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


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

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:

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent

Opportunity Knocks pt.4 – Update

ColonialHillsWalkSometimes opportunity knocks and something unexpected comes up that you feel needs to be pursued.  In Worthington Schools, we’re in that position right now with a 13.7-acre piece of property that would be an ideal site on which to build a new Colonial Hills Elementary School.   The property sits off 161 on the east side of the school district and has commonly been known for years as The Harding Property. Currently, the land is owned by the I Am Boundless company.   

The Boundless family of companies has nearly 40 years of expertise providing person-centered care to children, adults, and families with intellectual and developmental disabilities and/or behavioral health challenges.  They have several tracts of land on their property that they are looking to sell and in their words “partner” with a provider. Last spring Boundless issued a RFP for their property.

On March 15th, Worthington Schools responded to the I Am Boundless RFP and Director of Business Services Jeff Eble met twice with their team to discuss the 13.7-acre site on the SE section of their property at the end of Indianola Avenue.

On July 8th, I  again met with Boundless regarding our proposal.  We discussed our timeline for potentially building a new Colonial Hills elementary in Phase 2 of our Master Facilities Plan and the potential for Worthington Schools to purchase the land and lease it back to I Am Boundless until we are ready to move forward.

On August 5th, I was informed by I Am Boundless that they have selected Worthington Schools as a partner for their property.  On August 7th, I sent out three blog posts to the Worthington community to explain the opportunity to partner with Boundless. On August 16th, all Worthington Schools’ parents received email communication about this opportunity and were invited to a community meeting to be held at the Worthington Education Center on September 3rd.  Postcards were delivered to residents around the Boundless property and the current school to invite them to the meeting.  

On September 3rd, Worthington Schools updated the community on this opportunity to partner with Boundless and answered community questions.  The meeting can be viewed at:  Community members submitted feedback in writing at the meeting or via email after the meeting.  All feedback we received is attached to this update.  

Those who provided feedback seem to believe this is an excellent opportunity that Worthington Schools should pursue.  But, with that said, there seems to be a general unease with the potential change of locations for Colonial Hills and there is uncertainty around what will happen with the current school site should a new Colonial Hills be built.

As Superintendent, I believe that entering negotiations to purchase the land is the responsible decision at this point in time.  If we let the opportunity pass we limit the options of future decision-makers. We can work with the community over time to flush out the details of how the land will be used or not used.

Boundless is seeking to create a partnership between several partners on that land.  This would be a very unique arrangement and will make coming to an agreement in negotiations more complicated than if it was a straight purchase of the land.  Our expectation is that negotiations between the parties may take some time.

On September 23rd, the Worthington Board of Education voted unanimously to provide the Superintendent and Treasurer authority to begin negotiations with I Am Boundless.  Before any deal is final details will be presented to the Board of Education and the Board will need to vote in public session to accept a deal.  If negotiations are successful I would expect this to happen sometime in the next 12 months.  There will be significant public notice before any vote occurs.  This is but one step forward on a long journey but we’ve decided to move forward with this opportunity.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent

Lessons learned on the trail..

HD1This month I had the opportunity to travel from Worthington to California with two college friends with a goal of hiking to the top of Half Dome. 

The trail to Half Dome from Yosemite Valley is a hike covering around 18.5 miles. Hikers gain 4,800 feet of elevation along the trail that passes highlights such as Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall, before reaching the cables on Half Dome’s steep granite domes. Steel cables and wooden planks are placed along the dome to assist hikers to the summit in the summer months. The cables are removed every October and replaced in late May.

Permits to hike to the top of Half Dome are required seven days per week and reservations are distributed via a lottery system. A maximum of 300 hikers are allowed on the Half Dome cables per day.  We had begun planning our trip last November and in January we applied for the permit lottery. Each of us applied with five different dates and of our 15 options, one was selected. We had our day.

Thus, we flew across the country.  Drove from the coast through the central valley to HD2Yosemite.  We slept in the Curry Village tents. Put our food outside the tents in bear boxes so that bears wouldn’t find our tents as attractive options.  Our hike began around 4:45 A.M. and by 10:00 A.M. we were standing on the top of Half Dome. Our total hike took us 10 hours and 30 minutes and my watch told me we walked 50,525 steps.  We climbed past waterfalls, encountered a bear and her cubs, safely navigated the cables, dealt with sore feet and had an amazing adventure. Along the way, I think I learned a few things.

The first thing I learned is simply that it pays to prepare.  I knew that climbing 4,800 feet of elevation was going to challenge me.  For weeks I would come to the WEC on the weekend or in the evening to walk in the stairwells. I’d hit 100 or 150 floors of steps on my iPhone and call it a workout.  All of the climbing stairs didn’t make the 9 miles of hiking uphill easy, but it did allow me to enjoy the process more than I would have if I hadn’t put the work in on the stairs.  I think this is true in all of life. When we prepare, we’re more confident and more ready to take on what comes at us. Sometimes we prepare for things that don’t actually happen, but even then the preparation is usually worth it.

