Your Words Matter


Convo18Team.jpgConvocation for Worthington Schools signals the beginning of our new school year.  It is the one time each year where we have all 1,250 Worthington Schools employees in the same room at the same time.  One of the great honors of my position is having the opportunity to speak with our team at Convocation. This year I will be joined in our keynote by our Chief Academic Officer, Angie Adrean, Worthingway Middle School Principal, Nathan Kellenberger and Certified Personnel Analyst, Diane Shadi.  We will each be sharing stories about how words have shaped our lives both positively and negatively. Here’s our talk for this year. Our hope is that it sets the tone for our interactions…

Trent Bowers…

I’ve titled my talk for this year “Your Words Matter.” It’s important for all of us to keep in mind that as an employee in Worthington Schools what you tell people about our school district, what you tell people about our students, and what you tell people about your particular school, is what our community members believe.  Survey after survey tells us that the number one way that community members receive information about our schools is from talking to our employees. So, what you say matters in our community. Your words matter!

More importantly, your words matter when you talk with our kids.  The words you speak will likely stick with a child for the rest of their lives.  The words you speak will quite possibly change the trajectory of a student’s life.  

It was the summer of 1962 in Linden, Ohio.  You likely know the Linden area as just east of the State Fairgrounds and what is at least for a little while longer Crew stadium.  Officially, Linden is a neighborhood in the northeastern part of Columbus. It extends south to north from Eighth Avenue to E. Cooke and Ferris Roads and west to east from the Conrail tracks to Joyce Avenue/Westerville Road. The neighborhood is officially bounded on the south, west, and east by Conrail-operated railroads. Hudson Street divides the neighborhood into North and South Linden.

In 1962, Linden was a middle-class neighborhood full of one and two story homes built to house the generation of families returning from World War II.  The houses were mostly between 900 and 1500 square feet and air conditioning was not yet a thing. Kids born in Linden in 1945 had a mostly carefree childhood. They played softball at the local parks and rec and they walked most anywhere they wanted.  Often when the State Fair was going on throughout August they would climb the fence and spend the day fishing in the natural resources ponds. Dads went to work during the day and moms were at home. There was no such thing as a helicopter parent. Kids left their homes in the morning and came home when it got dark.

One of the boys at Linden-McKinley High School grew up in that exact scenario.  Fishing, playing whatever sport was in season and generally trying to stay out of any serious trouble.  His dad was a railroad engineer and used to walk the tracks next to his trains with a set of brass knuckles to use for protection.  His mom was home but she could be distant. His parents played cards in the evening and drank on the porch. The kids in the house were free to pursue what they wanted.  There was no talk of preparing for their future. They lived like many other families did at that time.

This particular boy was a “C” student.  He could handle his school work but no one was pushing him to achieve more in school and he did just enough to get by.  In the early summer of 1962 that abruptly changed. Mrs. Evelyn Cummings was a guidance counselor at Linden-McKinley High School.  She’d spent her whole career working with boys just like this one. He was signed up for a full set of classes for his senior year, but they were average classes and he was certainly moving through high school without any discernible direction.  She had watched this boy walk the hallways for three years and she felt like he had much more potential than he exhibited. In Evelyn’s mind, it was time for that to change.

Without prompting, Evelyn decided this boy needed to go to college.  And, if that was going to happen he would need to reschedule his senior year classes.  What he was signed up for was not going to cut it. So, it was a hot summer day in early June of 1962, in a school with no air-conditioning when Evelyn Cummings called the boy down to her office to review his schedule.  He wasn’t sure what she wanted but while he was walking down the hall he was fairly certain he was in trouble for something.  He just wasn’t sure what…

Evelyn asked the boy to sit down.  A fan circulated the hot air around the room and there was only one chair in the office.  He moved a pile of papers to the floor and sat timidly. He still wasn’t sure what he had done wrong.  Evelyn didn’t beat around the bush. She had a mission to accomplish. She began quickly and told the boy that she had been watching him for years.  He was full of potential and was much smarter than his grades would indicate. She told him that he was going to college after high school and that to do so he was going to have to change the classes he had scheduled for his senior year.

The boy sat there trying to concentrate.  It sounded good, he thought. Apparently, he wasn’t actually in trouble.  That was positive. But, college? Did she say I should be going to college?  No one had ever mentioned college before and it wasn’t something he had ever personally considered.  But… she thinks I’m college material? Quickly, he was sitting there with visions of fraternity row and college girls.  As these visions played out in his head Evelyn plowed forward. She promptly informed him that this schedule would not cut it if he was going to go to college and he should be planning to go to college.  Without his consent, she changed his courses to a college prep load and insisted that he plan to attend Ohio State after graduation.

Here’s the thing…Evelyn said he could, Evelyn said he should….and so he did. 

Angie Adrean….

It was 1986 and I was a misplaced junior enrolled in Calculus class.  Yes, I was veryyyyyy misplaced. Not only was I taking a Calculus class during my junior year, it was a Calculus class with one of the most respected, most demanding and extremely intimidating teachers at Pickerington High School, Mrs. Tyson.  

Like any other class, I was assigned to a front row seat, right next to Mrs. Tyson’s desk.  With both my first and last name starting with an A, I never knew what it was like to sit in the back of the classroom and if there was one class I wanted to do this in, it would be Calculus with Mrs. Tyson.  

I still believe that Calculus was not a “choice” class for me, but rather one in which my previous teacher thought I should take to “challenge” myself.  Well, it did just that and Mrs. Tyson knew this from day one. Remember, I got to sit right up front every day – right beside her desk.

