Worthington Schools in 2021: First phase of facilities plan expected to be completed by July

Stephen Borgna
ThisWeek group
Worthington Superintendent Trent Bowers stands in front of Perry Middle School, which is expected to open for the 2021-22 school year.

Worthington Schools officials expect the challenges presented by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic to continue in 2021 but are optimistic regarding the district’s capital improvements and the value they will provide for students, staff and faculty.  

Phase 1 of a three-phase capital-improvements plan is expected to come to fruition this year with the reopening of Perry Middle School, new construction behind Phoenix Middle School at 2341 Snouffer Road and the completion of extensive renovations to Worthingway, Kilbourne, McCord and Phoenix middle schools.  

Those projects are expected to be done by the end of July, Superintendent Trent Bowers said.  

Perry Middle School was closed in 2010 and repurposed as Phoenix Middle School, a move district officials said would save more than $1 million a year. Once Perry reopens, Phoenix will continue as an alternative middle school for seventh and eighth grades. Students will be able to choose to attend Phoenix after they finish sixth grade at any of the district’s four traditional middle schools, Bowers said.  

He said Phoenix has a longer school day and a smaller enrollment so students can receive more personal instruction. It is also “mastery assessed,” meaning students don’t earn letter grades. According to Bowers, students will have to show they have mastered a concept through a test, a project or by other means.

Phoenix also will undergo renovations, including to its classrooms, student commons and library, and will have shared spaces with Perry, Bowers said. 

With Perry’s reopening – and the renovations to Worthingway, Kilbourne and McCord middle schools – the district will configure classes so grades K-5 will be at the elementary schools, grades 6-8 at the middle schools and grades 9-12 at the high schools, beginning in August.  

“The reopening of Perry Middle School creates additional capacity for all our students,” said Randy Banks, assistant superintendent for operations. “By moving our sixth-graders out of the elementary school to the middle schools, we needed more seats. Perry Middle School creates more seats for those students. And with that comes the opportunity to completely redesign the experience for middle school students in Worthington.” 

Angie Adrian, assistant superintendent for academics, said because of enrollment growth in the district, “we are excited to be able to provide more space and updated facilities to leverage the already-great teaching and learning occurring at all of our middle schools.” 

Bowers said Worthingway Middle School is receiving extensive renovations that make it “basically brand new.”  

A new academic wing is being built at McCord Middle School, with classrooms, science labs and computer labs and a student commons area, and Kilbourne Middle School is receiving a new student cafeteria space, new offices and a new secure entrance.  

“These are the first new-construction buildings Worthington will have in 30 years,” Bowers said. “They’re really transformative educational spaces with lots of natural light, lots of flexible grouping spaces, and it’s going to benefit everyone in the district. We think they’ll be great spaces for our kids and for our teachers.” 

Bowers said Phase 2 construction plans are expected to become clearer in the first quarter of 2021. Funding for Phase 2 is expected to be presented to voters in 2022, he said. 

Bowers said new feeder patterns will be implemented in 2021.  

“Students from Slate Hill Elementary (School) will begin to attend Worthington Kilbourne High School as ninth-graders, and over the next four years, we will balance our high school enrollment between Thomas Worthington and Worthington Kilbourne,” he said. 

Coronavirus response  

Little will change in 2021 in regard to coronavirus restrictions until vaccines begin to be widely implemented, Bowers said.  

Worthington students are in remote learning and will return to hybrid learning Jan. 11, he said. 

Although there are no guarantees, Bowers said, he expects hybrid learning to continue for at least the first part of 2021, with some hope of returning students to in-person learning if a significant segment of the U.S. population is vaccinated by spring.  

“I would expect this hybrid learning will continue through the winter months, as Gov. (Mike) DeWine has warned us there’s going to be some tough months,” he said. “Our hope, obviously, is that sometime when the weather does turn and we see a reduction in COVID … we could reopen the last couple months of school. But it’s really too early to say at this point whether that will be a possibility or not.  

“With more and more people being vaccinated, I definitely see hope for the last couple of months of the school year that I don’t see currently in the winter months.”  

Adrian said the district continues to work on perfecting remote and hybrid learning programs. 

“We are working diligently to ensure the implementation of best practices in remote and hybrid instruction to create coherent learning experiences for all students,” she said. “We are living in unprecedented times and continue to provide scaffolded lessons, make modifications and accommodations to meet the needs of our learners, pre-K through 12.”  

Adrian said some of the district’s next steps – once it can back off from hybrid and remote learning – would be to assess the impacts of those teaching methods and to plan for new-teacher orientation afterthe pandemic. 

Related story:Worthington students will return to remote learning; sports will continue without spectators

Related story:Worthington Schools officials ready to implement hybrid learning

Diversity, equity, inclusion 

Bowers said diversity, equity and inclusion will be a priority for the district in the new year.  

Toya Spencer joined the district in August as its first director of diversity, equity and inclusion and has started work in multiple areas, he said. This includes building internal and external relationships with staff as “we look to train and help our staff do a better job in diversity, equity and inclusion,” he said.

He said Spencer is building data to assess where the district stands and anticipates bringing in an outside group to audit the district’s practices and policies.  

Spencer also is working to improve communication with district stakeholders, Bowers said.  

“We have a number of community groups representing different ethnicities, different family groups in our community,” he said. “And we need to do a much better job of communicating, really, what’s going on in our schools and how they can partner with us and how we can partner with them to help their children.”  

The school board approved a resolution in 2020 proclaiming the district an anti-racist district.  

Bowers said the district will continue to work to live up to that ideal in 2021.  

“It’s important that we better evaluate ourselves and the way we interact with our students,” he said. “We’ve committed to looking at all our policies and making sure that our policy is actively anti-racist.”  

Bowers said another goal is to continue to diversify district staff. 

“Our student population is more diverse than our staff population,” he said. 

Student safety 

As part of its overall security protocol umbrella, Bowers said, the district will continue to prioritize secured entrances to its facilities, “eyes around facilities” from staff and visitor monitoring, preparing all staff members for emergency situations through comprehensive plans and training and investing in mental-health support for students.  

The school board voted last July to discontinue its two-year-old school-resource-officer program, questioning the need for police officers on school grounds.   

This followed the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May and subsequent nationwide protests.  

“We made the philosophical decision that there were other ways to handle school safety,” Bowers said. “There are other theories of action that say … statistically, (the SRO program) doesn’t really keep kids safer.”  

Despite the termination of the program, Bowers said, Worthington achieved high scores on the Ohio Six-Year Invulnerability Assessment, which looks at a district’s security vulnerabilities.  

Related story:Worthington school board votes to discontinue SRO program

sborgna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSteve