Exponential Impact…

Stories from Worthington Schools

Spring Break 2014

unnamedI’m back in the office this morning but I spent most of this week (spring break in Worthington) in Ft. Myers, Florida.  15 years ago my parents purchased a condo in Ft. Myers and they now split their time between Ft. Myers and Columbus. Four years ago my sister and nephew moved to Ft. Myers and thus the trip was one to spend time with family. (The weather was nice too!)

My sister is my opposite.  It’s unlikely that two family members could be so different.  She is currently the art teacher at Colonial Elementary in Lee County Schools.  (I can’t draw my hand.). She is creative, spontaneous, and adventurous.  I am linear, steady and conservative.  We have great parents.  Somehow we came from the same home.

One of the joys of this trip was getting to see my sister,  the art teacher, in action.  On our first evening in Ft. Myers she ran an art fair in conjunction with her school’s parent teacher conferences.  After meeting with the home room teacher, parents and students moved to the cafeteria where there was face painting, sand art, a photo booth, painting, popcorn, cookies and punch.  (Volunteers were necessary and thus along with school staff I took the photos.). On this evening I watched a couple of hundred students and their families benefit from my sister’s creativity and passion.  On our final evening in Ft. Myers we went to an art exhibit hosted by the Alliance For the Arts.  The art teachers in Lee County all chose 10 – 15 pieces of art and each school displayed their work.  The parking lot and surrounding areas were full of families with smiles on their faces coming to see the student work.

As a school administrator and as a big brother it’s really neat to see my sister making a positive difference in the lives of kids.  Next year she’ll likely be at a different school because her current school, which serves a student population that is over 90% free or reduced lunch, is being reconstituted.  Reconstitution is a reform option under No Child Left Behind for when a school consistently fails to meet improvement targets.  The theory of action is that by moving out the current teachers and bringing in new teachers the school will see more success.photo (54)

From my perspective, and from the research I found, this is a flawed strategy and rarely works without other significant systemic changes. The strategy assumes that the new teachers will be somehow more committed, more talented, more something…  I personally don’t think we can or should put system failures on the backs of teachers, but that is our simplistic answer to many things in education today. (I’m not objective here….  It’s my sister.)

So, where she’ll teach next year I’m not certain.  After watching her this week I am certain that wherever she is she’ll use art to help students learn and grow, to build creativity and problem solving, and to put smiles on the faces of families.

The Spelling Bee

LW-BeeLogo-e1357182352258Last Wednesday night was the annual Leadership Worthington Spelling Bee hosted at Worthington Kilbourne High School.  In my position with Worthington Schools I was asked by several different groups to participate on a spelling bee team.  I take those invitations as a great compliment.  Obviously, to at least a few people I have hidden the truth well.  The truth is, I can’t spell at all and the thought of participating in a spelling bee creates a visceral physical reaction.

As a child I remember the class spelling bee well.  We would all line-up around the classroom and were asked by the teacher to spell a word in front of the class.  Those students who spelled the word correctly stayed standing, those of us who misspelled our words would return to our seats.  As a student who was diagnosed with a learning disability at least in part for lacking any understanding of phonics and word creation this was my personal hell.  I remember praying that the word I was given would be posted somewhere else in the classroom and I could just read it off the wall.  Or at the very least, maybe the word would be hard enough that it wasn’t a total embarrassment in front of my classmates that I couldn’t spell the word.  Most years I was out quick and the fear and embarrassment was short lived. (Short lived, but long remembered.  Many things that happen in our youth are remembered forever.  As teachers we have to be cognizant of this truth and plan our activities carefully to not cause unintended consequences.)

When I was in college (pre-internet and “spell check”) I lived with my blue Webster’s dictionary on my desk.  In graduate school at Ohio State my beautiful wife, who can spell everything, became my personal spell check.  Today, “spell check” catches most of my mistakes, but I sometimes have to choose a different word because I am so far off in my original spelling that “spell check” has no suggestions.  It’s so bad that when I write a hand-written note I usually first type it on the computer and “spell check” it before I copy the words onto the note.

