No Words…

EricIt’s been an incredibly difficult last two weeks in Worthington.  I don’t think it’s productive spending time asking why bad things happen, but even with that said, I’ve spent a lot of time asking that very question.  Why?

On May 26th, just two days after school let out Bluffsview Kindergarten student, the son of a Worthington Kilbourne High School teacher, Jude Kraft, tragically drowned while swimming at the Worthington Hills Country Club.

Now, just yesterday (6/11) around 2:30 P.M. Thomas Worthington Junior Eric Clark went missing while swimming with basketball teammates off the coast of Fripp Island, South Carolina.  The search for Eric will continue today.

I have no words.  No words will adequately express the sorrow we feel for the Kraft and the Clark families.  I have no words that can make either of these events any easier and no words that will help our community understand these tragedies.  

I don’t know if Worthington has faced any more tragedy than any other community.  I do know that if feels like that is the case right now.  

Our crisis team is led by Worthington Kilbourne High School counselor Brianna Abbott.  She would tell us that, It is normal to feel lost and sad at times like this, but because this pain doesn’t feel comfortable or good it is also normal to wish that there was a “quick fix” that could take it all away.  And unfortunately that doesn’t exist.

So what do we do with all these feelings?  You feel them.  Express them in safe and healthy ways, find trusted people to talk to, to ask questions of, to seek support and encouragement from and to allow yourself the chance to truly feel whatever it is that you are going through.  It is ok if you don’t feel anything.  Shock and numbness are natural.  It is ok if you are sad and cry.  And yes, it is ok to laugh and find joy too.  All of your feelings – happy and sad – are important and it is of the utmost importance to honor them.  Try to be patient with yourself if you have lots of different emotions.  Try to identify what it is you are feeling and why that feeling might be presenting itself for you. And if you are struggling with the intensity of your feelings, please seek help and support.

So what do we do?  We do what Worthington always does.  We come together to support our neighbors and our classmates.  If there is one strength of this community it’s just that.  We’re one community committed to loving our kids and supporting one another.  This summer we need everyone to do just that.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
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“Let’s review your flashcards…”

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I don’t typically take the time to read the comics in the newspaper but the best comics often tell a story and their messages can be poignant.  So it was with this Sally Forth comic where the essential message from the student was, “I’ll remember you because you invested your time in me.  I noticed.  Thank You!”

We’re transitioning to summer mode in Worthington and as such my daughter began her summer math tutoring last Thursday.  My daughter needs to keep using mathematical practices and we didn’t want her to experience a “summer slide.”  As a family, my wife and I decided it would be best if our daughter was tutored by someone outside of our home.  Even though my wife is a teacher by trade and has taught middle school math, we felt like attempting to get our daughter to do the necessary work with us was going to be nearly impossible.  Like many kids, she just doesn’t want to do what mom and dad want her to do.  So, we went out and found the best possible math tutor who would certainly have more influence with our child than we as parents do.

The cool thing is, for at least week one, it worked.  On Thursday our daughter woke up and said, “I have math today!”  Now, when I say, “let’s review your flashcards” she usually says, “um…I’m watching Netflix or, I need to go workout…”  But, in this case, our daughter woke up excited to go to math tutoring.  Why?

I don’t believe math has anything to do with my daughter’s excitement.  I believe she’s excited because she’s going to work with a teacher that she knows cares about her.  A teacher that will talk with her about gymnastics and a teacher who, despite being close in age with her parents, is simply way cooler than her mom and dad.

Sally Forth has it right.  My daughter is excited to go to her math tutor because the teacher involved has invested in her life and because of that investment I believe my daughter is excited to spend time with her.  That’s worth paying for.  (That and less fighting over math flashcards and Netflix time in our house.)

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
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Master Facilities Planning Q&A

Next Community meetingAfter a year- long process of gathering feedback from the community and through multiple meetings with a community-led task force, we are asking all members of our community to attend another meeting to provide us further feedback (5/31 TWHS Auditorium, 6:30 P.M.) Thank you to the hundreds of community members that provided their feedback during our previous meetings in September, December and March.  You have helped shape this plan.

