured my thoughts last week when she wrote, “I keep saying to myself and others, “This seems so surreal.”  And then I remember, no, it’s real! And although our present reality comes with uncertainty, we will overcome many obstacles by coming together (virtually, of course!) and supporting each other – for our students, our families, and each other.”

We’re all living in surreal times but my hope is that at the end of week two of this closure you are doing well. My hope is that you, your children, and your family are healthy. My hope is that you are able to focus on the most important things during this time, namely the well-being of your family and those you care most about. 

With that hope, also comes uncertainty and concern. All families in our community are being directly affected by the seismic shifts that have occurred over the past three weeks. There are parents that are not sure where their next paycheck is coming from. There are families that are grappling with caring for a medically fragile loved one and the potential risk that person is in. There are neighbors caring for first-responder children while trying to support their older children with remote learning. We are in the midst of an event that none of us have ever seen in our lifetimes. For me personally, many within our school community have shared their individual circumstance. They have shared their angst, fear, and the uncertainty this event has created in their lives. Even within that uncertainty, they have also shared their solidarity, hope, and faith in each other. 

If you have listened to Governor Mike DeWine’s daily press conferences over the last several weeks, every day he reinforces that we are in this together. I want to echo these sentiments. In Worthington Schools, we are here to support our students, families, and community during this extended closure and public health event. 

As we navigate this together, to ensure our educational mission, there are several services that we will continue to provide our students and families.  Over the course of the closure we will continue to provide food services, remote learning, mental health/well-being support, and technology support. We will provide regular updates as we have new information to allow families to plan and adjust. These services are needed to continue to support our students, families, and community. We want our families to know these structures are in place and will continue to be throughout this closure. 

Additionally, we know that we cannot plan for every individual circumstance. We will continue to be flexible and adaptable to meet individual needs as they arise. Our most important concern is the care, welfare, and well-being of our families. Please reach out to our district leadership, principals, school counselors, or teachers. We will do our best to meet your needs as soon as possible. 

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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Playgrounds, Turf, and Social Distancing

ET_dDmwWoAAnOuyIn Worthington Schools we’ve always attempted to be a good community partner by allowing our school facilities to be used by the community.  Thus our school playgrounds, tennis courts, running tracks and turf fields are open for community use whenever school activities are not utilizing the facilities.

When Governor DeWine issued the recent “Stay at Home” order he asked that all playgrounds be closed and that as people seek recreation they do so with appropriate social distancing.  In Worthington Schools we’re now attempting to be a good community partner by closing our facilities to the public.

All school playgrounds are closed.  The big-toys have been wrapped in caution tape and there is signage coming that will indicate that the playgrounds are closed.  In addition, we’ve begun removing basketball backboards because large groups of students and/or adults are gathering to play together on the courts and our facilities are being used in ways that don’t respect social distancing.

For the same reasons we locked the fencing surrounding our running tracks and turf fields.  While we would have chosen to leave the tracks open, large groups have been gathering on the turf fields and in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 we can’t allow our facilities to be used in this way. (Please be forewarned, many adults and students have been jumping the locked six foot fence to still get into the turf.  The gates are locked and thus, this constitutes trespassing. We’ve had to ask the police to regularly patrol the area.)

When this is all over our facilities will go back to being open for community use.  In the meantime we’re working as a school district to respect the order from Governor DeWine and to help flatten the curve.  Please seek recreation in ways that respect social distancing and please refrain from using school playgrounds.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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Remote Learning

ETbdVzMXgAAiuDWIt’s said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  In Worthington, our transition from a brick and mortar school district to one helping 10,600 students learn remotely begins tomorrow.  Make no mistake, this is a massive transition! There’s no question that our students access resources online already. They practice and learn via computer-based programs, they read textbooks online, turn in assignments and documents via digital workflows, and communicate with teachers and peers via digital devices.  In the course of our normal school week technology plays a major role in every student’s life.

But with that said, we’re not an online learning institution. Our teachers are trained in helping the students who are physically in their classroom and our schools are designed to be places of interaction and working together.  Since Governor DeWine closed all schools, our teachers in Worthington have been working to design learning modules and lessons for students to complete while at home. They’ve been learning new tools, collaborating with one another, creating read-alouds, and attempting to determine how much work is enough and how much may be too much.  They’ve done all this without the ability to gather and learn together. I’ve been incredibly proud of our educators and the amount of work they have put in just to get to this point.