All of this to say, I can’t spell and I envy those that can.  That said, disregarding my personal spelling shortfalls, the voluntary community spelling bee is a really great event.  Worthington students competed at 5:00 P.M. with the team from McCord Middle School prevailing.  The adult competition is always intense and this year was no different.  Teams collaborate and work together and a grand competition ensues.  It’s good for everyone who chooses to come together to participate.  I’ll support the spelling bee every year.  You’ll just never see me compete in the spelling bee.

Expressing Gratitude

photoIn early November I was checking my Twitter feed and came across a post from Brad Rieger (@BradRieger on Twitter) the Superintendent of Sylvania Schools in Toledo.  In his twitter post Brad told the story of a local hospital executive who had provided each of his board members with a copy of John Kralik’s book, “A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life.”  I’d never heard of the book, but using the very handy and sometimes dangerous “one touch ordering” from Amazon.com, I had a copy of the book on my IPad in less than a minute (one touch ordering is a post in and of itself.  It’s possibly the greatest and/or worst technological innovation of all time.)

Kralik’s book was first published with the title: “365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life.”  It’s a simple book written as a first person account of a southern California lawyer who has hit middle age and is down on his luck.  He sets out on an ambitious plan to write one thank you note each day for a year and in so doing begins to transform his thinking as he notices and acknowledges the generosity of others both large and small.

I read the book in just a few quick hours and it struck a nerve.  I purchased multiple copies of the book and gave them to people I care about and to whom I thought could also benefit.  I then decided that I too would become intentional about showing gratitude and about hand-writing notes.  With digital communication such as texting, email, and this blog, I hadn’t written too many actual cards and notes in the last few years and I decided that if I was really going to connect with others as I desire to do, I needed to take the time out of my schedule to do so.  I haven’t set any specific targets on how many notes I may write, but I am clearly very blessed and I work surrounded by others striving to make a difference.  Thus, I’ve written a lot of notes over the past four months.

My goal is for this pattern to continue.  It’s important that I take time and thank others for the work they do.  I believe this to be important both personally and professionally.  It’s important both for the person receiving the acknowledgment, and also for me.   When I write a note I also benefit.  It helps me focus on what is good and what matters most.

The author Jon Gordon wrote “One Word That Will Change Your Life.”  My one word for 2014 is connect.  Randy Banks challenged all of Worthington new teachers in August to commit, connect and contribute.  I’m focusing on connect this year and I’m hoping my hand-written notes further that goal.  If you’ve received one of my notes, you’ll now understand a little of the why.  Pass it on. Take the time to write a note to someone you’re thankful for.  If you haven’t yet received a note, I hope you will soon. Connect.

(One final note: in the book Kralik kept a spreadsheet of everyone he wrote notes to.  I thought this was overkill and thus chose not to keep a record.  Bad mistake on my part.  Some of you have probably received several notes from me, because I have no memory of who I wrote one to last month, in January, etc.  I’m just writing them anytime the urge strikes. Obviously I don’t think it hurts to thank a person multiple times, but…in case you think I’m note stalking you…it’s unintentional, I’m just thankful for you.)

The Note

photoLast night was a Monday evening and thus we had a Worthington Board of Education meeting.  In order to allow for as much public participation as possible our Board of Education meetings do not begin until 7:30 P.M.  Because of this, every other Monday is a fairly late night and last night I arrived home at 11:15 P.M.  My family was all in bed.

photoWhen I entered our kitchen there was a note waiting for me from my nine-year old daughter.  It was folded in a way that only a 3rd grade girl could fold and it had a simple “To: Dad” on the front.  I looked at the note and smiled and imagined that the contents would say something like “Dad, sorry you had to work late tonight.  Miss you, Love, your favorite daughter.”  As you may imagine that’s not what the note said.

Instead the note from my daughter was her attempt to provide constructive feedback on her school experience.  The note simply said, “Mrs. _____ is a mean substitute” and then because she is a third grade girl there were hearts, a star, and a peace sign drawn on the note.  (I guess the peace sign was a hint that, “dad, I’d rather not have this substitute again, but don’t take this too far.”  Maybe I’m reading into things.)

In Worthington we contract with the Educational Service Center Central Ohio for our substitute teachers.  Most school districts in Central Ohio now use this approach and for the most part it is a win/win.  Substitutes can sign up in one location and have access to work in any consortium school district and we get a larger pool of substitute teachers who may choose to work in our schools.