Within the first week of class, Mrs. Tyson quickly realized that much of my note-taking was really doodling in the margins of my paper or finishing a sketchbook assignment that was due the next class period for my favorite class, Art.  

Like most of us, if it’s difficult, we avoid it.  I avoided math. I preferred to draw because I was good at it…so I did!   Now mind you, my doodling or note-taking as I referred to it, were sometimes visuals depicting math concepts but regardless, Mrs. Tyson did not always agree with my style of note-taking and sometimes took my notes from me with a verbal reprimand that was typically heard by the entire class.  

Our school ran on 6-week grading periods, so much, if not all, of the first 6-weeks was a constant struggle as Mrs. Tyson and I just did not see eye-to-eye on my style of note-taking.  If my memory serves me correctly, because 1986 was a long time ago (32 years to be exact), I believe it was not until the semester break that Mrs. Tyson finally realized that there might be something to my doodling.  

It was a three day week before the holiday break and a dreaded three days for me.  It was three days of midterm exams. Now mind you, I loved school, really….I did. In fact, I knew in the 4th grade that I wanted to be a teacher.  I loved everything about it, except for Calculus class as a Junior and mid-term exam week. Who likes to spend two hours answering 200 plus questions and filling in a scantron?  It’s grueling and for that matter, super boring.

When I walked into Calculus class that morning, I proceeded to the front of the room right beside Mrs. Tyson’s desk with a somewhat slouched posture…that was typical behavior for me when entering this room.   I sat down with two, No. 2 pencils, my calculator and a blank piece of notebook paper and waited for the entire class to be seated. Hoping to be unnoticed and proceed with my midterm exam, Mrs. Tyson started class by calling me out.  I hadn’t even started doodling yet.

She was standing at the front of the class with a rectangle-shaped picture frame against her chest.  She said she had something to say and something to share and that it needed to be said in front of the whole class.  Of course, I am thinking….she says everything that she is dissatisfied with me about in front of the whole class why would today be any different?

So, Angie, I need to say something to you and it must be shared in front of our class…

Because of your drawings or doodlings as you call them, you helped me to think about not just teaching the steps of solving a problem but to value the thinking process for all of my students.  

Because of your drawings, you have helped me to not just teach the steps of solving a problem but to value the thinking process of each of my students.  

I heard, “You have helped me….helped me value the thinking process…”  

Really, I helped Mrs. Tyson?  She is the queen of Mathematics, how could I have possibly helped her?

Mrs. Tyson flipped over the picture frame and enclosed was a collage of all my note-taking doodles.  Mrs. Tyson really did value my thinking and immediately, I was a much more confident math student. So much, that I was no longer slouching in my chair and thought…I just might have to teach math instead of art.

This thought was just for a brief moment because as you might expect, Mrs. Tyson quickly told me to stick with art.  

Mrs. Tyson’s words mattered to me on that day back in 1986.  So much, that I still remember them.  While it was a combination of her actions and her words, I remember both!

Nathan Kellenberger….

It was the fall of 1989, I was a 17-year-old high school senior.  To that point, school and I had not been a great fit. I struggled to apply myself; I was very immature and lacked drive.  Early on in that year, I decided to make a change and joined the United States Marine Corps. I realized I needed to grow up and I wasn’t ready for college.  I had the ability, not the drive. I knew the Marine Corps would change that.

As part of joining the Marine Corps, my recruiter had to meet with one of my teachers to discuss my ability and character.  I had not made a lot of connections with teachers to that point in my life, but I was a decent football player. I thought my position coach would be a good place to go.  I had played four years of football and spent many an hour with this particular coach looking at film, etc. I had even earned all-city defensive lineman honors at that time and the defensive lineman of the year award for our team.  Defensive linemen were a lot smaller in my time. I thought that if there were any adult in my life that would have something good to say about me, it would be this coach and teacher. I had also had him for two years in class.

My recruiter came to my school to meet with the coach.  With me present, the recruiter told my coach why he was there and asked the coach about my Marine Corps potential.  The teacher looked at the recruiter and stated, “Nathan doesn’t have a lot of talent or potential. I don’t see him amounting to much in life. I think you’re wasting your time with him.”   

I have, and I will remember this conversation for the rest of my life.  This was a five-second conversation that I think about every day. I even made a small sign stating “You will never amount to anything” and hung it in my barracks room in the Marine Corps.  It traveled with me from Ft. Sill Oklahoma to Camp Pendleton California, to Okinawa, Japan. I was a 17-year-old kid who admittedly had not lived up to his potential to that point. But, I was trying to make a change and get myself turned around.  I have often wondered how many students heard a similar message from this teacher, took his words to heart, and did not amount to much in life.

Those words have made me who I am today, and they are the reason I am an educator.  I will always support my students. I will always find the best in them. I will always work to offset the negative words adults may say to them.  I will always tell my students that I believe in them, that they are talented, and that they will amount to something and that I am always here to help them do that.  Every conversation I have with my students has the potential to be remembered. I want to be remembered for the good things that I say.

Diane Shadi….

It was October 1992, I was at the end of my job with Elford Construction and soon to be a single parent of two toddlers.  My whole life is upside-down and I am scared and unsure of myself and my future. My family is 350 miles away in Buffalo NY and I have no support system in town.  It’s time to find a new career.