Last week was designated as downtime for our students.  We all needed it! Teachers will be reaching out to students and families via email by tomorrow to share the plans for their classroom.  Some teachers have already done so and some may be waiting to do so until tomorrow. We’re cognizant that families have undergone major transitions and are working to create a new normal at home.  Our teachers are doing the same. I’d ask that you’re patient with this new learning process for the next few weeks. This is likely going to be really difficult and every family experience will be different. In some cases, I would predict that remote learning is not going to go well right away.  In some cases, teachers may misjudge what students are capable of and assign more work than is possible. In other cases, it may be the opposite. Certainly, there is going to need to be a period of time where teachers determine what tools work best with their students and what doesn’t work as well as they thought it might.  We’re committed as a school district to get better at remote learning every week that we do it. But it’s not possible to make the transition we’ve made without many, many challenges. Students will likely experience frustrations and challenges. Teachers will too! As we progress along this journey together please communicate with your teacher about what’s working for you and what’s not working for you.

We’ve provided some guidance to our teachers and here’s what you can expect:

“Grades should be maintained at the current level and not be impacted negatively due to this school closure.  Please do not assign grades for new learning over this extended period in order to avoid penalizing students for circumstances beyond their control.  Keep in mind remote learning may be unstructured. Assignments should be supporting and reinforcing the teaching and learning that has already taken place in the classroom.  Please keep in mind that students have multiple courses and will be limited in their ability to receive supported and scaffolded instruction.  They also may have additional responsibilities at home. 

For the two week instructional period starting on March 24, a fair expectation for student time may be:

  • At the secondary level, a maximum of 30-45 minutes, 3 times a week per secondary course 
  • At the elementary level, in addition to  independent reading every day, work with reading/writing/math
    • an integrated* maximum of 30 minutes, 3 times a week for grades K-2    OR 
    • an integrated* 30-45 minutes, 3 times a week for grades 3-6
  • *By integrated, we do not mean 30-45 minutes per content area.  Rather, a self-contained or departmentalized teacher may create a reading assignment using a social studies text, etc.  Teams could coordinate this effort.”

We’re living in uncertain times.  It’s not clear how long our extended closure will last but we believe it will likely last longer than the April 6th return date we currently have.  During this closure, we’ll be working to support our students and families as best as we can. As we’re all learning and growing together there will be a great deal of trial and error. We’ll all need kind, constructive feedback if we’re going to improve.  As a school district, we want to help every child learn as much as we possibly can even though schools are closed. We’ve asked our teachers simply to do the best they can.  I’m confident that they will.

First and foremost, please be safe as a family.  Do the schoolwork that you can do. If it’s too much during this time just tell your child’s teacher.  Your health and safety are the number one priority.

Trent Bowers, Superintendent

 

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You don’t know what you got till it’s gone

CindThis winter I received lots of social media feedback from some young men at Worthington Kilbourne High School about the fact that we had not had any “snow days.”  These young men seemed to think that anytime the temperature dropped below forty degrees it may be cause for a day off school and they didn’t hesitate to share their thoughts with me.

I went to high school in the late 80’s and so I relate much of life to the lyrics from songs performed by the immortal hairbands of my era.  Even though we’re only a few days into our extended closure I can hear the screeching voices of Tom Keifer, Eric Brittingham, Jeff LaBar and Fred Coury, the members of the band Cinderella as they sing “Don’t know what you got till it’s gone…don’t know what you got till it’s gone, gone, gone…

I’ve talked with ten different Worthington kids over the past three days and all of them said the same thing, “I wish we were back in school.”  Many of them admitted that a week or two ago they thought they wanted to be off school but now that they actually can’t be back it stinks. They miss their friends, their sports, their teachers. They miss small things like sitting in the library and talking at their table while they try to sneak food when Mrs. Poleway isn’t looking.  They miss big things like their baseball games and their winter percussion. They miss being in school.

As an adult, I can relate.  By the end of last week I was emotionally and physically exhausted.  My calendar was jammed packed from morning until night and I was dreaming of a break.  All of a sudden my calendar is clear and I’m not sure what to do with myself. I’m already wishing for the action, the problems to solve, and the meetings to attend.