Substitute teaching is very difficult.  You are asked to go into a school that you don’t know well, work with students you likely don’t know at all, and teach material that you may or may not have had time to prepare ahead of time.  Furthermore, each school and classroom has different expectations for rules, procedures, etc.  It takes a special person to do this job well.

Having a substitute is also difficult for students.  As humans we are creatures of habit and our students come to understand the classroom environment with the regular classroom teacher.  With a new adult in the room everything changes.  Sometimes subtly, sometimes significantly.

With that in mind, my own children rarely come home with positive things to say about their substitute teacher.  When I press them for specifics it’s usually that the substitute did things differently than the teacher my children have come to love and they just don’t like the difference.

If you see a substitute teacher, thank them for what they do to help children.  It’s a tough, tough job.  If you’re a classroom teacher and see a substitute in your school, please make an effort to say hello, to welcome them, and help them throughout the day.  I’ll probably save this note, but certainly I won’t act on it.

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words….

photoThey say a picture is worth a thousand words.  This picture was priceless for me.  Please let me explain.

Pictured above is Worthington Kilbourne Junior Varsity Basketball Coach, Colt Cunningham and current Worthington Kilbourne High School sophomore Drew George.  Back on November 7th, Drew was diagnosed with an extremely rare and acute case of leukemia.  I wrote about Drew and how you may be able to help here.

On Friday night Drew was in attendance for the basketball games between WKHS and New Albany.  All spectators in attendance wore orange in support of Drew.  What struck me, both in person, and in this picture, is the genuine connection between Colt and Drew.  To me that is what being a Worthington educator is all about.

In our business we spend many hours analyzing new curriculum, deconstructing the standards, creating assessments, managing class size and student case loads, striving to create energy efficiencies, and looking to reduce the taxpayer effort for our schools.  We have multiple meetings about “Pump” tracks at Granby, and we submit STEM grants to the State of Ohio. Lately we spend hours debating when school should be in session during winter weather.  All of those things are important.  But really, it’s all just noise to what matters most!

Over the last few weeks a group of administrators at our Worthington Education Center have been striving to define the professional Worthington teacher.  What does that person do regularly as a part of practice that needs to be imbedded in our culture as we continue to turn over our teaching force?  Our list is long.  Maybe it should be short and maybe it’s really simple.

Did you connect with your students and are you making a long-term positive difference in your student’s life?

25 some odd years ago I was a student and an athlete at Worthington High School.  Scott Gordon and Tim Cave were coaches of mine who taught me life skills that I think about every single day of my life.  They made that connection.  Almost 15 years ago I was the football coach and dean of students at McCord Middle School when Colt Cunningham was a student.  I can’t claim to have had any influence in Colt’s development, but in my mind, maybe, just maybe, I was able to play a small part in Colt’s desire to become a Worthington teacher.  In 2014 it’s Colt that’s passing on that connection and making a difference for kids.  He’s one of many such educators doing this throughout Worthington.

As a “Both / And” school district we expect a lot of our educators.  We expect all of our students to achieve at high levels and to grow at least one year.  We expect communication and collaboration with students, families and colleagues.  We expect that our teachers connect with students outside of school and build meaningful relationships.  We expect these things because they have been going on in Worthington for many years and they are passed on from one generation of Worthington teacher to another.  I’m lucky to have been a small part of that chain and I’m blessed to be able to see teachers like Colt pass it on.

The picture says it all!

Commit, Connect Contribute

Inside Recess Again….

untitledWe’re deep into this season called winter.  So deep that when we actually do have school it seems that inside recess for elementary students is a given.  It’s that inside recess that caused the problem…

Early Friday afternoon I received a text message from my wife.  I was eating lunch with colleagues from the Worthington Education Center as we were engaged in an important all-day planning and strategy meeting.  The text said simply “The school called and they think our daughter may have broken her arm.  I’m going to take her to Children’s.”

