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Stories from Worthington Schools

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The Spirit of Giving

photoI work here, but I can take no credit for many of the amazing things that happen in Worthington Schools every day.  Throughout the holiday season we see many incredible and selfless acts of kindness.  One such event happens annually with our students at Worthington Kilbourne High School and Linworth Alternative High School.

photo (1)During the months of October and November, families in need fill out an application at St. Michael’s Church in Worthington or at a Worthington elementary school. Applications are screened by school nurses and St. Michael’s representatives. The applications of families with young children who are living in the Worthington School District are forwarded to the WKHS student council advisors. The student council advisors divide the children across classes that meet during Worthington Kilbourne’s third period so that approximately 25 WKHS students are supporting one “adopted” child. A student council representative is then assigned to each third period class to lead the donation campaign among those students. A class competition ensues to see which class can attain the highest average donation per student. The goals are to raise between $100-$125 per child and an average donation of $5 per student in each class in 10 school days. Three years ago WKHS invited students of the Linworth Alternative Program to participate in this campaign and they have “adopted” two or three children each year since.

Family names of the children are never revealed and gifts are delivered by members of the Dublin-Worthington photo (2)Rotary Club so that confidentiality is maintained. This year WKHS and Linworth Alternative combined to serve 54 children in 18 families. Over the 22-year history of this annual community service project, the WKHS Student Council has raised $159,299.21 and served 1293 children in the Worthington School district.

In addition, our Worthington Kilbourne High School Principal, Ms. Angie Adrean received the following email last week.  Caution:  This is amazing, incredibly super cool, awesome, humbling, and it may make you cry….

“My name is __________ and during the holidays I help families in need get the Christmas they deserve! Early this month I was contacted by one of your students, __________, and he said he wanted to help. He told me “I want to donate my November pay check to help families in need.” Earlier today I met with him where he donated $4,000 dollars! Not only is that a huge donation but it is going to give 7 families the Christmas they deserve!
When he told me he wanted to donate his pay check I had no idea it would be that much! He said to me that he wanted to give back and the reason for that is because of a program you guys do called “Adopt a Child” I think that is amazing. You are making a difference on these kids lives and I am truly blessed that _______ called me and I thank you for that!!”

Without question if you are living in Worthington you have been blessed.  It’s important that our students understand how much has been provided to them and that they work to give back to others.  It’s great to see our high school students looking outside of themselves and giving back to the community.  Go Wolves!  Go Newts!

A Field Trip for Teachers

aerialOne of our goals in Worthington is to produce students who are College and Career Ready.  In an effort to make certain we understand exactly what colleges expect from our graduates Brian Geniusz, Worthington’s K-12 Science and Health Curriculum Leader, recently took some Worthington teachers on a field trip to meet with area colleges.  Brian wrote about this experience and captured several important take-away’s.  Here is what Brian wrote:

“After hours of work on the Worthington Science Curriculum rewriting Chemistry courses, the five high school Chemistry teachers began to reference their own experiences in college.  “It’s not like this in college!” one emphatically stated.  “Colleges expected students to be able to do this on their own.”

These types of statements prompted the question: When was the last time any of us were college freshmen taking chemistry?  The solution was simple, we will go to local universities and meet with college chemistry professors to better understand what it takes to be college ready for chemistry students – for both science and non-science majors.

downloadOur investigation took us to three campuses around Columbus.  We met with Dr. Bob Tatz and Dr. Robert Zellmer at Ohio State University, Dr. Dinty Musk at Ohio Dominican University, and Dr. Kim Lance at Ohio Wesleyan University.  All three of these college chemistry professors remarkably shared similar view points on the preparedness of their freshmen students which we have distilled down to these five items:

1)      Algebra – The single most emphasized skill which was lacking in the freshmen chemistry students regardless of the university was algebra skills.  Dr. Musk clearly stated that he could help anyone learn the chemistry but students which lacked the basic algebra skills were significantly behind to the point where their math deficiencies inhibited learning chemistry.  This same sentiment was echoed loudly at all of the universities we visited.  The professors even gave some algebra examples such as solving equations and isolating single variables, understanding and using base ten logarithms, as well as natural logs and variables in the exponent.

