Much is Expected

HaxtonOne of the great honors and responsibilities I have as Superintendent of Schools is the opportunity to speak to our graduating classes at our commencement ceremonies.  This year as I attempt to impart whatever morsels of wisdom that 44-year olds can share with confident 18-year olds, I will share a little about a friend of mine from way back when, Steve Haxton.

When I was growing up I had a mentor by the name of Steve Haxton.  Steve is likely about 15 years older than I am and growing up he was larger than life.  Steve invested his time in my life when he didn’t have to.  Steve, my dad and I once won a three on three basketball tournament.  That meant I would pass the ball down to Steve on the post, he would bully his way inside and score 80% of our points.  Once in awhile, he would kick the ball out to my dad who had a decent set shot.  I was just there to be a decoy.  But, we were champions baby!

Steve would often remind me that to those whom much has been given, much is expected.  When I was a kid we used to write important information on 3×5 note cards.  There was no notes function on a smartphone back in 1989.  I remember the day that Steve wrote on one of those cards and gave it to me to carry with me.  To those whom much has been given, much is expected.  I still have that note card and will be able to pull it out of my pocket when speaking today at graduation.  Steve was right, to me much had been given.  From my family, from the Worthington community, from him.  I had no excuses in life and a ridiculous amount to be thankful for.  And, in a softer way, that is what I will attempt to impart to our graduates.  If we’re in Worthington, Ohio, no matter what our situation, we have much to be thankful for and this community has given each graduate a great deal.  Now they too have a responsibility to use what they have been given.

“As graduates of Worthington, you have been given much.  You have been provided a safe place to live, food for your belly.  You have been provided a first class education and you have been provided co-curricular opportunities that have taught you the critical skills of collaboration, perseverance, and grit.  Graduates if you take a few minutes this evening to reflect on your journey and if you actually write down and list out those things that you are thankful for you’ll see that indeed for you much has been given.

And, for those to whom much has been given, much is expected.  We expect you to capitalize on your opportunities.  We expect you to treat those you come in contact with with empathy and respect.  We expect that you’ll use your talents to make Worthington, Ohio, our country and even our world a better place.  The mission of Worthington Schools is to empower a community of learners who will change the world.  We expect you to do exactly that.”

I’m 44 years old and Steve Haxton took me to lunch a few weeks ago.  He’s still investing in my life and I still know that much is expected.

 

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Hustle

HustleIt’s speech season and as Superintendent I was asked to give a few remarks at the Thomas Worthington Senior Scholarship event.  Here is what I said:

“Here in Old Worthington we have a local bakery named Sassafras Bakery (657 High Street).  They sell a cinnamon sugar donut muffin that is the size of a softball and melts in your mouth.  They have warm, gooey frosted cinnamon rolls and iced cookies that are simply unbelievable.  As you can tell I have a sweet tooth and being able to walk to Sassafras from home is not necessarily a good thing.

Recently Sassafras was looking to hire an associate and they posted a picture on Instagram.  At the top of the picture it had a banner that simply said:  

HUSTLE

Underneath the word hustle it said:

Eat

Sleep

Bake Pies

If You Don’t know Ask!

Drink Plenty of Water.

Hustle.

Have a snack.

Get some fresh air.

Clean, clean, clean.

Enjoy your work.

Be kind.

Support your team.

Have fun!

I believe that Sassafras provided good, simple, local advice to live by.  Certainly you could change a few of the words out.  I might change Bake Pies to Work Hard.  And for your future I might change, clean, clean, clean to learn, learn, learn (you will have to continue to learn and grow not matter what your age) but Sassafras has it right and these are simple, yet profound words to live by.

So as you leave the safety of Worthington Schools I’d advise you to do these things:

Hustle

Eat

Sleep

Work Hard

If You Don’t know Ask!

Drink Plenty of Water.

Hustle.

Have a snack.

Get some fresh air.

Learn, learn, learn.

Enjoy your work.

Be kind.

Support your team.

Have fun!

Enjoy your graduation weekend seniors.  On Monday it’s time to Hustle!

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The Jeff Maddox Award for Inspiration

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Last Friday night I was lucky to be able to attend the Worthington Academy Recognition Ceremony.  Worthington Academy is a school that was created to help students see success who may have struggled in traditional schooling.  We have 120 students who attend school at the Academy and watching them see success is a true joy.  (Learn more about Worthington Academy here, here and here.)