We are currently putting the final touches on several options that will be presented to the Board of Education sometime later this summer.  This was originally set for March 22nd and then June 12th.  At this point getting it done correctly is more important than meeting an arbitrary date and thus we believe it will likely be after June 12th, but will communicate the selected date out to the community as widely as possible.   As a Board of Education Member recently shared, “The entire Facilities Project is starting to take on the aura of the old Rubiks Cube – where you get one or two sides exactly the way you want them only to find that another side is completely out of whack.”  There are no easy answers for Worthington in this process.

As we get ready for  our community meeting tomorrow night I want to share some of the most frequent questions I am asked about this process.

Why do we need a Master Facilities Plan?

The two main reasons are 1) our growing student enrollment and 2) the condition of our aging school buildings.

After years of declining enrollment, Worthington is actually growing?

It may be hard to believe in a “landlocked” school district, but we are seeing a dramatic increase in our student enrollment – 877 more students since 2012 and an additional 800 projected in the next 5 years. Worthington is currently in the top ten in student enrollment growth in the entire state of Ohio. Our buildings are nearing or at capacity – currently there is only one empty classroom in the entire district!

This is an urgent situation that has caused the district to implement short-term solutions such as, having Evening Street’s sixth grade students attend Kilbourne Middle School and the placement of temporary classroom trailers at Colonial Hills Elementary School and Worthington Hills Elementary School. We see these as temporary solutions to a real challenge that is not going away in the future. It’s important that we come up with a responsible plan that creates stability in our school buildings and is flexible enough to accommodate changes in enrollment.

Didn’t you maintain the buildings properly?

Despite the ongoing work of our maintenance staff, many of our school buildings are near or past their lifespan. With some buildings well past the half-century mark, the infrastructure inside the walls – plumbing, heating and cooling, roofing, and electrical systems are breaking down and inefficient. This is much like what we all experience in our homes when our own roofs, furnaces and windows start to age.

The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission analyzed each and every school building in our district and identified 7 of our 19 school buildings in need of replacement. That means when the cost of renovating a school building exceeds two-thirds of the cost of replacing the building, OFCC recommends that the district replace the building.

What about redistricting?

Due to our enrollment challenges, there is no way to avoid some level of redistricting. The question really becomes, how much is necessary?  In some areas our current facilities simply will not and currently cannot fit all students.

In addition, we have a growing imbalance in our high school enrollment where Thomas Worthington is at and beyond capacity and Worthington Kilbourne is well below the amount of students it can serve. That could potentially impact programming and opportunities at both schools.

Who is responsible for developing the plan?

Mainly, our community members. The district is working with construction and facilities experts, but we are mostly relying on the work of our 50- member, community-led Facilities Task Force to come up with a plan. The task force is putting in some long hours trying to solve the trifecta of puzzles (enrollment growth, aging facilities, high school balance) in a manner that is cost efficient yet educationally sound.  We have also hosted three community-wide meetings, conducted multiple online questionnaires, and a telephone survey to gather feedback from all residents.

Haven’t you already decided what you want to do?

No. The work of the Master Facilities Plan is being guided by the feedback of our community and the work of the citizen-led Facilities Task Force.

What are the solutions the Task Force is considering now?

There are many ways for the community to address these challenges and some of the possible options include:

  • Building and replacing schools to update old infrastructures and accommodate growth.
  • Changing elementary grade configurations by moving all six graders to middle school.
  • Balancing enrollment at our high schools to offer equitable programs and extracurricular offerings for both schools.
  • Consolidating all alternative programs – Linworth High School, Phoenix Middle School and Worthington Academy -to one centralized campus.

What if we did nothing?

The reality is there is no “zero cost” option. Doing nothing means the district will have to invest in costly, short-term fixes such as temporary trailers at many of our schools and year-to-year decisions for school building enrollment. We are also spending more dollars patching and repairing our aging schools which could impact the dollars we spend in the classroom.

As a community Worthington is thriving.  Houses are selling and young families are moving in.  That is causing significant enrollment growth.  That growth is a good thing but it also necessitates change. We’re attempting to work to create change that is beneficial to the current students of Worthington Schools and also puts Worthington in a strong position for years to come.

I hope to see you tomorrow night!