2)      Reading your textbook: College students are also expected to read their college textbooks and understand the content they are reading.  The professors all expected the students to be able to read the dense and complex text structure associated with the college textbook.  They also emphasized the homework assigned in these textbooks as crucial to better understand the content.  Although the homework does contribute a small impact upon the students’ final grade in the course, the knowledge gained by completing the assignments is far more influential in the student success.

3)      Double your time outside of class: This is a basic rule of college life which also applies to chemistry.  Student should double the amount of time spent in the lectures with quality study time on their own.  Dr. Tatz from OSU stated if a student attends three hours of lecture a week, they should at least spend six hours a week studying the textbook, and notes before attempting the homework assigned for the topics.  All of the universities offered additional help to students outside of the lectures, recitation and lab classes.  Ohio State University showed us a room staffed five days a week, eight hours a day, with five teaching assistants whose sole responsibility was to help students with chemistry questions.

4)      Understanding of the process:  Dr. Kim Lance from Ohio Wesleyan University brought together the algebra requirement as well as the ability to learn the processes as opposed to factual memorization.  Dr. Lance cited the use of “techniques” which are limited to only certain scenarios and do not provide an understanding of the processes of chemistry as an impediment for student success. Such “techniques” train students for limited success rather than educate them for success in all scenarios.

5)      Communication Skills: All three universities stress the importance of good communication skills in the written form as well is presentation and collaboration skills.  Students at ODU first learn to write abstracts in their first semester freshmen chemistry course.  This sets up the fundamental skill of summarizing the important aspects of an experiment in a concise and descriptive manner.  Student then add to this skill subsequent semesters until they are prepared to write for professional journals and submit research in a comprehensive and detailed manner.

The Worthington high school science teachers learned even more about college readiness in this one professional visit.  Such smaller details about the use of online simulations in the chemistry lab, class size matters to all of the universities, and the depth of help available to students to mention just a few.  The universities also provided our teachers lab manuals and course syllabi to aid in our curriculum development.

This was such a positive experience, the Worthington Schools is now investigating and setting up an opportunity for additional teachers to participate in a similar opportunity over the summer.”

Worthington has great teachers and great teacher leaders.  Our Chemistry teachers have blazed a path to make certain our students are ready for college.  We’ll plan to create similar experiences for teachers in our other content areas.

Mentoring New Teachers

Picture2At the Monday (11.25.2013), regularly scheduled Worthington Board of Education meeting, the Worthington Schools Mentor Advisory Committee presented an update to the board on our support of new teachers in Worthington.

Late this summer I wrote about the large number of new staff members that would be joining our Worthington Schools team for this school year.  Statistics say that nationally many teachers leave their new profession within their first five years.  In Worthington we work hard to support our new staff both with technical support on teaching practices, and with social emotional support so this doesn’t happen.

Picture1Within Worthington Schools we have a committee of active teachers and administrators that oversees new teacher mentoring.  The committee is made up of Connie Ball, Alison Palermo, Randy Banks, Tricia Palko, Mark Hill, Paul Pflieger, Julie King, Joy Nieto, Patti Schlaegel and Pete Scully.  These members give of their time before and after school to assist our team leader, Connie Ball, in working with numerous new teachers and their mentors.        

Our teacher-centered program builds on the resident educator’s prior knowledge while providing ample time to collaborate with experienced, state-credentialed, Worthington mentor teachers.  These built-in advocates support the new teacher in all aspects of their young teaching life.  With a strong tradition of growing master teachers, Worthington is able to provide new teachers with a caring mentor who will cultivate a partnership based on professionalism and ongoing support.

The Worthington mentor program surpasses the state’s requirements by providing professional development and training throughout the school year.  In addition, new teachers regularly observe exemplar teachers at work and receive in-district support based upon the individual growth needs of the educator.  The Mentor Advisory Committee, along with the Mentor Program Coordinator, oversee the mentor pairing and the on-going professional development.

Beginning any new career is difficult.  Teaching is more so, because students deserve excellent instruction and classroom management from day one of a teacher’s career.  New teachers are expected to perform at the same level as our veteran teachers.  Our kids deserve this.