I have sent out numerous resumes which resulted in a few interviews but no real connection or fit.  I begin to question myself, my confidence and abilities. I want a position that I can grow and develop into someone greater.  When I least expected it, a friend called me regarding a position with Worthington Schools in Human Resources. I inquired about the position and I thought it sounded interesting.  I never considered working for a school district. I complete the application and scheduled a preliminary interview. I was excited! As I interview with Terri Gresh I was nervous and “giddy.”   The interview went well. I liked the type of work described and thought I would be a good fit. I pictured myself working for Worthington Schools. Terri indicated she would get back to me.

A few days had passed I had not heard back from Terri.  I was getting nervous. I soon received a phone call and it was Worthington Schools!!  My heart raced and my throat tightened as I heard the words “Thank You”, “BUT” you are overqualified.  At first, I could not speak. I was in shock. I felt this was the job for me. Somehow I gather the strength to ask, can I interview anyways – will you give me a chance?” She said she would check and get back with me.

Again, a few days passed and no call.  My heart is not into looking through the paper again for other possible opportunities.  Finally, I get a call, its Worthington Schools. I got the interview with HR!

As I arrived at 752 High Street for my interview, I was scared and nervous.  What if I mess up, make a fool of myself? I was the one who asked for this interview.   Shirley Neidelander, the receptionist, was kind and her words were warm. Soon after, Joe Borst, the Director of HR greeted me and took me back to his office.  There was another person sitting at the table, Shirley Vidmar, Coordinator of HR. This threw me off a bit, as I was not expecting two people to interview me. Shirley spoke first and welcomed me, and I immediately started to relax.  Her kind smile and the tone of her words made me comfortable. We talked about my work history and skills, then, they wanted to know about me. What is this? Why would they want to know me? No other employer had ever asked me this. For the next 30 minutes, I talked about myself and my family.  I could not believe how good I was feeling. I just talked with the most caring, kind people. I had never felt this way before about an employer. I thought to myself, I would be honored to work for Worthington Schools. Joe asked if I would be interested in accepting the position. Immediately I said “Yes”.

I started my career in Worthington on December 7, 1992, Pearl Harbor Day.  I was told it would take 18 months before I would fully understand the position.  I learned by watching and listening on how to be considerate, compassionate and understanding when working with staff.  It is not only what you say, it is HOW you say it. Time and time again I watched Shirley and Joe handle difficult situations, from Non-renewals to new Hires to medical tragedy.  Never before had I worked with such genuine individuals that truly touched my heart and soul with their “words.” I wanted to continue this level of compassion.

Twenty-six years later I continue to strive each day to help staff with whatever comes my way, whether it be “IPDP’s” or licensure renewal to name just a few.   I may not always give you the answer you want, but I will always listen and treat you with respect and understanding. I care about you and your success, just like you care about your students and their success.

We here because someone took a “chance” on all of us.  What we say and how we say it really does matter.

Trent Bowers…

Your words matter!  See, Evelyn Cummings changed my life.  I never met Evelyn Cummings but without her pulling my dad into her office at Linden-McKinley High School in the summer of 1962 and literally changing the course of his future with her words and her caring, I don’t believe I would be standing here this morning.  Because Evelyn believed in my dad and told him how much she believed in him, my dad did change his senior year course load.  He did graduate from Linden-McKinley, and he did go to The Ohio State University where he graduated with his Bachelor’s Degree.  He used that degree to become a Special Agent in the U.S. Secret Service and to eventually move to Worthington, Ohio where it seemed everyone’s parents I knew had a college degree.  Because dad went to college I never even thought about not going to college. Evelyn Cummings’ words and actions changed my dad’s life, and that changed my life, and will likely impact the lives of my children and potentially their children.

Your words matter!  Words have power! Therefore, we must learn to measure our words because the right choice could change someone’s life. 

To that end, we must constantly be aware of the effects that words, both spoken and written, have.  As you heard from Angie, Nathan, and Diane our words have the power to:

  • Heal or hurt, soothe or enrage
  • Clearly explain or further confuse
  • Change minds or harden hearts
  • Bridge divides or cement separation
  • Enthrall or bore, charm or repel
  • Move people to action or to tears

Your words matter!  This year we must strive to measure our words when speaking with students—it will make all the difference in our relationships with them. With words well chosen, we can guide, congratulate students on their achievements, and encourage them when they come up short.  I believe that the words we speak to our students have the power to change their lives. We’ve all seen this happen. We’ve likely all experienced this at some point in our own lives both positively or negatively.

In Worthington Schools, our mission is to empower a community of learners who will change the world.  If our students are going to accomplish this mission they need to hear words of belief, words of encouragement, words of positive challenge from the trusted adults who are part of their world.  By our words, we have the power to help our students accomplish great things. Things they never envisioned on their own. Unfortunately, if we’re not careful we have the power to do significant damage as well.

This year and every year in Worthington Schools Your Words Matter!  Let’s together commit to using our words to make a positive difference in the lives of our students.  

Have a great school year!

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In Need of Cereal

Marshmallow-Fruity-Pebbles-1024x1024Recently I learned that the Worthington Family Resource Center was in need of cereal donations.  The resource center serves as our local food pantry and significantly impacts students in Worthington Schools.

When I learned that cereal was needed I immediately reached out to our Director of Certified Personnel Jeff Maddox.  Jeff is a cereal connoisseur and has spent more time evaluating cereal’s than anyone I’ve ever met.  Before my family went shopping for cereal for the pantry I asked Jeff what kind of cereal we should purchase.  Here’s what he said….

