As we end 2015 I’m sitting in a quiet office on a gray day in Worthington, Ohio. My coffee is dark and hot and there is some space in my day to reflect on the past year. What a year it has been! It’s hard to distill my favorite memories of this year into just a few, but here goes….
Living in Worthington, Ohio my oldest daughter is attending the same middle school building that I attended in seventh grade. While the school name has shifted from Perry Middle School to Phoenix Middle School the same maroon lockers remain from when I was a student there in 1985. In August my daughter and I were at the school and she was practicing opening her locker. The combination lock is always a bit tricky and it’s made trickier with years of use and wear. As I sat on the floor while she practiced over and over again I was taken back in time to those very same lockers. Back in 1985 as a 7th grade student at Perry I asked Katie Worden to the Valentine’s Dance. She said yes and we were to meet at the school. As a suave 7th grader I went to Kroger at the Worthington Square and purchased a heart shaped box of candy to give to Katie. Unfortunately, that’s where my courage ended and I decided to stash the box of candy in my locker until the right time presented itself to give Katie the candy. That time never came and so it’s possible that there is a locker somewhere at Phoenix Middle School that still houses a heart shaped box of candy that I purchased for Katie Worden but that I never had the courage to give her. On a side note, my daughter has become very proficient at opening her locker. If she would only become proficient at bringing things home from her locker we would be O.K.
In 2015 I was able to officiate my first graduation as Superintendent of Worthington Schools. It’s a bittersweet memory but one that will resonate with me for a long time. A student at Linworth Alternative, Chris Chia’s, mother was in hospice at the Kobacker House in Columbus. It was very important to her to get to see Chris graduate and thus our team at Linworth set-up a personal graduation for Chris and three friends at the Kobacker House. The students wore their blue graduation gowns, the school got their diplomas ready, and a cake and a number of family members came to the Kobacker House. We held a ceremony. I was able to speak for a few minutes and our Teacher/Director at Linworth, Chris Hasbrook, spoke as well. The boys graduated together in the presence of Chris’ mom who passed just a few days later. I hope to have the great privilege of presiding over many graduations in the coming years, but I am doubtful many will hold the memory of this one. I’ll remember with gratitude the work of the staff at Linworth Alternative who made certain this day happened and I’ll remember four friends who graduated together and supported one another in a very difficult time. When things work well this is how they work. A synergy between the school lending support and a community coming together. This was a community of young men but it was a true honor to be a part of.
In 2015 I ran my first cross country race at our Worthington Schools Eisenhart Invitational. Having grown up in Worthington I used to watch Jenni Beymer, Jen Hamdorf, Chris Szabo and many others run the cross country course each day in the fall. Frankly, I thought they were crazy! Why would anyone run if they didn’t have to? But as an adult I’ve become a runner. Mostly because I have to do something to stay active. I’m not a good runner. I’m an every day, left foot, right foot runner. But when I realized there was an adult Eisenhart race I signed up. It sounded like a good idea at the time. But when I got to the starting line there were only about 30 of us. And, it was obvious to me that there were 29 real runners and then there was me. This was not good. I really didn’t want to be the Superintendent who finished last, but I was going to have to run this race at a very uncomfortable pace and likely I was going to finish last anyway. And so I ran like my hair was on fire and just barely I didn’t finish last. Next year I’ll likely volunteer to help at the event, but I’ll always remember my one and only run on the Thomas Worthington Cross Country Course.
Finally, in 2015 I was totally blessed to be able to speak to every employee of Worthington Schools at our opening convocation. For me this opportunity was unique and special. It was made even more special because my parents and my wife and kids were able to be in attendance to share the day. On this day I was able to share our six expectations for all Worthington staff bracketed by “Be Kind to Kids.” The expectation is that everyone who chooses this profession understands that this being kind to kids is our number one job. To nurture our students, to treat them with respect, to make sure they know we care about them and will do everything possible to help them see success. We’re in the kid business. Learning only occurs at high levels when it is in relationship. The rigor of our courses is irrelevant without really getting to know our students on a personal level and helping them through this portion of their life. Kids challenge us everyday. They do things that make us laugh, that make us cry, and that often make us shake our head. That just makes them kids. But if we want them to grow and learn and be successful far beyond what we may believe is possible, if we want to produce students who will go off and make a positive difference and literally change the world, it begins simply with “Be Kind to Kids!”
2015 has been a very cool year for me and I hope it has been for you as well. The end of this year comes with a touch of sadness but more so it comes with excitement. 2016 will bring many new challenges and many new moments. Some will be awesome, some not so much. Time to start running again!