Almost halfway through this school year we are very proud of our resident educators.  They’re a great group of new teachers who are improving our school system with their energy, creativity, and technological skills.  It’s a tough time of year for new teachers because the excitement of a new job has worn off, the hours are long, and the end of the school year is not yet in sight.  If you have contact with a new teacher please provide them with words of encouragement or maybe even bring them a cup of Starbucks.  Our Worthington mentoring team is working to support them.  They can use support from our greater community as well.

The This Week Worthington wrote and article on our mentoring program that was published last week.  You can read the article here.

A High Progress School

Worthington is an amazing school district made-up of 19 unique and outstanding schools.  One such school is Brookside Elementary.  Brookside is a traditional Worthington K-6 elementary school that is home to around 350 students.  For years Brookside had been led by a principal as unique as the school itself, Mr. Fritz Monroe.

SOP_web_bigFritz’s vision for education has always been highly experiential and known as the “School Yard Enhance Learning Philosophy.”  With this philosophy, he and the incredible, amazing, dedicated, patient, flexible, and talented Brookside staff, have used their school property for many outdoor learning opportunities.  They host a community garden on property and they have used their homegrown foods in the cafeteria (see the video above).  Their Monarch butterfly garden is something that most city zoo’s would find envious, and their pond is used for a host of ecological experiences.  There may, or may not, be a Tortoise on the loose in the school depending on whether you believe the rumors.

For many years I would meet with Mr. Monroe in his office and he would have me sit at his small conference table facing his desk. He would sit directly in front of me.  To my utter dismay, directly behind me were several large snakes that I was certain may get lose at any time.  Mr. Monroe was a true professional at keeping us central office types away from his office.

In addition to utilizing a unique experiential approach, Brookside has been diligently teaching the new standards and utilizing formative instructional practices.  Because of these efforts, last week the Ohio Department of Education named Brookside Elementary School a High Progress School of Honor, based on their 2012-2013 Local Report Card.

To become a High Progress School of Honor a building must first be a Title 1 or Title 1-eligible school with at least 40 percent of its students eligible for free and reduced-price meals. In addition these schools must rank in the top 10 percent for gains in proficiency, or if high schools, in the top 10 percent in graduation rates. Finally, High Progress Schools of Honor must have an Annual Measurable Objectives grade of C or higher and have met or exceeded Ohio’s value-added measure for the last three years.

The letter from ODE stated, “Clearly your school is doing whatever it takes to make sure that your students from all backgrounds have the opportunity to achieve academically. This makes you an outstanding example of what is possible when students, educators, parents and community members work together believing that all students can succeed.”

How cool is that!  Brookside is getting it done!  With new Principal, Mr. Dan Girard, and an involved parent community, they are building on the legacy of Mr. Monroe (Fritz formally retired at the end of the 2012-2013 school year) and they’re striving to make certain that all students grow at high levels.  It’s something that we in Worthington have known for a long time.  It’s fun to see the Ohio Department of Education recognize their efforts.

Now if they could only find that Tortoise …..


KeithWill Hoge sings a song that Chevrolet uses in their commercials to advertise their Chevy Silverado trucks.  The song is titled “Strong” and it often reminds me of our Information Technology Director, Keith Schlarb.

“He’s a twenty year straight get to work on time
He’s a love one woman for all his life…

He’ll pick you up and won’t let you down

Rock solid inside out
Somebody you can trust
Steady as the sun
Ain’t nothing gonna knock him off the road he’s rollin on
He’s strong”

The lyrics are only half right.  Keith is not a 20 year Worthington employee, he’s a 40 year Worthington employee, and he’s the only IT Director Worthington Schools has ever had, or needed.  Around the fall of 1973 Keith began his career in Worthington as a science teacher at the middle school.  Today, most everything in Worthington, both operationally, and with instruction, runs through Keith’s office.

Keith grew up on an eastern Ohio farm and it shows in his approach to work.  Keith works!  He’s incredibly steady and consistent.  Every day he shows up and puts in 10-12 hours.  He’s here every Saturday and most Sunday’s.  He’s quiet in his approach (not so quiet behind closed doors), he rarely complains, he just works.  He is a process person and has incredible project management skills.  With Keith the details are always taken care of.