I believe we can relate most of life to an 80’s hairband song and today many of us can relate to Cinderella’s song. You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.  

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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“I’m here and I’d like to help!”

IMG_2242We began last week in public education joking about the fact that it was bound to be a crazy week.  We knew it was a week that included the change to daylight savings time, a full moon, and Friday the 13th.  As things ended up, it was a crazy week, but none of the things we worried about had anything to do with it.  (btw: as a public educator I’d swear that the phases of the moon have a real and significant effect on human behavior.  Just sayin….)

March 9th – 13th, 2020 will go down as the week that Ohio chose to listen to Dr. Amy Acton, and science, and put plans in motion for significant social distancing measures designed to slow the spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19.)  By the end of the week all Ohio schools would be closed for at least the next three weeks and will soon begin with remote learning opportunities for students.

I really can’t adequately describe the week.  While we understood it may be possible that we’d need to close at some point this spring, we certainly didn’t begin the week believing it was imminent.  On Tuesday evening I was responding to parent emails in Worthington telling them we would almost certainly still hold our annual pancake breakfast on Saturday that draws 3000 people.  On Wednesday I was meeting with school principals discussing the need to limit large group gatherings to no more than 250 people like the State of Washington had done. On Thursday morning I was working to secure Dr. Charlie Wilson a ticket to the Thomas Worthington Regional Semi-Final basketball game that evening.  But by Thursday afternoon we knew we were closed.   

We learned about the closure like the rest of Ohio by watching Governor DeWine’s press conference.  Immediately we had an issue. The dates were bad for Worthington in that our Spring Break was scheduled to begin April 6 right after the potential end of this closure.  If we kept our schedule intact kids in Worthington would miss a fourth week of school. If we changed our schedule it may impact many families with plans. Secondly, we needed to decide whether we should go to school on Monday or not.  The Governor’s closure was set for the end of day Monday. We had about an hour to seek guidance from our Board of Education and make these decisions because communication needed to go out to staff and community. We decided “No School” Monday and to cancel Spring Break.

(Here’s my Spring Break rationale since it’s certainly controversial: We will be closed for at least three weeks.  50/50 chance it could be more based on what we’re hearing. But, if schools are allowed to open after the third week, I believe that school is the safest place for students to be.  Our students are cared for and fed at school and they work with many trusted adults. Therefore, I determined that if I was going to error in one direction or the other, it would be on the side of our most vulnerable students and that getting kids back to their safe place of school as soon as possible whenever the Governor allows should be the priority.)

Before Friday morning we needed to have our remote learning guidance in the hands of all teachers and we needed to determine how we would handle work schedules for each employee category and each of our 1300 team members during the extended closure. It’s like a new door opened every day last week and each door that opened erased all of the work from the day before and started with an entirely new set of challenges. 

But here’s the cool part!  We announced our extended closure Thursday evening. Between that announcement and mid-day Friday, I was overwhelmed with people reaching out asking how they could help make sure kids have food over break. Many of our students and families rely upon our breakfast and lunch program for regular meals.  When I say overwhelmed, so many people reached out that it was taking me too much time to respond. I had to ask someone else in our office to take over that singular task. I’ve heard similar stories from superintendents all over the State of Ohio. Our communities recognized that this closure could be really challenging for many families and they reacted by offering to help.  They didn’t say, “How are you going to help?” They said, “I’m here and I’d like to help.”  

In the midst of the craziest week of my professional life, what I believe I’ll remember someday ages and ages hence, is that when people most needed one another our community cared for one another and actively sought out ways to help one another.

If I could share one message we’re all going to need over the next month I think that’s it.  Please care for your neighbor and seek out ways to help one another.  

Well, that, and please wash your hands.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

Here’s the info on our food program:

Starting Tuesday, March 17th, Worthington Schools Food Service will be providing breakfast/lunch pick up at three locations on weekdays. Anyone picking up the meals MUST HAVE THEIR CHILD WITH THEM! Families will be able to get a breakfast and lunch to go when they stop between 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the following locations:

Thomas Worthington High School,300 West Granville Road,Worthington, OH 43085

Worthington Kilbourne High School, 1499 Hard Road,Columbus, OH 43235

Slate Hill Elementary, 7625 Alta View Blvd, Columbus, OH 43085

We appreciate offers from community residents to help support the free meals program over this extended time away from school. There is a need for volunteers to help! You can learn more by emailing volunteers@worthingtonresourcepantry.org.