My first thought was stink!  My second thought was, well at least it’s only an arm.  My third thought was, they must have been outside for recess.  (Friday was fairly warm for January in Ohio and although there were patches of ice, students may or may not have been able to be outside.)  Even in my official position with the schools I was having thoughts about whether the students really should have been outside for recess.  These thoughts tend to run through a parent’s mind when you’re taking your child to the emergency room whether or not they are valid.  I think it’s just natural.

When I arrived at the emergency room to meet my wife and daughter, my daughter looked pretty rough.  She had been doing some serious crying and was not willing to move her arm.  In looking at the arm I understood why the school thought she should be checked out.  There was a large bump by her wrist and it was starting to swell.

Gently I tried to piece together what happened.  Were you outside for recess?  Did that boy push you again?  No and no.  It turns out they were indeed inside for recess.  (Our amazing school principal used excellent judgment as always :))  My daughter was engaged in an intense game of Nerf basketball, lost her balance going for the ball and fell backwards.  In falling backwards she landed on the arm.  No one pushed her, no one even touched her.  She just lost her balance.

After a fairly short wait we were able to have her arm X-rayed.  Funny thing, in talking with the doctor after reading the X-ray her arm was not broken.  It would be bruised but fine.  However, the X-ray did show that the thumb she fell on while ice skating two weeks ago was broken.  Hmmm….

My fifth grade daughter looked right at me and said, “Dad, I told you it hurt, you told me just to move it around and to quit crying!”  Well, I may or may not have said something like that.  The thumb was only purple for a few days and she played both soccer and lacrosse with it.  But, apparently it was broken.

So, I probably won’t win any parent of the year awards for 2014.  My daughter decided both her thumb and arm were healthy enough to play floor hockey this morning, so we think she’s good to go.  If only the students could go outside for recess….

(BTW:  Our school handled the situation really well.  We appreciate the office staff who took good care of our daughter, communicated with us throughout the process, and checked up on her this weekend.  It’s really good to be able to send your children to people who care about them and that you trust!  I hope everyone in Worthington has this same experience…not the broken bones part, or the bad parenting part, I mean the experience with the school.)

Finally, most of my blogging will be on our Absolute Excellence site.  Please check it out and subscribe if you have not yet moved over.

Blog Changes

change-simon-wordle-24Over the past two years I have used this site to post over two-hundred different blogs that relate in some way to my role with Worthington Schools.  Sometimes the blogs were designed to provide insight into our decision-making or to explain a change that was happening within the district.  Other times the blogs highlighted people or activities within our school district.  Occasionally they were about my own struggles as a parent and a district administrator.

When I began the blog it was intended to provide a window into our organization.  My intent was to communicate informally and honestly and to help you better understand or relate to the day-to-day goings on in the district.  The blog has afforded me the opportunity to connect with staff members and community members on a regular basis.  When it’s worked best the blog has created two-way communication and has served as a conduit to create face-to-face communication in our schools and in our neighborhoods.

By most measures we feel like this medium for communication has been successful.  So much so, that we think it’s best to move our blogging to a new site and to expand its reach.  Beginning today I, and others, will be blogging at our new site “Absolute Excellence“.  You will be able to reach this site by simply clicking on “Absolute Excellence” or by going to the front page of the Worthington Schools Website and clicking on “Worthington Blog

Our hope for the new site will be to communicate with our stakeholders in informative but informal ways.  We believe that if you read this blog regularly you will learn things about the school district that you did not know. You’ll gain insight into how and why decisions are made, and you’ll hear about the school district from the perspective of administrators, educators, parents and community members…sometimes all at the same time.

If you currently subscribe to this blog via email please subscribe to “Absolute Excellence”  (You will see a little+ in the lower right hand side of your screen.  If you click on that you will be able to enter your email to subscribe.  Please do and please share the site with your friends!)

My plan moving forward will be to primarily blog on the new site.  I will keep this site live to serve as a repository and may still post from time to time things that are more personal related (but still related to Worthington Schools).

Thanks for taking the time to read some of what I’ve written these last few years.  I hope you’ll continue this journey with us at the new site.

Oh the Weather Outside….

pauldouglas_1388252475_12.28.13 Wind Chill OutlookWorthington City Schools is closed today, Friday January 3rd, 2014 due to extremely cold temperatures.  At 8:15 A.M. as I type this The Weather Channel tells me that it is -14 degrees with wind chill.  Anytime the wind chill is projected to reach -10 degrees we begin to have concerns about the potential length of time our students will be waiting at the bus stop or the time it will take to walk to school.