At the recognition ceremony the staff and students at Worthington Academy chose two students who were to receive the Jeff Maddox Award for Inspiration.  The award is given to the students who inspire others at Academy for their commitment, perseverance and attitude.  (This year the award was given to Kira Helpman and Sadia Ali.) The award is named after our Director of Certified Personnel, Jeff Maddox.

Before moving into his current position selecting new teachers for our school district, Jeff was the Director of Innovation and Support and the person directly responsible for championing the creation of Worthington Academy.  Jeff formed a work team along with Ken Nally from WKHS, Julie King from TWHS and current Academy Principal, Adham Schirg, who worked diligently to open this new option for our students.  Jeff has a long history of this kind of work in Worthington as 10 years ago he was the administrator on the ground for the the creation and opening of Phoenix Middle School.

In 2017 Worthington has an alternative middle school (Phoenix) and another alternative high school option (Academy) because of Jeff’s selfless leadership.  Jeff has great skills in bringing talented people together and helping guide their work.  He chooses to lead with others and his selflessness allows others to get the credit.  Because of this sometimes people believe that Phoenix and Academy were both started without administrative leadership.  Certainly in both cases we had strong teachers and strong teams dreaming about what could be possible and doing significant work.  But Jeff’s leadership and guidance behind the scenes was invaluable in both cases.

Jeff is a Worthington graduate who has spent a career investing in Worthington kids.  When he and I recently talked about Academy and his role he said, “Worthington has always supported different and I have always appreciated that about this school district.”  It’s true that our community has always supported different and we should be proud of that.  But what’s also true is that different does not happen without someone championing it and doing the work.  I’m proud to work with Jeff Maddox and as I listened to families say “thank you” for the Academy program and the difference it has made for their children I couldn’t help but think, Jeff supported this when others were skeptical.  Jeff championed this when I told him it was too expensive.  Jeff helped staff Academy with the right principal and the right teachers.  Jeff made this happen!

It’s appropriate that Academy named their award for inspiration after Jeff.  It’s well earned.  He’ll hate this blog because he doesn’t want or ever seek the credit.  But credit where credit is due.  

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I’m heading back to McCord

mccord_mustangs_middle_school_columbus_ohio_greeting_card-r800cc5528bb54a3a9a3c51b2d7dc8168_xvuak_8byvr_324Last February I participated in the Shadow a Student Challenge designed by the School Retool Network.  Last year I spent the day at Thomas Worthington High School shadowing Quinn Mottice.  This year I have chosen to participate again (although one day before the challenge actually begins) to shadow McCord Middle School student Ella Brown.

The goal of the Shadow a Student Challenge is for administrators to gain a better perspective on the student experience in our schools.  I’m excited about my opportunity tomorrow and can’t wait to be back at McCord.

In 1986, I was an 8th grade student at McCord.  The school was brand new and after having spent 7th grade as a student at Perry Middle School my neighborhood was redistricted and I was sent to McCord.  As the first class there, we were able to vote on the school colors (blue and silver) and pick the mascot (Mustangs, although I voted for Mavericks as the movie Top Gun had just come out.  The colors and mascot have since changed to align with Worthington Kilbourne High School.)   My memories as a student in class are very limited.  I remember more about riding on the ski club bus to Snow Trails and jamming to Bon Jovi and The Beastie Boys at school dances than I do any one academic moment.

In 1999, I returned to McCord as the Dean of Students.  I had actually interviewed at McCord to teach Language Arts in 1996 but I was not selected for the position. (A team of teachers conducted the interview.  Current Worthington teachers Mark Shannon, Christy Shannon, Robert Estice and Kevin Finnegan were all part of not selecting me for a teaching position.  I’m considering forgiving them soon….) I spent two great years at McCord as the dean and football coach.  I taught with Greg Ross, Dave Murphy, the aforementioned Estice, Finnegan, Shannons and Worthington legends now-retired, Tim Dove, Janet Lanka and Janet Ellis. Our football staff included Bill Wolford, Jeff Todd, Mark Gallagher and my dad, Dick Bowers.  Our starting cornerback was a scrawny kid named Colt Cunningham.  While he teaches for us now at Kilbourne Middle, he still reminds me that I should have started him at quarterback.  

I left McCord in 2001 to become an assistant principal in Marysville Schools and now, 16 years later, I am set to spend my first full-day at McCord since those days I look fondly upon.  I plan to write about my observations from my day back in school and some observations from my time riding school buses yesterday on our blog sister site Absolute Excellence on Monday, February 6th.  If you’d like to follow along tomorrow I’ll post updates on my twitter feed @tbowers3.