#ItsWorthIt #ForWorthington

 

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Leadership

IMG_2392In our politically polarized culture any post regarding a politician is heavily scrutinized.  In my worldview there isn’t a Republican, Democrat or Libertarian who captures the way I might think on every issue.  But this isn’t designed to be a post about politics. In my mind this is a post about leadership.

Mike DeWine is the Governor of Ohio.  He became Governor in 2019 but previously served as Ohio’s Attorney General and from 1995-2007 he represented Ohio in the U.S. Senate.  He’s also a father and grandfather and several of his grandchildren attend Worthington Schools.

A couple of years ago I sat down to watch a Worthingway Middle School student performance and realized that Mike DeWine was the guy sitting next to me. Last Spring Mike was at Thomas Worthington High School several nights in a row to watch his granddaughter perform in a musical.  He never called ahead and asked for special seating. He didn’t ask us to separate him from other people. He just showed up with his family and a giant camera around his neck so he could take pictures like everyone else. When the school year ended last May, Mike and his wife Fran were clapping out the Worthington Estates sixth graders like all of the other parents and grandparents.

I was so impressed by the way Mike took time to be a grandparent and how he did soVivien McClain Photography without looking for political fanfare that I sent him a note and a few Worthington stickers.  Essentially I said, “Thanks for being human and supporting our kids in Worthington.” It was that simple. Maybe three lines. A few weeks later in my mail was a note from the Governor.  It was handwritten on both sides of the card and included his cell phone number. I was like, “The Governor just gave me his cell phone number!” Immediately I put it into my cell phone contacts.  But I’ve never called the Governor. I’ve shown many friends that I have the number but I’d never actually used it. Until this week.

This week I sent Governor DeWine the following text message:  “Governor, I just wanted to say a sincere thank you for your courage and bold leadership.  Thank you for partnering with Dr. Amy Acton and for making the really hard decisions so that superintendents across Ohio didn’t have to make those decisions on their own.  Thank you for having Ohio lead the way and not waiting for other states to act. Most are following your lead. Thank You, Governor!”

Now, in full disclosure, I think he’s pretty busy right now so he didn’t respond to my text and I can’t claim that we are texting friends.  But I’m thankful that Governor Mike DeWine was our leader this week. I’ve watched him spend time with his family in Worthington Schools and take bold action to lead Ohio in a time of crisis.  This week he bore the weight of a decision so I didn’t have to. That’s leadership!

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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State of the Schools – Be Kind to Kids

IMG_2285We held our State of the Schools 2020 evening on February 26th at Worthington Kilbourne High School.  This is blog ten to share many of the important points that we discussed at the State of the Schools. If you’re interested in seeing the presentation it’s available in its entirety on YouTube here.  

In Worthington Schools, we’re a large (and growing larger) diverse school district that is committed to preparing students for college, career, and life.  We’re partnering with our community, and we’re investing in the future of our facilities.  

Our foundation is that we have 1,300 staff members and a community committed to the simple principle that we phrase as:  Be Kind to Kids.  

“Be Kind to Kids” is a simple but powerful statement that reminds us of what is at the core of our work.  We work in the kid business. As public school educators, our job is first to love our kids. We must always treat them with respect and do everything possible to help them grow.  It’s critical that we remember that they’re just kids. Whether they are 7 years old, 12 years old, or 17 years old… they’re kids. And as kids, they’ll act like kids. Sometimes because we spend so much time with them we lose perspective and we see them as “10 feet tall and invincible.”  It happens to all educators from time to time. In Worthington, we will recognize these moments and will take a step back. As adults, we will ask ourselves, “How can I make certain that all students are held to high expectations for learning and behavior; and are always treated with kindness and respect?”  

We are in the kid business, and we want to take care of our kids.  As a parent, I’m trusting the school district with the most important people in my life.  I’m sending the best I have. Love them. Believe in them. Hold them to high expectations and help them reach those high expectations, but do it all with kindness and love. 