Our Executive Director of Administrative Services and our Superintendent use The National Weather Service Wind Chill Index to guide the decision making process along with information from our Director of Transportation regarding the conditions of  side and neighborhood roads across the school district.  On very cold days with potentially icy roads it’s possible buses will run up to 30 minutes late.  If they do, we must ask ourselves if we are comfortable with our students outside.  Thus, -10 degrees with wind chill is a loose line we follow.  If we lived in a more Northern climate where these temperatures were the norm, the decision point would probably be different. However in Columbus, Ohio these low temperatures are not normal.  It has been several years since Worthington had to close for extremely cold temperatures.

While this doesn’t happen often, it may happen again next Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.  The current weather forecast shows that we may have more extremely cold temperatures early next week.  This may not actually happen as even Worthington’s own Chris Bradley is wrong once in a blue moon, but parents may want to begin to have back-up plans just in case.

And, the timing could not be worse.  Our calendar has students off on Monday, January 13th so that teachers can complete report cards for the first semester.  The following Monday, January 20th is the holiday for MLK Jr .  Thus there is potential that school will be on a disruptive schedule for January.

As a school district we want to be in school.  The idea of a snow day is fun for everyone.  One.  After that they begin to grind on parents as students are cooped up and childcare is an issue.  They begin to grind on teachers because plans are disrupted, students do better with routine, and the need for learning is urgent.  Ultimately everyone wants to be in school.

As an administrative team we work to make the best decision with the information that is available.  Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we may miss.  Our goal is always to do what’s best for kids.  Let’s hope for a warm-up next week and some consistent time in school!

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 22,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Thanks David!

photoMonday (12/16/2013) was David Bressman’s final board of education meeting as President, and as a member, of the Worthington Board of Education.  After pushing to have a contested election because he felt it was best for Worthington, David lost a very close vote to challenger Sam Shim.  After 12 years of service David’s tenure is over.

By my estimate Monday evening was David’s 288th regular board of education meeting.  I estimate that he probably attended an additional 60 special board of education meetings, and at least another 300 events representing the board of education.  My estimates are probably low for each number.  Furthermore, my estimates do not include the literally thousands of hours that David has spent in conversations with constituents, fellow board of education members, teachers, administrators, etc… and the equal amount of time he would have spent responding to email.

Additionally, being a board of education member is about being a servant to the community.  The job is very difficult.  It is time-consuming.  It is full of difficult conflict.  It is ripe for criticism. And, it doesn’t really pay anything.  A board of education member does the job because they want to make a difference, and as David steps off the board of education he should be able to sleep soundly knowing he made a difference.

Over the past 12 years David has approved the hiring of literally hundreds of Worthington teachers.  He’s also approved the lay-offs of more than a few.  He’s been part of creating a new alternative middle school and part of closing a traditional middle school.  He has hired several district treasurers and several superintendent’s.  He’s guided Worthington through a very difficult decade of change and leaves with the district in excellent financial and academic shape.

David’s legacy will be that of a champion for kids and teachers.  He believed strongly in the need to improve the culture and climate at each and every school.  He supported the idea of a safe and drug free coordinator and he supported any, and all, anti-bullying efforts.  He believed strongly that instruction was best provided by the Worthington teacher.  He was a staunch advocate for community engagement before decision-making, and he was never afraid to ask difficult or challenging questions.  David would always express his thoughts, but he was also willing to compromise and put his personal feelings aside when he felt it was best for Worthington.

12 years of selfless service is a long, long time.  As a private attorney 12 years of meetings represents an incredible amount of billable hours that David forfeited in order to work towards making a difference.  Public schools are led by elected school boards.  We need good people in those seats.  David is one of those “good” ones!

To David Bressman we say “Thank You!”

(On a personal level David approved my hire as the Coordinator of Human Resources in 2008 which allowed me to return to work in Worthington.  A few years later he again approved my hire as the Assistant Superintendent.  For that I say “Thank You!”  I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunities that I have been granted.)

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