“Cereal makes me happy.  Always has.  Some of my fondest childhood memories involve a good bowl of cereal.  Over the years, it is quite possible that I have sampled every cereal in existence.  I think of myself as somewhat of a cereal connoisseur, a savant of cereal, if you will.

My love of cereal has become somewhat of a joke amongst my friends and family.  They cannot understand why a 46 year-old man has so much to say on the topic.  But rest assured, I am the first person they call when they have a cereal conundrum and need to know what the best base cereal is, or what they can mix with their Rice Krispies to create a fun-filled breakfast bowl!

Cereal is the all time conversation starter!  The next time you are introduced to someone new and are struggling to make conversation, simply ask them, “What is your favorite cereal?” This is guaranteed to generate a lively discussion, especially if you reference my cereal rubrics!

Base Cereals

Flavor Saturation Milk-Drinkability Bowl Beautification Prize Back of Box Fun Pallet (cuts the mouth)
Quisp 3 4 4 2 4 4 5
Frosted Flakes 3 2 5 2 3 3 5
Waffle-Os 3 5 5 2 4 4 0
Cap’N Crunch 3 5 4 2 4 5 0
Life 3 2 3 2 4 4 5
Honey Combs 3 3 3 2 2 2 1
Corn Flakes 2 2 2 2 1 2 5
Wheaties 2 2 1 2 1 2 5
Cheerios 2 2 1 2 1 1 4
Rice Krispies 2 0 1 2 2 1 5

0 = worst, 5 = best

Base cereals are those that are pleasing to eat alone, and generally better for your health (when no additives are placed in the bowl), but are best when mixed with a Party-in your mouth cereal.

Party-In-Your-Mouth Cereals

Flavor Saturation Milk-Drinkability Bowl Beautification Prize Back of Box Fun Pallet (cuts the mouth)
Fruity Pebbles 5 3 5 5 5 5 5


5 5 5 2 3 3 3
Lucky Charms 5 3 5 5 3 3 3
Smurfberry Crunch 5 5 3 5 5 3 2
Peanut Butter Cap’N Crunch 4 5 4 2 3 3 1
Count Chocula, Frakenberry, Booberry 5 2 4 4 2 3 4


4 4 3 3 2 2 2
Honey Smacks 3 2 2 2 4 3 4
Crunch Berries 4 4 2 5 2 3 1
Cinnamon Toast Crunch 3 3 2 2 2 2 4

0 = worst, 5 = best

Party-In-Your-Mouth cereals (also known as the cereals moms won’t buy their children) are those that are pleasing to the eye and a sheer pleasure to eat.  From the first bite, your taste buds engage and continue to beg for more until the last drop of milk has been licked from the bowl!

When discussing cereals with your new acquaintance, you may find they, and you, have some strong opinions about cereals.  You both may even disagree with my rubrics!  Hopefully what you will agree on is that cereal is a delicious way to start the day, no matter what your cereal choice is, and that you will both donate cereal to the food pantry to help bring a smile and a full belly to as many people as possible this holiday season.  

You may be thinking you should buy a bunch of base cereals to stock the food pantry shelves with because they’re the healthy choice and you’re making a donation to the food pantry, so you should make healthy donations.  I, on the other hand, will be stocking the shelves full of Fruity Pebbles, the world’s number one cereal, so that everyone who receives items from the food pantry has the opportunity to enhance their holiday with a party their mouth.  

I hope you will join me and my friends in the Worthington Community as we fill the food pantry shelves with a variety of Base and Party-In-Your-Mouth cereals and wish everyone in our community happy holidays!”

Jeff said it well.  Please consider donating cereal to the food pantry.  You can access their donations page here.


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three-peat.jpgAt our most recent Worthington Board of Education meeting the board recognized the Thomas Worthington Girls Field Hockey team for winning their third straight Ohio State Field Hockey Championship. This year’s team went 21-0 and outscored their opponents by a combined score of 117-6.  They were a dominant team that played disciplined field hockey.  It was a pleasure to watch them compete and certainly an honor to get to award them their medals.

In looking back in Worthington’s history I believe this field hockey team is the first Worthington team to win three consecutive State Championships since the Boys 1989, 1990 and 1991 Lacrosse teams from Worthington High School.

According to the May 29, 1991 edition of the Worthington Suburban News, the Cardinals “mashed” Cincinnati Moeller winning the championship 15-6.  The three-peat was led by legendary Worthington lacrosse players, Keith Poss, Will Morris, Bob Basom, Jon Mackey, Jeff Tyack, Dalan Zartman and Raif Webster.  Youngsters Craig Kahoun, John Lyons, Ryan Pirnat, Jason Turpening and Scott Cebul played major roles on the team.

Some have said that the 89, 90 and 91 teams which also included legends like Tim James, Jon Tyack, and Dave Bickell were like a cast of Marvel Superheros playing against mere mortals.  I’ve heard those athletes described as a team full of Bo Jackson’s in his prime playing against middle schoolers.  They were a dominant bunch for sure.

The 1992 season brought the opening of Worthington Kilbourne High School.  Future college lacrosse players Jamie Tyack, Mike Szabo and Corey Kahoun went to play at Kilbourne.  The 92 Thomas team made it back to the state championship game but fell in defeat in a rematch with Cincinnati Moeller.  

Next year our girls field hockey team will have a chance to do something that the 1992 boys lacrosse team could not.  It will be fun to see if the team led by Sarah Charley, Isabelle Perese and Rachel Rinaldi can make it happen!  Go for four!

