Worthington News

Worthington City Schools

Tucker says security, safety are key to successful learning environment

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Last year was a good one for the Worthington City Schools.

Parents shouldn't expect the district to rest on its laurels, though, Superintendent Thomas Tucker said.

"We're not in the business of declining our expectations," he said.

Over the past year, the district earned some of the top grades in the state on its annual report card, with four A's in the section that measures academic improvement. Only eight districts in the state accomplished that.

Security and safety improved with the installation of buzz-in systems in all elementary and middle schools, and two social workers were hired to work with students facing family, emotional or social issues.

A teacher evaluation system was instituted, with all teachers now being scrutinized according to state standards, just like their students have been for many years.

Tucker said he expects the district to continue to improve in all of those areas this year and to tackle improvements in communication and negotiations for a new contract between teachers and the school board.

Academics continue to be the main focus of the schools, though that focus can't be achieved unless students feel safe and secure, he said.

To help make sure all students can learn in a safe environment, the district last summer installed new security systems, which seem to be working well, he said.

Next, administrators will hone in on security at the high schools. Those institutions pose challenging safety issues, but the district is ready to come up with its own solutions, Tucker said.

He said he is very proud of the strengthening of the district's efforts in the area of mental health.

Over the past year, with the help of a $160,000 grant from the ADAMH (Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health) board, the district hired two social workers, who work with students and families on such issues as self-esteem, self-image, changing family dynamics and mental illness.

Those are important issues that educators aren't always able to handle on their own, he said.

Also in place are awareness of and ways to address bullying, which parents expressed as a concern in a recent survey.

Tucker said he'd always keep an emphasis on helping all students feel safe and secure, both physically and emotionally. Schools have a moral obligation to take care of students who are struggling with bullying, thoughts of suicide and self-esteem issues, he said.

"As a father and an educator, I cannot not feel for these students," he said.

One of the major projects undertaken over the past year is the evaluation of teachers, a process that is proving to be time consuming, especially for principals, who are required to spend much of their days observing teachers in the classroom.

Legislation going through the Ohio General Assembly would allow experienced teachers to be evaluated every two or three years. That would be helpful in freeing up principals' time, Tucker said.

Evaluations are very important, he said, and principals should spend time in classrooms, but principals also need time to build relationships with students.

Within those classrooms, a process called formative instruction continues to improve student academic performance, he said.

Test scores have improved, and are expected to continue to improve, using the system that frequently assesses students and provides rich feedback during the learning process.

Formative instruction took hold in Worthington classrooms about three years ago and continues to help students learn, he said.

Also on the 2014 horizon are negotiations between the school board and the Worthington Education Association, the union representing the district's teachers.

The labor contract expires in July, and preliminary talks have started, with formal negotiations expected to begin within the month.

Tucker said he would like to see a new contract by the end of the school year.

"We anticipate everything going smoothly," he said. "We want to be fair during this, yet show fiscal restraint."

Also coming up is a public report on internal and external communications. A month ago, a group of residents met for a conversation about how the district communicates.

Administrators listened and learned, Tucker said.

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