Keith’s no frills approach to work, and life, can be seen throughout the school district in our approach to technology.  Keith wants to do things right.  He isn’t swayed by the newest and greatest technology.  He pushes me every day to be able to articulate what difference a particular piece of technology will make to student learning and how if it is purchased it will change classroom practice.  At the same time he’s striving to make certain that his department can provide the support that will be needed for the technology.

It’s not easy being a technology director in a large school district today.  Technology is changing faster than we can keep up with.  Our teachers and students all want personalized tools to do the things that they want to do, and the State of Ohio has ideas for how technology and assessment should be married.

Because of these immense challenges, sometimes Keith is under appreciated.  He certainly won’t self-promote and likely, he won’t even tell you about the hundreds of things his department does every day.  That’s just not Keith.  What I appreciate about Keith is that he’s steady and he’s strong, and he just works hard.  He may not always do what I think he should, but no one works as hard, and works more consistently, to try and do the best job possible.  I’m thankful for a person who has given 40 years of service to Worthington, and I’m hoping for many more years! 


Picture1“One fifth-grader’s vision…

coupled with twenty-four heartfelt friends…

put fifty small hands to work…

making hundreds of bracelets…

using thousands of rubber bands…

  convincing countless friends and family…

to contribute to our cause…

raising a total of $432.25…

for the American Cancer Society.

  …the feeling that you have made a difference…


As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday there is much to be thankful for in Worthington.  I’m blessed to be in a job where I get to see countless examples of amazing things happening each and every day.  For this week, I’d like to highlight one such experience from last week.

As most everyone is aware, October is national breast cancer awareness month.  Several years ago the National Football League began allowing players to wear pink accents to their uniforms during October.  This year college football teams such as Ohio State, and high school teams such as Thomas Worthington, also wore pink.  With that, even our elementary age boys are tuned in and awareness has been heightened.

Picture2In one fifth grade classroom the awareness around breast cancer was combined with the current rainbow loom craze.  A fifth grade boy, yes a boy, rallied his class to make bracelets at recess time.  The students worked tirelessly day after day, sacrificing their play time, and then sold the bracelets to students, parents and staff members.  They didn’t take their money to buy Blizzards at the local Dairy Queen.  They didn’t spend their money on baseball cards as my generation might have.  Instead, they donated every penny of the money they raised from the sale of their bracelets to the American Cancer Society.

At the PTA meeting last week, I was honored to watch the students present their donation and to listen to the American Cancer Society describe the difference that the $432.25 could make for individuals. More than anything I was thankful that we have students who are able to think outside of themselves.  I’m thankful that they can delay their own gratification to help others.  I’m thankful that they understand the joy of giving.  And as a school leader, I’m thankful for a teacher who encouraged the activity; a teacher who provided structure to the activity; a teacher who continued to teach the assessed curriculum, but did not allow a teachable moment to pass her by; and a teacher who took the time to create a presentation to recognize and memorialize the student’s efforts.

For that, and for much, much more, I’m thankful this week!

Cage-Busting Leadership

CageIn Worthington our principals are organized in cohort groups of 5 or 6 principals which we call Communities of Practice.  Each Community of Practice is led by a Director and the group engages in professional learning together throughout the school year.  This year each of our Community of Practice groups is reading the book “Cage Busting Leadership” by Frederick Hess.

The premise of “Cage-Busting Leadership” is simple. It is true, that statutes, policies, rules, regulations, contracts, and case law make it tougher than it should be for school and system leaders to drive improvement and lead. However, it is also the case that leaders have far more freedom to transform, re-imagine, and invigorate teaching, learning, and schooling than is widely believed.

Cage-busting as described by Hess, is not about picking fights, attacking staff members, or firing people, and it does not give cage-busters license to alienate educators or community members. It is designed to empower leaders, free them from the grip of bureaucracy and routine, and help them become savvy leaders of a public enterprise.