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The Eye of a Hurricane


It’s Sunday afternoon in Columbus, Ohio.  It’s a ridiculously nice 71 degree September day with bright sunshine outside.  I’d like to be watching the Bengals game but 10tv is showing the Browns game so instead I’m glued to the Weather Channel watching the eye of a hurricane.

My parents moved to Ft. Myers, Florida as their primary residence back in 1999.  My sister and my nephew moved down there in 2009.  My brother-in-law and his family moved to South Florida in 2014.  Many of you in Worthington can tell a similar story.  The Gulf Coast is like a southern Columbus, Ohio and many of us have family and friends in the path of this storm.  Thus as Hurricane Irma batters South Florida I can’t help but think about the numerous people we know who are there right now or who, like my family, are safely out of Florida but own property and businesses that will certainly be impacted.

My first trip to South Florida was in the back of our family Dodge Ramcharger in 1984.  It was the first of what would be many drives down I-75 to Florida.  As the oldest child I claimed the back seat and my younger sister was relegated to the luggage area behind the back seat.  Apparently seat belts were unneeded in 1984 as long as we weren’t in the front seat.  My family spent that spring break at the Bonita Beach Beach and Tennis Club.  We’ve been going back ever since.  It’s home away from home.

My nephew is a 6th grader in Lee County Schools.  As I write today I can’t help but think about the Superintendent of Schools in Lee and Collier Counties (Ft. Myers and Naples).  Many of their schools are serving as shelters for those riding out the storm.  They cancelled classes at the end of last week and who knows when they’ll be safe to resume classes.

In Worthington I sometimes get mired in the muck.  I forget how good we have it and I spend time worrying about how I’m going to adequately explain a state accountability system that has changed how we measure proficiency in Ohio.  I worry about how our community will respond to our facilities challenges of Aging buildings, Balancing high school size and Capacity for all students.  I stress about the upcoming Board of Education elections and about Friday night’s Thomas Worthington v. Worthington Kilbourne Football game.  (I want our teams to compete like crazy but I want us to remember that in the end we’re one school district and one community.  They are us and we are them.  Compete hard.  Cheer like crazy.  Do it all with respect for your opponent and your neighbor.)  All of these things are part of my job and worthy of my time.  

But, Big things Big, Small things Small.  The challenges that others face today, this week, and likely for a while in South Florida (and in Houston and with fires out West) will help me keep things in perspective.  I’m hopeful for the safety of our friends in Florida.  I’m hopeful that the property damage is less than expected and I’m hopeful that kids can get back to the safety of school as soon as possible.

Today, and everyday, let’s be thankful for our many blessings in Worthington, Ohio.

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Life is Funny and Sports are Weird

WKGS2In Worthington Schools we believe in co-curricular participation for our students.  We know that students who are connected to their peers in a positive way do better academically and emotionally.  In addition we believe that competition through sports is a way that students can gain some of the critical life skills they will use for success in their future.  Students learn grit, perseverance, leadership and how to work hard for a goal.  Sometimes the parents learn some things along that way too…

After a difficult loss for the Kilbourne girls varsity soccer team on Tuesday of last week  Worthington Kilbourne parent Pete Crozier was reflecting on the nature of sportsmanship, leadership and lessons learned through athletics.   I love Pete’s perspective and he gave me permission to share his thoughts.

Things I’ve Learned from My Kids

Chapter 87: Life is Funny and Sports are Weird by Pete Crozier

How many youth sporting events have I attended as a parent?

Some quick math: Sarah and I have 4 kids. Multiply that times 50 sporting events per kid per year times maybe 25 years of cumulative participation. That equals 5,000 games, matches and meets to which the kids have been chauffeured, 5,000 uniforms that have been washed (thank you, Sarah), and 5,000 water bottles that have been filled up (okay, maybe 4,990 … sometimes we forget).

That doesn’t include the thousands of practices to support those games, matches and meets. Or the piano lessons and band concerts and Girls Scouts’ meetings and Indian Guides’ campouts and ballet performances and talent shows and … and … and … and …

Believe me, I’m not complaining. It’s what I agreed to when I signed the Middle Aged Guy, Suburb Bubble, Contract of Life. It’s all soccer cleats and softball treats, basketball hoops and cross country loops, volleyball matches and batter’s box scratches.

Each game within each season within each year has peaks and valleys. Glorious comebacks and inglorious failures. Sunny spring evenings and blustery winter afternoons.

If you’re like me, parents of other players sweep in and out of your life based on the sports season. “Hey, how you been?” (You don’t say his name because you can’t remember.) “How did she do at lacrosse? (Again, you have no memory so no mention of his daughter’s name. You just hope like hell that lacrosse is right.)

Through it all, we hug our kids after the game, smile and say, “Great job. I am proud of you.” And we mean it.

But never more than last night.

Our daughter, Maggie, is a senior at Worthington Kilbourne High School. She was honored to be named one of the captains of the soccer team this year. She’s not extremely vocal. Not a screamer. Not a rah-rah cheerleader type.

Leader by example, I guess.

Last night, her team played Dublin Jerome High School. Jerome is a perennial top team and we all knew it would be a tough game. By halftime, Kilbourne was down 6-0 … and it wasn’t that close.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with soccer, losing 3-0 is an absolute blowout; a crushing defeat. By that measuring stick, losing 6-0 at halftime, well, that can make or break a season.

As a slight drizzle fell, the parents in the stands continued to be supportive, cheering each girl by name as they came off the field. “Great job, Ashlyn. Keep fighting, Emma. Nice run, Courtney.” I’m proud to be part of this pack of Wolf parents.

