Last Friday morning I had the opportunity to have breakfast with retiring Linworth Alternative Director Wayne Harvey (pictured above on the far right with Margaret Wilcox on the left and Niki Gnezda in the middle.) Wayne has had a fascinating career in Worthington beginning as a student teacher at Linworth, spending 17 years teaching at Worthington High School, mostly in the Kilbourne building, coaching with the late Gary Smith, and finally spending the last 20 plus years as the Teacher/Director at Linworth. (This is the kind of difference Wayne has made: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoIxxHpg9K4 )Without question Wayne has made a long-term positive difference in the lives of kids and in the community. My hope is that someday the same will be able to be said about my career.
My intent in meeting with Wayne was to gain his unfiltered perspective on where we are as a school district currently, and to listen to what Wayne would advise that we do differently in the future. Even as an active administrator Wayne was never shy about voicing his opinions and I have always respected Wayne’s passion for students and his ability to help keep the organization focused on the right things. Now that Wayne is officially retired I figured he might be even more willing to share honestly.
Wayne didn’t disappoint. I won’t share all of our conversation but I will share that he provided me with much to think about as we move forward. I appreciate his honesty. A couple of things he said did really resonate. At one point Wayne said, “Education doesn’t happen to masses — it happens one student and one learning experience at a time. It happens when teachers manage to establish good relationships with students and it happens when what is taught in the classroom becomes relevant to students.”
Wayne is not a fan of our current testing environment. He believes strongly that student learning should be connected to a student’s passions and that teachers need to be provided the opportunity to meet students where they are and adjust curriculum as necessary to do so. He feels like Worthington and most other school districts have moved away from teacher autonomy and have moved closer to a factory model working to create widgets that pass state tests. Except that, our students are not widgets, and the jobs of tomorrow will be creative, entrepreneurial, and require critical thinking.
In the era of school and teacher accountability, the common core standards and austere budgets, these are legitimate concerns. Our challenge as a school district is to allow opportunities for teachers to build meaningful relationships with students and the flexibility to adapt their curriculum to the needs of each student while also ensuring that all students meet or exceed the standards. In theory these items work together but in practice there seems to be a push/pull.
At the pool yesterday afternoon a long-time friend said to me “Dr. Bowers, all you care about is the numbers.” On the heels of my breakfast with Wayne this really hit home. The numbers are important; they tell a story about our schools. However I didn’t get into education because of the numbers. I want to make certain Worthington is a school district that meets the needs of all kids, that builds meaningful relationships with students, parents and the larger community and that allows teachers the ability to work their magic. We’re not there yet. I’m not sure we’ll ever get there. But, as we plan this summer, that will be part of our planning. I believe Wayne is right. Education happens one student at a time and usually learning happens when the people involved have a relationship. Our job as a school district is to create an environment where those positive relationships will blossom and thus where all students will grow and excel.
I appreciate Wayne Harvey’s perspective. I know he will not be shy in continuing to provide his ideas and I will commit to listening. Education is always evolving and it’s important that we work together to make certain it evolves in ways that are good for kids.