In education we have a habit of not talking about what we want to solve for kids and how to solve it. We tend to talk in broad strokes. We want to fix schools, have better curriculum and raise math scores. But there is often a lack of precision about the problem, and this creates a lack of precision around the solution. For instance we’ll say we need more time on task, and we need more instruction, and that turns into longer years, more days, more dollars, more staff. And then people say, “we don’t have more dollars, and we can’t give you an extra two weeks.” The book teaches us to get more granular and ask, “how do we get more time on task for assessed math?”

Folks in any organization, public and private, are beholden to rules and regulations. And how leaders approach their work is a function of a mindset.   In Worthington we believe this is true.  Sometimes the rules and regulations seem stifling.  Often it is the cage we have put around ourselves that is actually stifling and there are solutions available within the rules if we are willing to look at things from a different lens, brainstorm new solutions, and have the courage to lead the necessary change.

The guiding light for a cage-buster is to make sure we are promoting great teaching and learning, and figuring out how well we’re doing the things that are important.

As a leadership team we are attempting to bust out of our cage.  Slowly some of the bars of our cage are beginning to separate.  I won’t promise that there is a grand explosion of the cage that will be noticeable by all on the horizon.  I will promise that we’re attempting to look at each part of our work and to seek creative solutions to make it better.


photoThroughout this school year each Worthington School is creating a Positive Behavior Interventions and Support plan.  A team of teachers, along with the principal of each school, will attend training at the Educational Service Center Central Ohio and will then work together to implement PBIS in their school.

On January 15, 2013, the Ohio State Board of Education approved the policy on Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS) and Restraint and Seclusion. On April 9, 2013, the State Board of Education approved Rule 3301-35-15, Standards for the implementation of positive behavior intervention supports and the use of restraint and seclusion.

IMG_0055PBIS.org explains PBIS in a concise way: “One of the foremost advances in school-wide discipline is the emphasis on school-wide systems of support that include proactive strategies for defining, teaching, and supporting appropriate student behaviors to create positive school environments. Instead of using a piecemeal approach of individual behavioral management plans, a continuum of positive behavior support for all students within a school is implemented in areas including the classroom and non-classroom settings (such as hallways, buses, and restrooms). Positive behavior support is an application of a behaviorally-based systems approach to enhance the capacity of schools, families, and communities to design effective environments that improve the link between research-validated practices and the environments in which teaching and learning occurs. Attention is focused on creating and sustaining primary (school-wide), secondary (classroom), and tertiary (individual) systems of support that improve lifestyle results (personal, health, social, family, work, recreation) for all children and youth by making targeted behaviors less effective, efficient, and relevant, and desired behavior more functional.

In the past, school-wide discipline has focused mainly on reacting to specific student misbehavior by implementing punishment-based strategies including reprimands, loss of privileges, office referrals, suspensions, and expulsions. Research has shown that the implementation of punishment, especially when it is used inconsistently and in the absence of other positive strategies, is ineffective. Introducing, modeling, and reinforcing positive social behavior is an important step of a student’s educational experience. Teaching behavioral expectations and rewarding students for following them is a much more positive approach than waiting for misbehavior to occur before responding.” (OK, so it wasn’t really concise, but this is complicated stuff!!!)

As a result of PBIS, Worthington students and parents will begin to hear a common language used throughout our schools.  Students will define appropriate behaviors for common spaces as well as for their classrooms.  Colonial Hills Elementary has led the way in this initiative and their “Cougar Pride” PBIS plan is a model that many of our other schools will look to and build upon.

Providing supports for all of our students to ensure success means we need to do some things in new ways.  This year across Worthington we’re looking to make certain positive behavior supports are in place in all schools.

Hanging with Phil

photo (1)Last Wednesday and Thursday the leadership team from Worthington Schools attended the Ohio School Leadership Change Academy which was created and facilitated by the Schlechty Center (The Phil Schlechty Center).  As a learning organization it is important that as leaders we spend time focusing on learning and reflecting on what we can do to help Worthington get better each day.