I watched the halftime team huddle. Coach Meghann stood confidently in the middle of the circle as the girls raised their hands to speak. Respect. There were no tears. There was no finger pointing. Hands and heads held high.

The center ref blew his whistle for the second half and I saw the girls smiling as they came back to the bench. One girl jumped on Eleni’s back, piggyback-style, laughing.

With all the weight that we parents put on youth sports (guilty as charged), my God, they are just kids playing a game, piggyback-style, laughing.

Note to readers: As you scroll through this post, you probably think this story is going to lead to an epic comeback and a legendary win for Kilbourne. Sorry, no.

It’s much better than that.

The second half began and the seventh goal was scored.

A few minutes later, the eighth.

Then it happened.

As the referees retrieved the ball and walked from our goal to the half line to start once again, Maggie sprinted the other way. Against traffic. A salmon swimming upstream. She ran to our goalie and said, “You got this. You made a good decision on that play. We’re playing better and we have your back.”

Her instinct was to show compassion. Empathy. Caring for a friend. A simple gesture that embodies a grander purpose.

Leadership through love.

I wish I could take credit for it. But that’s all her.

When the final horn sounded, Kilbourne had lost 10-0. Both teams had played physical, but clean. The refs were not a factor.

We have always taught our kids that when an opponent plays dirty or is beating you so badly you want to quit, don’t push back or trip or hold them out of vengeance or frustration. Instead, be faster. Be stronger. Be smarter. Learn.

We’d rather they lose with honor then win through deceit.

Play hard. Play by the rules. May the best team win.

Last night, both teams played hard, both teams played by the rules and the best team won. Learn from it and move on.

After the game, I told Maggie that it’s easy to lead when things are going well. True character is revealed in times of adversity. Champions are not defined by wins and losses, but rather by effort, integrity, and how they treat other people.

I couldn’t possibly be more proud of these coaches or players.

On Tuesday, August 30, 2017, the Worthington Kilbourne Girls Soccer coaches and players showed grit with grace, resilience with respect, and determination without defeat. The final score is not indicative of this team, these coaches or their expectations for this year. Sometimes the other team is just better.

I am certain Maggie will walk away from this year more prepared for whatever comes next in her life. As parents, can we ask for anything more than that?

She will look back and know that the greatest win she ever had was in defeat.

Like I said, life is funny and sports are weird.

The 5,001st game is on Tuesday night. And I can’t wait.

I might even give Sarah a piggyback. Laughing.

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Big Things Big…Small Things Small pt.2

Big Things Big 2Ever since last winter and my conversation with Greg Ross this phrase “Big Things Big…Small Things Small” has been rolling around in my head.  It’s our theme for this school year in Worthington.  In that context it’s about managing change and how that change always feels big at the time, but later when we look back it’s usually small.  It’s not where we teach kids or what our attendance lines are that really matter.  Those items change over the years and as we look back they’re small things.  The big things as a school district are how we take care of our kids, how we build relationships with them, and how our students are able to grow and achieve because they know they have a trusted adult who cares about them and believes in them.  Those are the big things!

But, Big Things Big….Small Things Small applies equally in our personal lives.  The phrase is helping me focus my time on what matters most and to let some things roll.  (I’m not naturally good at that.)  

This summer we rented a beach house at Holden Beach, North Carolina.  The house had an amazing porch that faced the ocean.  On the morning of our first full day there I was drinking a cup of coffee on the porch gazing at the ocean when I had what I thought was a brilliant idea.  My middle daughter loves to hammock and we had brought the Eno hammock to the beach with us.  I decided I would string the hammock across the porch and my daughter could lay there and read a book while still looking out at the ocean.  It’s seemed idyllic.

I strung the hammock from two main poles on the porch and decided to hop into it and check out the view.  As soon as my bottom hit the hammock the porch exploded!  I fell to the ground onto my backside and because the hammock was still attached to the poles the side pole came crashing down and hit me in the head.

So, I’m laying on the ground tangled up in this hammock, there is a wooden pole next to me that just bounced off my head and the porch railings are sprawled across my lap.  My wife who witnessed the whole episode is on all fours laughing hysterically at her husband who has just confirmed what she has always suspected about his IQ.

Three thoughts went through my mind.  In this order.  First, inevitably I thought, “I’m a moron…”  Second, I thought “this is going to be expensive…”  But, literally the third thought that went through my head while still laying on the ground was, “Big Things Big…Small Things Small.” I’m O.K.,  I can afford to have the porch fixed, and there is no reason to ruin this vacation.  Thus, that simple phrase that has been stuck in my head since last winter helped me to relax and not make a big deal out of something that in the past may have made me angry for the entire week.

I eventually got up.  My wife eventually stopped laughing.  I neatly stacked the porch pieces under the house and then I made the walk of shame to the rental office and promptly explained that we’d need some help because my kids broke the porch….

Big Things Big….Small Things Small.  Both professionally in Worthington Schools and personally.  Hope it helps you a little too!


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Big Things Big….Small Things Small pt. 1

Big Things BigOne of the great privileges I have as Superintendent of Worthington Schools is the opportunity to speak to our staff at our opening convocation the day before school starts.

“I’ve titled my talk this year “Big things big, small things small.”  I first heard that phrase sometime last winter when I was in conversation with Worthington Hills 6th grade teacher Greg Ross.  Greg attributed the phrase to the retired senior pastor at Worthington Christian Church, Dr. Marshall Hayden.