I’m looking for a McCord Mustangs shirt to wear tomorrow.  We’ll see if that pans out.  I’ve checked the lunch menu (It’s Donatos Pizza day, score!) Thanks ahead of time to Ella Brown for letting the old Superintendent tag along for the day.  

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Evelyn Cummins Changed My Life

lmyearbookIn life it’s often the seemingly insignificant moments that you are able to look back upon and recognize the importance.  Everyday in our classrooms these moments occur between adults and students.  Sometimes these moments change lives.

After Christmas dinner we were sitting around our dining room table when my dad told a story I had never heard before.  I had known that my grandfather worked on the railroad as a locomotive engineer and I had known that my dad was the first member of his family to attend and graduate from college, but I had never really learned what made my dad choose to go to college.  That decision to go to college led my dad to a career in federal law enforcement with the U.S. Secret Service.  It led to us being able to afford to grow-up in Worthington, and it led to me going to college and eventually earning advanced degrees.  That single decision changed my dad’s life, it changed my life, and likely it will change the trajectory of the lives of my children, their children, etc…It literally had exponential impact.

Here’s what I learned.  Dad grew up in the Linden area of Columbus and attended Linden McKinley High School.  In the spring of 1962, dad was signed up for the classes he would need to graduate from high school his senior year.  The classes were all average courses that would fulfill his requirements for graduation but wouldn’t cause him too much stress.  Dad was an average student who likely had above average intellect but was left by my grandparents to manage school himself and as such, he did just enough to get by and gave little thought towards the future. (He was a normal adolescent boy.)

That changed in the spring of 1962 when Linden McKinley guidance counselor, Evelyn Cummins, called dad down to her office to review his schedule.  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.

In 2016 it’s funny to think about, but Dad had never considered going to college.  No one had really mentioned the idea and no one had ever pushed him in that direction.  He didn’t have other plans and when Ms. Cummins expressed confidence in his abilities, he began to think about himself in those terms.  That simple meeting changed everything.

Dad completed his senior year in the college prep track.  He graduated from Linden McKinley in the spring of 1963 and enrolled at Ohio State University that fall.  Tuition was around $175.00 per quarter in 1963 and he found the money to pay for school by enrolling in the Army ROTC.  

Certainly there were other contributing factors but one could draw a line to say that Evelyn Cummins met with my dad on her own accord because she cared.  She changed his senior year course schedule and with her insistence, he went on to college.  Because he went to college, I went to college.  Because I went to college, I met my wife, and likely our daughters will each go to college.

Thus, Evelyn Cummins, a lady I never met, changed my life and the life of my family forever.  And, that’s what public educators do every day across this country.

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What Do I Really Do?

what-do-i-really-doThis blog was originally posted by leadupnow.com

When my kids were little, they used to ask me, “Daddy, what do you actually do all day?”  As the superintendent of a 10,000 student school district in Central Ohio, I would often just casually respond with, “I go to meetings.”  For a while, that seemed to satisfy them, and they moved on.  But, what is the role of the district superintendent? Officially, the superintendent is the top executive in the school district. It’s my job to implement the school board’s vision by making day-to-day decisions about educational programs, spending, staff, and facilities and by hiring, supervising, and managing the central office staff and principals.  

But, what do I really do….?

It’s my belief that my most important role, and the most important role of all leaders, is to positively impact and build the culture of our school district.  Focus 3 leadership consultant and Worthington City Schools graduate, Tim Kight, teaches that leaders create the culture, that drives the behavior, that produces the results.  

Thus, I want to spend the majority of my time leading to impact the culture of our school district.

One of my core beliefs is that humans desire leadership and want to know what is expected of them.  When they are clear on their expectations, most people will rise to meet them.  With that in mind, I communicated ”My Six Expectations” for all staff members in our school district in my opening address to the entire staff.   In speaking to the entire certified and classified staff in one room, I shared my expectations that were designed to clarify the daily actions that we would value, which began and ended with the simple mantra – “Be Kind to Kids.”  

change-the-world-3Throughout my first year as the superintendent, I attended a large number of meetings; many of those meetings were set-up to create a new mission and vision for the school district.  We intentionally designed these meetings and brought a representative community group together, because we wanted a mission that would resonate with our staff and clarify our purpose as a school district.  My goal was to create vision statements that would specify how our team would work with our community to accomplish our mission.  These statements would create clarity and help prioritize every staff member’s daily actions.  After a solid six months of regular meetings, we developed our mission and vision statements.  Instead of solely creating posters and hanging them in buildings, we unveiled them at our February State of the Schools event.