The second thing this trip reinforced is that worrying about things that may not happen can result in losing some of the joy.  I was very concerned about our permit. The ranger would check the permit before we could actually climb the dome and after all of our time, travel, and work, I didn’t want this to be an issue.  So, I made copies and each of us carried a copy of the permit. In addition, I went on Amazon and bought a laminator and I laminated my permit copy so water wouldn’t cause an issue. Finally, I downloaded a digital copy of my permit to my phone as a back-up.  All of this worry about the permit and when we got to the base of the Half Dome…no ranger. No one to check our three copies, one laminated, and one downloaded. We climbed on without ever showing our permit.

Likewise, after successfully navigating the cables and getting to the top of Half Dome we sat down to have lunch.  We’re sitting in this amazingly beautiful location, on top of California, looking down at the Yosemite Valley and El Capitan in the distance, and I’m worried about safely getting down the steep and slippery cables.  It was hard to enjoy the view knowing we still had to get down. In the end, getting down was easy. I wasted my enjoyment at the top worrying about something that I thought would be hard but really wasn’t.

The third thing I learned on this trip was simple.  We have to seize the day and be thankful. Maybe at 46 I’m going through a midlife crisis, but I realize more than ever before that life is precious and every day is a gift.  When you get a day like my friends and I did, you have to be thankful. I have a profound sense of gratitude that we had the opportunity we had.

I hiked Half Dome and it reminded me to prepare, not to worry, and to be thankful for what we have.  I’ll carry those thoughts forward in Worthington Schools throughout the 2019-2020 school year.

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent



But, I didn’t hit send?

phoneAs part of our overall plan to increase the safety for our students and staff in our schools we installed telephones in every classroom.  This seems like a small thing but most of our schools did not have phones in the classroom and several of our schools have almost no cell phone service inside the school building.  Therefore, with phones in the classroom, if an emergency occurs teachers or students can readily call 911 and response time should be decreased and no one needs to run to the office.  Thus, this summer our phone system throughout the school district was replaced.

Early into this school year we had a young student at the elementary school call 911 from one of the phones.  The phone was there, it was new, and 911 was a number the student knew. There was no emergency and the student knew that you never called 911 unless there was an emergency, but when questioned about the call the young student said, “I dialed 911 but I never hit send!”  

In the world this young student has grown up in a phone call doesn’t go through unless you hit send.  He didn’t realize that in these “old school” cable digital phones by just dialing 911 the call went through to emergency services.  This was an honest mistake. He didn’t hit send! How was he to understand the call would go through?

Obviously this made me reflect a bit.  How many of our students do things that seem to make perfect sense to them in the world our kids inhabit but seem totally foreign to those of us who grew-up with a phone in the kitchen and who remember when it was a big deal to get a cordless phone and an answering machine with a cassette tape?  How often do we just misunderstand one another’s intentions because we come from different generations, we think a little differently, and we have different life experiences?

For most phone calls today you need to hit send.  I hadn’t really stopped to consider that before but it’s obviously true.  In light of this it would be positive for all of us to stop and consider that the actions that we are sometimes quick to see as misguided may simply be the result of having had different experiences than we ourselves have had.  Different doesn’t make them wrong.

  • Trent Bowers, Superintendent

Gratitude can be transformational

GratefulHow long could you last if you had $100 and were sent to a city where you knew no one?

For me, it would be one night, maybe two, if I could find a cheap hotel near a free food source.

So, the premise is a little outlandish. In fact, it’s probably a show I wouldn’t watch, except for the fact that it’s taking place in Erie, Pennsylvania, my childhood home. 

The show is called Undercover Billionaire. It chronicles an experiment where Glenn Stearns, a self-made billionaire, attempts to build a brand-new million-dollar business in 90 days. He is so confident, he brings his own camera crew to Erie. The viewers get to follow his path, his struggles, and his innovative ways to make quick cash.

His ideas, as well as his assessment of Erie and its residents, are fascinating. On the money side, he literally sifts through trash and abandoned warehouses to find materials to resell—and he finds them. He finds a struggling business trying to unload old cars, cleans them up, and patiently waits for the appropriate price. Stearns also does his research on the people of Erie. With locals’ help, he designs a business to create an experience they will like and from which they can all profit. Mostly, his positive attitude, outlook, and drive to succeed are refreshing and fun to watch.

Like all reality TV, the show is a little contrived. He never gets hassled when sleeping overnight in his truck. Small business owners and well-connected people seem to magically appear as needed. Used-car buyers willing to pay top dollar arrive just when all appears lost. But the fundamentals of Stearns’ drive, his infectious positive attitude, and his willingness to listen and adjust without complaining, are really impressive.

I think we, as humans, have a tendency to get really comfortable in our surroundings. When that inevitably happens, we take a lot for granted. We may even complain about some of the things that initially attracted us to our home, place of employment, or town where we live. For example, people complain that Erie is small and old with a faded industrial base. Stearns saw something else. He was attracted to an economy that was new, innovative, and redeveloping. He was excited about the myriad of inexpensive opportunities. He loved the hardworking and unassuming people.

How many things in our school district, our child’s school, or even our child’s classrooms are we overlooking or discounting simply because we’re familiar with them? How many “problems” in our world might others see as tremendous opportunities? 

Worthington is a great community. We sometimes seem wired to focus only on the areas for improvement and forget what drew us here in the first place. As a school district, we must strive to improve daily. Let’s not forget to balance that desire to improve with an appreciation for what we have. Gratitude can be transformational.

  • Pete Scully, Principal Thomas Worthington High School