It was the summer of 69.  Me and some guys from school, we had a band and we tried real hard.  Jimmy quit, Jody got married, I should have known that we’d never get far.  Oh, but when I look back now, that summer seemed to last forever….wait, I’m sorry, wrong summer.

It was the summer of 1967.  Worthington was in the midst of a school building boom.  Colonial Hills Elementary had been open for 12 years, Evening Street and Wilson Hill had been open only four years, Brookside was open for a mere two years and the new state of the art middle school, Worthingway Middle School had just opened the year before.  After the passage of a bond issue in 1966 Worthington Estates Elementary was to open in the fall of 1967.

Construction on the new 20 classroom school had been difficult, but the school district had proceeded as scheduled.  They had hired the Evening Street Principal Eugene Putterbaugh to be the Principal and open the new school.  Eighteen teachers had been hired or moved from their current school to the new school.  I can imagine that they had endured countless meetings about redistricting students from Colonial Hills, Wilson Hill and Evening Street to attend the new school.  Families were frustrated because no one wants to move from their school and redistricting had occurred several times in the last five years.  By late June Superintendent Harold McCord knew they had a problem.  Because of construction delays Worthington Estates would not be ready to open school in the fall.

Mr. McCord had been Superintendent of Worthington Schools since 1938.  He’d seen most everything during his tenure but he hadn’t had this issue.  I imagine that he called a late night meeting of his team.  It was summer but in my mind he was still in his full three piece suit and wore a grey fedora.  He was joined at the administrative office building which at that time was in the Old Episcopal Rectory (west of the Worthington Inn on New England Ave in the building that most of us know today as the Doll Museum. The district did not move to the 752 building on the village green until 1978) by Principal Putterbaugh and Board of Education President Dr. Robert Holsinger Jr.  The room was smoky as ash trays littered the table and each meeting participant attempted to calm their nerves with their Camel cigarettes.  On the table were the maps of Worthington.  Push pens showed the precise location of each Worthington student.  These were the very maps these men had used several months earlier in the redistricting meetings that were held in each elementary school.  The very maps that caused the resident on New England Ave to get an attorney to keep his child at Colonial Hills.  These maps were now held down with ash trays and as the night progressed the smoky haze increased.

It was on that early summer night when a plan was hatched.  There weren’t a lot of good options.  School had to open after labor day and Worthington Estates would not be ready.  Mr. McCord, Mr. Putterbaugh and Dr. Holsinger determined that first through third graders would attend Evening Street.  (There was no kindergarten in 1967.)  The Evening Street first through third graders would attend school in the morning and then in the afternoon the Worthington Estates first through third graders and their teachers would use the very same classrooms at Evening Street.  All 4th graders from Evening Street and Worthington Estates would begin the school year at Brookside Elementary.  All 5th graders from those two schools would attend the Kilbourne building and all 6th graders would attend Worthingway Middle School.  It would work.  It wouldn’t be easy.  Teachers at all five schools would have to adapt.  Parents would certainly be upset.  

The meeting went late into the night and sometime after midnight Superintendent McCord headed home.  He was restless and so he went out to his wood shop to work.  It always relaxed him.  It was going to be a long summer explaining these changes to parents and teachers.  But, Big Things Big, Small Things Small.  Where kids go to school, that was a small thing.  The kids would adapt and may be better for it.  Now the parents on the other hand….Superintendent McCord went and found a drink.

Fast forward 31 years and it’s 1998.  I’m in my second year of teaching at Evening Street Elementary.  I’m teaching sixth grade on a team with Jo Hall and Barb Spears.  Down the hall from me is a young Tami Hinz who I was certain was a better teacher than I was and I was developing a complex about that.  I had been hired at Evening Street as a fifth grade teacher the year before.  When the school year ended I looped with my kids to sixth grade.  

Back in 1998 it was common to be RIF’d after your first year of teaching.  (Reduced in Force.)  I held my breath all school year and as the end came and went I hadn’t been reduced.  But, I was still nervous and so I mustered up my courage (and it took significant courage) to go talk with the principal at the time Dr. Anne Heffernan.  Frankly, I was scared to death of Dr. Heffernan and truth be told, I kind of still am…. But, I puffed out my chest and Mrs. Given ushered me into Dr. Heffernan’s office.  I asked her if I would have a job the following school year and she just kind of looked at me confused.  Eventually she said, absolutely.  You’re in good shape.  “Sweet” I thought.  I would move up on the seniority list for the next year and I felt like I was set.  I felt so good about it, that my wife and I purchased our first home.  321 E. Selby Blvd in Colonial Hills.  Neighbors with Tom O’Leary Jr and Meredith and Pete Bruns on the other side.

Teaching sixth grade was great.  I just did whatever Jo Hall did and the fall flew by.  Sometime in March of 1999 Dr. Heffernan asked me to stop by her office after school.  That stopped my heart for a few seconds.  I’m thinking, do you think she’s still mad that I didn’t complete my cumulative folders in the correct way last June?  Or, maybe, does she know that I’m using John Ayre’s copy code and not sending my papers to the copy center?  I’m ashamed to say that many thoughts went through my mind, but none of them prepared me for what she actually needed to see me about.  When I got to Anne’s office she was behind her desk and she stood up and immediately handed me a sealed letter.  She said, “I was told I had to give you this.”  Uh-oh….