Our goal in Worthington Schools is for every child in our school district to know that they have a trusted adult or many trusted adults that they know care about them and believe in them.  Every day we’re working tirelessly to help make that happen.

The state of our Worthington Schools is strong and growing stronger every day.  

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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State of the Schools – Master Facilities Plan

MFP1We held our State of the Schools 2020 evening on February 26th at Worthington Kilbourne High School.  This is blog nine to share many of the important points that we discussed at the State of the Schools. If you’re interested in seeing the presentation it’s available in its entirety on YouTube here.  

We’re progressing on schedule with Phase One of the district’s Master Facilities Plan.  Construction of our new middle schools at Perry and Worthingway has started.  We expect construction at Kilbourne and McCord to begin late this spring. By building new middle schools, we begin to deal with our aging school buildings and provide capacity for an additional 800 seats throughout the school district.  This capacity is critical as enrollment projections, completed this past fall, show that we can expect growth to continue in Worthington Schools for the next decade.

Over the past 12 months, a team of students, teachers, and administrators has been meeting to build a new 6-8th grade middle school master schedule.  This new schedule was presented to the Worthington Board of Education at the end of February.  

In addition, one of the goals of the Master Facilities Plan was to balance our high school enrollment.  A team of community members met last year and determined that moving Slate Hill’s attendance area from TWHS to WKHS would achieve the balance.  Likewise, that same team reconvened this fall to create new middle school feeder patterns for 2021 when we reopen Perry Middle School.  

We’re on track for the opening of 6-8th grade middle schools in the fall of 2021.  This April, we plan to host meetings at each elementary school to discuss the middle school schedule, transportation to middle school, school traditions that will stay in 5th grade or move to 6th grade in middle school, etc… and to answer any questions.  These meetings will take place 15 months before the actual change occurs so that we have time to make shifts based on the feedback we are provided.MFP2

Planning for the proposed Phase Two of the Master Facilities Plan is also underway as we begin looking into new academic wings for Thomas Worthington High School. Phase Two of the Master Facilities Plan could include this TWHS expansion, along with a new field house and baseball hitting facility in which funds were already donated to construct. We propose to come back to the community in 2022 with Phase Two of the plan and likely will be back on the ballot again around 2026 with Phase Three. Future maintenance and upgrades needed for the Worthington Pools’ natatorium that sits on TWHS property, and is used by our students, could also be considered for part of Phase Two or Phase Three.

By phasing the work, we are able to maintain our state-mandated debt limits and hopefully make the work more affordable for community membersIn addition, we expect to begin negotiations in late March for the potential purchase of 13.7 acres of the former Harding Hospital property for a potential new school site.  We’re still discussing options for how to partner with the City of Worthington to best plan for the future of the Worthington Schools site.

Worthington Schools is investing heavily in capital projects to better serve this generation of students while also planning for projects to serve the next several generations of students.  These are exciting times in Worthington!

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
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State of the Schools – Partnering with Our Community

ERoBLL9X0AMRdBFWe held our State of the Schools 2020 evening on February 26th at Worthington Kilbourne High School.  This is blog eight to share many of the important points that we discussed at the State of the Schools. If you’re interested in seeing the presentation it’s available in its entirety on YouTube here.  

In Worthington Schools, we endeavor to prepare our students for college, career, and life.  As a large community-funded organization, we’re only as good as the community which invests in our schools, both financially and (more importantly) with time and effort. We’re very lucky in Worthington to have the ongoing community support that we do.  As a school district, we work to be a good partner with the residents that support us.

The district partners with our Worthington Youth Booster organization and prioritizes our green space and gym space for use by children.  We invite both Partners for Citizenship and Character and the Circle of Grandparents to volunteer in our schools. We partner with Drug Safe Worthington for ongoing parent education classes and the Drug Safe Worthington speaker series.  We also work with Leadership Worthington and seek to grow their student mentorship program, and we seek to be a strong contributing partner with the Worthington Family Resource Center.

In all of our schools, we have dedicated parents volunteering thousands of hours on behalf of booster groups and school PTA’s.  Our families fundraise, fundraise and fundraise some more to support student programs. These lead to unique opportunities for students like the Granby Garden.

Worthington Schools is a community organization!

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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