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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Jennifer Wene

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Commencement for the class of 2017 was awesome yesterday!  With that in the books, we’ve hit the last week of the 2016-2017 school year.  It’s an exciting time but also a sad one.  Today marks the final three school days before the retirement of our Chief Academic Officer Jennifer Wene.  Jennifer is finishing her 43rd year in education and her 33rd year in Worthington.

On July 9, 1984, Jennifer Wene was hired to serve as Special Education Director in Worthington to replace Tom Buckingham.  Her salary was $35,131 for 260 days.  Jennifer served in this capacity until 1991, when she accepted the position as the Slate Hill Principal where she helped open that school, build a positive culture as well as life-long friends, and stayed until asked to move to our central office in 2003. In 2003, Jennifer accepted the Director of Elementary/Secondary Education position which morphed into the Director of Academic Achievement and Professional Development position.  In 2015, I asked Jennifer to become our Chief Academic Officer.   

Jennifer has been with the district through a tremendous growth spurt, with its challenges, then a tremendous financial crisis, with its challenges, and worked with 10 different superintendents, along with those challenges.

As Chief Academic Officer, Jennifer has been instrumental in aligning our new structure and in setting direction for our school district.  Jennifer has a work ethic that is unmatched and if it was in her area you always knew it would be completed and completed well.  

In talking with Jennifer about what she looks back on in education she said this, “people have no idea the level of genuine caring and dedication and sacrifice that goes on every day on behalf of kids and families.  Teaching content is important but not nearly as important as ensuring that all kids come to school and are safe, cared for and enabled to believe in their ability to succeed.  Can’t measure that on a test unfortunately so it is often the untold story.”  That sounds like the Jennifer I know.

On a personal level, she has been my counsel and I will forever be in her debt.

Jennifer is a difference maker and she spent the majority of her career making her difference in Worthington.  I hope she is able to look back on her career with fondness knowing that her through her efforts she has impacted  many thousands of kids in Worthington and she has touched the lives of her colleagues.  From my perspective Jennifer’s career has indeed been worth it!

Thanks Jennifer!  

(The picture above is Jennifer with her team.  Her team always mattered to Jennifer.  In case you don’t know Jennifer she is front row, middle, white shirt.  Looks like she’s 38!)

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You can get there from here!

chloeOn Sunday we’ll hold our official commencement exercises for the Worthington Schools class of 2017.  Over the past several weeks we’ve held several senior recognitions and it’s always amazing to see our students grow and mature.  Each student has a unique story and all have bright futures!

In Worthington we say that “you can get there from here!” And you can.  We have students who will go off to academic powerhouses such as Yale, Duke, Cal. Berkeley and The U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  Many of our students will attend the honors program at Ohio State and several of our students will attend my alma mater, Taylor University (It’s my blog and thus my shameless Taylor U plug.  Trojan Pride!).  

In addition to these traditional options, one of our students has already been accepted to medical school and will attend a joint Youngstown State and Northeast Ohio Medical University program where she will graduate with her MD in just six years.  Several other students will attend Columbus State, work at Honda of America and eventually earn their engineering degree from Miami University all debt free while drawing a significant salary.  A few of our students chose to forgo their graduation ceremony and are already in boot camp serving our country.  The options are endless for our students today.

Friday night I was able to attend the recognition ceremony for our students at Worthington Academy.  Worthington Academy is a school designed for students who struggle with traditional school.  Never have I been so proud of a group of students and proud to play a small part in a school district that values and supports different than I was on that night.  (Make sure you check out the video above.) I was amazed by our student performances and heartened to see that even though high school was difficult for many of these students, they see a future ahead of them and a path to lifelong success.

Today there is no one size fits all.  Our high schools are designed with multiple pathways to fit student needs and interests.  Linworth Alternative and Worthington Academy provide significantly different options for kids.  But no matter what pathway a student chooses, you can get there from here! Worthington will help you find your path and you’ll be prepared to go out and change the world!

Congratulations to the class of 2017!  On Sunday we’ll welcome you to the club of the over 40,000 living alumni of Worthington Schools!  Go change the world!

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
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Our Teachers are Difference Makers

Cassady.pngThis week is Teacher Appreciation week.  In honor of our amazing teachers throughout Worthington Schools, Worthington Kilbourne High School senior Cassady Watson wrote today’s blog in honor of a teacher who has made a positive difference in her life.