The Ohio School Leadership Change Academy gives school leaders an opportunity to examine their values and beliefs, and to change their mind-set from managing and maintaining the current education system to learning through meaningful, disciplined inquiry and creativity. It requires transformational change to move from a bureaucratic leadership model that emphasizes direction and compliance to a student-focused learning organization that values universal engagement and collaboration.

photoLeadership is the critical element in school redesign. The necessity of new, creative and innovative leadership development opportunities for school leaders – superintendents, assistant superintendents, principals and assistant principals – is essential if fundamental change is going to occur.

The Schlechty Center is a Kentucky based organization that partners with school leaders across the country to transform their classrooms, schools and districts into places focused on engagement, as opposed to compliance. The Academy is specifically designed for educational leaders who are serious about (1) nurturing joyous student learning; (2) creating inspiring workplaces for teachers and all staff; and (3) envisioning school districts that are less like factories and more like organizations designed for learning.

Here’s the cool thing,  Phil Schlechty, who is a nationally recognized expert on student learning and organizational theory, and of course, the founder and CEO of the Schlechty Center that bares his name, was a Social Studies teacher at Worthington High School from 1960-1963.  Eventually, Dr. Schlechty moved on to Ohio State to pursue his Ph.D. and then to create a new field of knowledge in education.

It’s always good to spend time learning and reflecting as a team.  Together we’ll attend 8 days working with the Schlechty Center this school year. It’s even better to spend time learning from a nationally recognized Worthington teacher.  Our man Phil!

Boosting Teacher Effectiveness

In_fip_school_lightbox_nOn Monday I had the great privilege of being a co-presenter at the Capital Conference in downtown Columbus with Dr. Mary Peters from Battelle for Kids.  The Capital Conference is a yearly event held each November by the Ohio School Boards Association at the Columbus Convention Center.  For three days, Board of Education members, Superintendent’s, Treasurer’s and Central Office Administrators from all across Ohio meet to learn about the various issues within public education.

The conference has multiple learning strands and Dr. Peters and I presented within the Administration strand.  Our session was titled Boosting Teacher Effectiveness and centered on using a blended learning approach developed by Battelle for Kids to train all 732 Worthington teachers in Formative Instructional Practices.

My first experiences with Formative Instructional Practices were long before the terms existed.  They were even back before Dr. Stiggins‘ work on Assessment for Learning became widely known.  My experiences were during my doctoral work at Ashland University in the classroom of Dr. John Fraas a Trustees’ Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Business Administration.   Dr. Fraas taught the doctoral level statistics course in which I was a student.

On the first evening of class Dr. Fraas informed my classmates and I that this was a doctoral level statistics course and his expectation was that we had all taken a Master’s level statistics course and an undergraduate statistics course.  I had taken neither, and thus a large bead of sweat had formed on my brow as I was fairly certain I would not be able to pass this class and thus my goals of earning my doctorate would “crash and burn.”

The good news is, Dr. Frass understood the power of formative instruction.  Each week he would begin by explaining in great detail the 6 to 8 learning goals we would need to know and be able to do by the next week.  Then he would teach each of those learning target followed by our own practice of each learning target.  When the class was over he would review the learning targets and would provide us with more practice opportunities to be completed at home.  He made it clear that if we needed help on any of the 6 to 8 learning goals he would be available throughout the week.  When class began the following week he would give us a quick assessment that would show him where he needed to review and where he could move forward with his instruction.  Each week he followed this process and while the subject matter was very difficult what I needed to learn was so clear, and the opportunities that I had to practice were so focused, that even I learned statistics!

From that semester forward I was a believer in the power of formative instruction.  If a student like I could learn doctoral level statistics I believed that using this pedagogy all students could learn just about anything.

Battelle for Kids has done an incredible job of helping teachers learn the same principles Dr. Fraas had used years ago.  F.I.P. is setting clear learning targets, collecting and documenting evidence, providing effective feedback and helping students take ownership for their learning.  In Worthington we’re working with Battelle for Kids to help all of our teachers implement these practices.  We believe that this implementation is helping Worthington students to learn and grow at higher levels than ever before.

If you’d like to learn more at Formative Instructional Practices, Evening Street Elementary teacher Kate Kennedy is blogging about FIP for Battelle for Kids.  Or you might want to follow our Worthington Instructional coaches on Twitter @wcsteachers.

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