After the evening of our State of the Schools event, we recognized that we had clearly articulated our daily expectations and our team had created new mission and vision statements.  The question that kept nagging at me was, “what am I supposed to do now?”  If we were really going to move the needle and impact behavior and results, what was needed next?  Immediately, we went to work with a graphic designer to create mission and vision visuals for all schools (which turned out to be pretty awesome!).  In addition, our communications team developed a video of our students talking about “Changing the World” (also, super awesome!).  Momentum was building, but we kept feeling like we were missing a large segment of our staff.  Without taking some sort of action, our statements would look good on paper and on the wall, but may make very little difference.  In Leading with Focus, Mike Schmoker points out that a leader needs to be “obsessively clear”.  That thought kept resonating in my mind.  Am I being obsessively clear with our team? How many of our 1,250 employees would really know the mission, vision and expectations?  And, since we all process things through our own perceptive lenses, how many would really know what these statements meant to their daily work in our district?  If we were going to impact the culture and change adult behavior, we had to do something more.

With that goal in mind, we worked to be bring clarity to our mission, vision and six Processed with MOLDIVexpectations for all staff members.  This summer, working with Dynamix LLC, I created a book that each school will use throughout the school year to clarify our district’s core values.  At our opening staff convocation, we handed out to each staff member (including bus drives, cooks, and custodians) a copy of the book, “Worthington Schools Living our Mission, Vision and Shared Expectations“.  Our plan is that every Worthington Schools employee will go through this book with their teammates this school year.  They’ll meet in staff meetings, department meetings, cafeteria manager meetings, maintenance staff meetings, etc…  The central office staff will also complete the study together.  

The idea is to touch all 1,250 of our employees in a tangible way.  And, we wanted something that would be sustained month after month throughout the school year.  The book was designed as a simple way to keep the mission, vision and expectations in front of our staff.  And, it’s also a way for each staff member to internalize our values and wrestle with how they personally fit into each area.  It’s designed to be done in collaboration with peers, because we recognize that all real learning is personal and, as a district, we want to learn in community with one another.  

Each section has a short reading, a process for dialogue with peers, and an area for personal reflection.  Our belief is that when all 1,250 Worthington Schools team members wrestle with this material, read about it, discuss it, and reflect on it, we’ll help make our written statements come alive with a unified focus for our students.

By focusing on our mission, vision and shared expectations everyday, we are working to create a “Focus 3” culture in Worthington Schools that drives the behavior that will produce results that enable our students to leave our school district prepared to change the world.  If everyone moves just one step forward, the organization takes a giant leap.

That’s really what I do all-day!

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A Deadly Wandering

A Deadly WanderingEarlier this summer I wrote about the book Dreamland.  If you haven’t yet read Dreamland, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

I have another book I’d like to recommend.  Last June I was at a party and Worthington parent Aimee Wellejus recommended that I read the book “A Deadly Wandering” by Matt Richtel.   Now, for those of you that know Aimee, I wasn’t about to not do what she told me to.  That would be very bad, so I immediately downloaded the book onto my Kindle.

Aimee was right (as she usually, mostly, o.k. almost always…) is. The book is a fascinating read and chronicles the groundbreaking case of Reggie Shaw, a Utah teenager who drove into oncoming traffic in 2006, killing two scientists who were commuting to work.

The book, “A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention,” not only details the events and people responsible for eventually prosecuting Reggie and enacting one of the nation’s first bans on texting and driving, but also provides one of the most comprehensive compilations ever on the research on attention.

Among the concepts Richtel examines is the phenomenon of inattention blindness, where a driver might appear to be focused on the road, but is still mentally unable to see his surroundings because his mind is involved in the last text he sent — up to 15 seconds earlier.

In addition the book describes the neuroscientists seeking to understand attention.  The simple question is: are the tools of our age (Moore’s law: “computing power doubles every eighteen months to two years”) overloading our mental grid? Is Metcalfe’s law (“defines the value of a telecommunications network … as proportional to the square of the number of users”) amplifying the human social urge to be on top of things to the point where we are essentially addicted to our devices? Hear that ring, get a shot of dopamine. The constant undercurrent of content undermines our attentiveness – no one actually multi-tasks (although we all think we multi-task).

So as I write this blog on a device and have checked my cellphone three times for twitter updates while writing this blog, it does make me pause.  How should we deal with our devices?  How much time should my children spend on their devices?  When is texting each evening normal for my 13 year old and when is it too much?  What role should devices play for students during the school day? These are questions I’m asking myself after reading this book and I think they’re really the questions of our time.  I don’t know the answers but I’d be interested in your perspective after you’ve read the book.

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