“As a senior who has been in Worthington since kindergarten, I have had many educators influence my life. Looking back on my 13 years in Worthington, I have seen these educators show what it means to “be kind to kids”. The teachers I have had exemplify the passion, purpose, and patience shown of someone who goes above and beyond.

One teacher that has done this for me is Meladee Hopkins. Hopkins is a science teacher at Worthington Kilbourne High School and also coaches both the boys and girls volleyball teams. I first met Hopkins through volleyball as I prepared to try out for the high school team. I ended up making the team but at the time, had no idea how much this would change my life.

Sophomore year began like normal with volleyball, school, and my friends keeping me busy. Not too long into the school year, things started to get out of hand. I was being targeted by a boy in my grade who would take time each day telling me very mean and terrible things that no one should ever hear. I tried my best to push it off and pretend it didn’t matter. I was scared to get others involved and thought that, like everything, I could handle this on my own. After six weeks of this my friends knew and had had enough. They proceeded to tell Hopkins, and she was adamant on doing something. With the help of administration, she took care of the situation and the bullying stopped.

In the weeks after, Hopkins continued to check in on me and showed me how much she cared. Prior to this, Hopkins kept and continues to keep her room open throughout the day to allow students of all grades to have a safe and comfortable place to work, eat lunch, and hang out. My friends and I continued to spend our time in here, and she continued to look out for not just me – but everyone else in there.  Many of the kids in her room don’t have her as a teacher but have made her room a safe place. She takes time to check in on each student and always seems to know when you need someone to talk to or just want to be left alone.

In addition to opening up her classroom, Hopkins continues to go above and beyond for her students and players. From college visits, to loaning lunch money, to the endless supply of gum; she does it all. Hopkins will work endlessly to assure that each student feels wanted in and outside of the classroom  She works to make us feel welcomed and comfortable at school, something that is very much appreciated.

I cannot stress enough how thankful I am to have had her support along the way. She has helped me with many tough choices; including sports, scheduling, and my college decision. As graduation approaches, I have asked Hopkins to hand me my diploma. I am grateful for her support throughout high school but I know that it not ending. Hopkins continues to check in on students that have graduated years ago, something that is much appreciated. Her support and desire for students to succeed in high school and afterwards, truly shows what it means to “be kind to kids.”

I am blessed to not only have had Hopkins but many other great educators who have influenced my life along the way. I often forget to take a moment to thank these people for the role they have played in my journey. I encourage you to take some time to give gratitude to those who have been kind to you this Teacher Appreciation Week.”

  • Cassady Watson, WKHS Senior
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Why?

budgetAs a school district we are actively engaged in the legislative process as the State of Ohio works to create the state budget.  In Ohio the Governor creates a prospective budget and that blueprint is then sent to the Ohio House for their revisions.  Eventually, the Ohio Senate gets their opportunity and if this year is like most budget cycles a conference committee will bring all three parties together to create a final budget.

In Governor Kasich’s budget proposal Worthington Schools was set to lose $1,819,640 dollars that were projected to be sent to Worthington to educate our students.  The house budget was slightly better with Worthington’s loss only being $1,622,259.  Worthington is only one of two districts in Franklin County that are slated to lose funding.  My question is why?

By the time this budget is enacted and we begin school for the 2017-2018 school year in August, Worthington Schools will have added 850 – 1,000 new students since 2012.  The Columbus Dispatch recently reported that Worthington was one of the top ten districts in the State of Ohio for enrollment growth.  In addition, because in the Ohio School funding model we are a “capped” school district which means we are not receiving any new dollars for those 850 – 1,000 additional students.  Instead, as you can see, both the Governor’s proposal and the House’s proposal actually takes needed dollars away from Worthington Schools.

Creating a budget for a diverse State such as Ohio is incredibly complicated.  Revenues for the State are certainly not where the State would like them to be and thus I don’t envy the tough choices that legislators have to make.  I also understand that policy decisions such as removing the tangible personal property tax from businesses affected districts differently and that policy decision has had a greater effect on Worthington than most surrounding districts.

The underlying philosophical question is still why?  Why is a district that is one of the top ten districts in Ohio for enrollment growth and is also capped from receiving new money when students move into our schools also slated to be one of only 2 districts in Franklin County to lose funding from the State?  

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent
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