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In Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great” he talks about “confronting the brutal facts.”  In Worthington Schools we are taking this seriously.  Both our recent culture/climate survey and our secondary school audit is designed to confront where we are right now, and for that information to inform where we need to go in the future.  I’m glad to work for a Board of Education who is not afraid to ask the tough questions and understands that when we ask the tough questions we may not always get the answers we want.  We believe that this will make us better!

This morning the Columbus Dispatch published a story (On the front page) regarding our secondary audit.  The story titled, “Worthington District Officials Looking at Reorganizing Its Two High Schools” focused on one of four reports we have commissioned to look at our secondary programs.   The reports, three by Hanover Research, and one by Capital University, are designed to look at all aspects of our secondary program. 

There are three parts to the Hanover Study: 21st Century courses offerings, facilities and co-curricular programs. The Capital piece of the audit also focuses on Curriculum and will be presented to the Board of Education at tonight’s (9/10/2012) Board of Education meeting.

Please take a few minutes and read the actual findings from the studies.  The Dispatch provided a glimpse of the facilities study but failed to provide an accurate portrayal of the entire study.  Our goal in looking at our high schools was to step back and determine whether what we are offering our students in grades 7-12 is what they will need to be successful in the coming decades.  Are we offering the right classes?  Are our students grouped in the best ways to meet their needs both academically and socially?  Is our co-curricular program meeting the needs of our students?  As we began this study we did not go into it with any pre-conceived ideas and declining enrollment was only one small factor in the decision to look at our programs. 

This is such an important issue that we determined that current administrators and staff were too close to the issues to provide the most objective report.  Our people are incredibly invested in our schools, but this investment makes it difficult to see things that outsiders see clearly.  Thus, after Hanover Research worked with the Upper Arlington Schools we decided to use them to look at our system.  Capital provided a check and balance to the Hanover group and hopefully, combined, we have a relevant starting point for discussion.

What’s next will be up to our Superintendent and Board of Education.  Our plan was to create a group of community stakeholders, parents, teachers, students, administrators and business leaders to review the reports and make recommendations based upon the report, and what we want for Worthington, to the Board of Education.  I would expect this process to occur over the next year.

After reading the reports myself, and talking with members of the community, I would be surprised if we saw major system change.  I believe there needs to be additions and subtractions to our curriculum and we need to engage students in areas of interest such as STEM and International Baccalaureate.  In recent years we have moved in this direction.  But, our community will decide where we go.  I will not, Dr. Tucker will not, etc…  We will not do anything that our community is not on board with.  We work for you.

One note on the article:  Worthington’s enrollment has declined over the past ten years.  This is not news.  It’s also makes sense.  The Worthington community is land-locked and centrally located.  We have great community! People who raise their children here often stay here and thus we also have are an older community.  Likewise in the 2000’s building a new house was cheaper, required less down-payment, and had lower financing rates than buying an older house that needed renovated.  Thus many of my friends gravitated to Olentangy or Dublin where new houses were in ample supply.  Finally enrollment at our elementary schools is booming.  Worthington Estates has over 610 students, Slate Hill 565, Liberty 525, Evening Street 520.  We’re very short on classroom space at the elementary and our enrollment projections from DeJong-Healy show an increase of 500 students over the next decade.

Below are the Key Findings from the Facilities study that was referenced by the Dispatch this morning.  Again, these are only the key findings from the facilities study and not from the other three studies that were completed.  Please take some time and read all the studies.  You’ll gain a much better perspective on where we are.

Key Findings and Considerations

Based on our research, Worthington City Schools may consider the following issues with regard to potential configurations of its high schools:

Remaining a two-high school district with no changes – Compared to the 20 peer districts examined in this report, Worthington has the lowest square mileage of any multi-high school district, and a number of districts that span a wider geographic area have only a single high school. When considering district size in terms of high school enrollment, however, the district is not the smallest among multi-district peers and only two of the single-high school districts had higher enrollments than Worthington in FY 2011.

Remaining a two-high school district with streamlined offerings – Among Worthington’s peers, we found little evidence of streamlining of offerings between high schools. Streamlining of offerings appeared limited to specific programs such as one high school in a multi-high school district offering the International Baccalaureate program, while providing students at other high schools a transfer option to enroll in the program. Another example was a half-day Teacher Academy for high school seniors offered at one high school in a district. Students at other high schools were allowed to travel to that school for classes.

Becoming a multi-campus high school with a specific academic/ interest focus or an alternative grade configuration – As noted above, peer districts did not provide examples of high schools with specific academic focuses. However, we did find a district – Lakota Local (Butler County) – that has two main high schools, each with a separate freshman campus. As noted by the district superintendent prior to the opening of a second freshman campus, freshman campuses provide a “focus on the specific developmental needs of ninth graders,” while their alignment with a main high school still offers a “direct link to the 10th through 12th grade staff and programs [that] will give students a stronger sense of belonging, improving overall academic performance.”

Have all high school students attend a single school – If Worthington decides to select this option, the District should keep in mind that in terms of square-feet per student, it would rank well below the peer districts examined for this report. Based on the most recent enrollment and square footage data provided by the District, if Worthington were to only use Thomas Worthington High School (TWHS) for all students, it would have 116.7 square feet per student. If Worthington Kilbourne High School (WKHS) were used as the only facility, the school would feature 111.9 square feet per student. The lowest square footage per student among the peer districts profiled in this report was 135.5 and even this figure was low compared to other peers (the next lowest was 165.0 square feet per student).

Adequacy of square footage – It should further be noted that the adequacy of square footage per student will likely be tied to how that space is actually used. The Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports from which we drew building square footage information did not indicate what percentage of the space was used for instructional purposes versus other uses. Conceivably, a school building with higher square footage per student that uses more of this space for a large gym or other non-classroom area may not be as “adequate” as a school building that has lower overall square footage but allocates more space to instructional purposes.

Middle school programming – As Worthington indicated that any change to its high school configurations would also impact middle school programming, we scanned peer districts for examples of middle school students taking courses at high schools. While most peer districts discussed middle school students earning high school credit, we found limited evidence of middle school students actually taking courses at high school facilities. One exception was an option presented to middle school students pursuing a foreign language not offered by their school. One district noted that these students could enroll in courses at one of the district’s high schools if space permitted.

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