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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.)

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 …..

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