Slowly I opened the letter.  It was only a few sentences but it informed me that I was being RIF’d for the following school year for .5 of my job.  .5?  How would that work, I don’t teach Kindergarten?  What would I do?  Dr. Heffernan didn’t have any answers but she certainly registered my concern.  A few days later a man appeared at the doorway of my classroom.  It was Dr. Gerald Prince the Director of Human Resources.  He asked if I could speak to him for a minute in the hallway.  No problem, I thought, my students are just busy writing their spelling words five times each.  (Good instruction this was not…)  Dr. Prince talked to me about the letter and just told me to be patient.  It would all work out.  I was like, um, how will it all work out…? Gerald had no specifics.  He just repeated in the extremely kind and patient way that is Dr. Gerald Prince, “Trent, trust me it will work out.”

Here’s the thing.  I couldn’t see it.  I could see not having a job.  I couldn’t see how this .5 thing was going to work.  Would they make me teach kindergarten.  Really?  I had planned to teach and coach for my career.  My goal was to have the kind of impact that a Vince Trombetti or Jon Sprunger have had over their career.  That’s what I wanted to do in public education.  I had never considered doing anything else.  Now circumstances had changed.  I became the Dean at McCord Middle School in the fall of 1999 (following Dan Girard’s departure from public education for a business venture) not because of any grand plan.  I became the Dean because it was a full-time job and the job I had planned to stay in was no longer available.  Or at least I was not patient enough to see that it would be available.  

At that point in my life this was a big thing.  In the end, it really was a small thing.  Sometimes change happens like it did back in 1967.  Kilbourne Middle opened as a 1-8 school.  Eventually it became a 1-6 school and then it became the 9th grade school.  In 1992 it served as our Linworth AP campus. Now it’s a 7-8 school.  Every one of those changes was big at the time for those involved.  In 1986 Sutter Park opened as an Elementary School.  In 2005 we closed Sutter Park as an elementary school only to reopen it as a preschool.  Big changes at the time for all involved. At one point the sixth graders from Slate Hill went to McCord Middle School and an 8th grade team from McCord was housed at Worthington Kilbourne High School.  When enrollment dipped we closed Perry Middle School and created Phoenix Middle School.  25 teachers were reduced out of Worthington Kilbourne High School.  If you were involved in any of these moves or if you read about them in the Worthington News they were big things.  Staff were upset, people ran for school board seats to show their displeasure, parents hired attorneys.  Big things at the time, small things in retrospect.

My personal story of change.  To me at the time.  Big.  Giant!  Rocked my world!  I look back 20 years later.  Small.  Best thing that ever happened to me career wise.  Put me where I needed to be.  It’s true Tami Hinz was a better teacher than me.  

Big things big, small things small.  People tell me all the time that nothing ever changes in Worthington Schools.  I tell them that’s a myth.  Change has been constant.  And, I’m here today to remind you that it will continue to be constant.  Some of that change may include you.  It may include where you teach, it may include what you teach, it may include where your own children go to school.  Nothing stays the same and the only constant is change.  I’m not certain what changes will be occurring in Worthington Schools in the next five years, but based on our enrollment trends I am certain that change will be occurring and it’s going to affect most every one of us, some of us in multiple ways.  When that change happens, Big things big, small things small.  

So, if everything I’ve listed is on the small things list, and in retrospect it is, even those things that felt big at the time, what qualifies as a big thing?

James Ford was the 2015 North Carolina Teacher of the year.  In the January 31, 2017 edition of Ed. Week he said this, “ The relational part of teaching may very well be its most underrated aspect. It simply does not get the respect it deserves. When teachers are good at building relationships with students, the skill is sometime seen more as cover for a lack of content knowledge or wherewithal to instruct with rigor.  James said, I see it differently. I’ve learned that when students enter a classroom with so many different base-level needs, a certain foundation has to be laid before true learning can take place.

Most beginning teachers are well-schooled on Benjamin Bloom. We’ve memorized, discussed and written about all of the stages of his taxonomy of the cognitive domain, from Remembering to Creating. In classrooms of our own, we continually push our students to the highest rungs of this cognitive ladder. What we often neglect, however, is that students have needs that transcend academics that must be met for learning to happen. These needs aren’t in the standards or curriculum.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow knew this. He theorized that there is a hierarchy of needs that humans constantly strive to meet. Our most basic needs begin with the physiological—food, water, rest, safety. Only when these are met can we concern ourselves with higher needs like social skills, education, esteem and self-actualization.  

With that in mind, our first job as educators is to make sure that we learn our students, that we connect with them on a real level, showing respect for their culture and affirming their worthiness to receive the best education possible.  Our students’ learning and high achievement are just the fruits of this labor. But the truth is before the seed is planted, the ground must first be prepared.

In the classroom, Maslow ALWAYS comes before Bloom.  In Worthington we frame this focus on relationships with our students as our first priority.  Be Kind to Kids.

Big things big, small things small.  Change happens.  In 1967 when Worthington Estates was to open that change was massive.  It’s happened in large ways every decade for the past 50 years in Worthington.  It will happen again soon.  Likely both on a district level and potentially on a personal level.  It will be O.K.  It always is.  Our focus in Worthington Schools is and always has been in taking care of our kids.  In making sure they have a trusted adult who they know and cares about them and who believes in them.  No matter where we teach kids.  No matter what our attendance lines, we’ll keep things in perspective.  How we take care of our kids, how we build relationships with them, invest in their lives, and help them grow and learn to meet their potential, those are the big things! Our mission in Worthington is to empower a community of learners who will change the world.  In order to do that…Big things big, small things small.  Be Kind to Kids! Have a great school year!”

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