Think Snow: How School Weather Closings Are Made

Each year, at about this time, the weather begins to take a turn for the worse. Ice, snow, sleet, or any other wintry mixture always seem to appear at morning commute time. Some days the weather is so bad that canceling or delaying school is easy. Other days making that decision is not so easy. I’m often asked how I make that decision and a two years ago I wrote about if for the FWSU Story. As yet another storm approaches our region, I thought I would repost my story in case any of you were curious about the Anatomy of a Snow Day.


What student doesn’t like a snow day? As a Superintendent, I vividly remember snow days being the highlight of winter when I was in school. Unfortunately, growing up near the ocean, snow days were few and far between. Living in northern New England for the past 30 years, I have experienced many snow cancellations. Some seemed “justified” – others not so much.

As a student, I always wanted to be able to cancel school – I guess I should have been careful what I wished for back then! Now it is my responsibility to consider the impact of weather on the safety of our students and staff. It is never an easy decision. Today as I watch the great Nor’easter of 2014 churn from my office window, I thought I would give a glimpse behind the scenes into how the decision is made to cancel school in FWSU.


Usually, the process begins when our local weather experts on TV drop the first hint about a coming weather event. I find myself immersed in weather reports and weather websites frequently this time of year to learn all I can about any approaching storm. As more details begin to emerge, I consult with other superintendents in the Champlain Valley. Although we lead different school systems, we have many broad community connections since we share students attending regional technical centers and students who are tuitioned to other school districts. At FWSU, we have students attending technology academies in St. Albans, Burlington, and Essex. We also have students enrolled in high schools all throughout the Franklin/Chittenden County area.

Sometimes we have enough information to easily predict conditions a day prior to the big event. However, most of the time that is not the case. Today my morning began at 4am when I awoke to begin monitoring the weather and communicating with principals, area superintendents, and the FWSU Facilities Director. Today I had no power at home, which made communication a little tricky. Fortunately, I found the exact spot in my house where my cell phone works most of the time!


Principals in our system are in direct communication with bus directors and the amazing road crews that keep our streets plowed while we are all still sleeping. Principals gather information and share what they have learned. This morning I was engaged in over twenty phone calls, texts and emails before 5:15am. The news we gathered from every corner of FWSU was clear – our roads were in tough shape and the storm was not ending anytime soon. Today was an “easy” call to cancel school. As I drove into the office I passed a snowplow in the ditch and was glad that we made the decision not to transport our students today.

Once the determination to cancel school is made, the principals spring into action. They immediately contact all the local news agencies, update webpages, and activate our phone/email messaging system. We like to have this completed prior to 6am to give everyone plenty of time to make arrangements. Once this is complete, we can then breathe a quick sigh of relief and get ready for the day ahead.


The decision to postpone school is not easy. Usually, some are happy that school is closed and others are frustrated. I fully realize that in some instances, a decision to close school impacts families a great deal. I also realize that holding school in poor weather conditions has the potential to jeopardize safety. It can be a tightrope act.

Hopefully, many of our students took time today to enjoy our winter wonderland! You can also enjoy a student/aspiring young filmmaker’s perspective here. Maybe some our own FWSU students are working on a similar project today.



Ned Kirsch is Superintendent of Schools at FWSU. He is a constant contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow him on Twitter @betaVT

PBIS for Paraeducators

On Monday, November 21st, Chris Dodge and Frank Calano designed and facilitated an in-service training for paraprofessionals.


The focus of the institute, PBIS for Paraeducators, explored the elements of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) as a part of a Multi-Tiered System of Support and its application to support universal best practices for all students. PBIS is a schoolwide system of support that focuses on teaching strategies  and supporting student behaviors to create a positive school environment. Paraeducators play an integral role in supporting student and applying PBIS strategies to promote the school-wide success of this approach. The training provided the background information about PBIS along with its practical application. Paraeducators had an opportunity to practiced strategies on with peers by recognizing and labeling positive behaviors.


The institute concluded with a presentation from Joelle van Lent on the topic of Differential Discipline, “Fair is not equal. Fair is meeting the needs of every student”. She covered the importance of developing relationships and creating a sense of belonging for all students.  This was a thought-provoking training that had a practical application and connected the topic of PBIS with daily work of a paraeducator. It was an engaging presentation which concluded with a thoughtful group discussion.


Paras had this to say:

  • My take away from today is to try to inspire the child to be part of the group so they feel like they belong and are invested. 
  • Learning my child was not unique and what causes a lot of the problem.  There is no simple solution, but being here.
  • Celebration Moment: My ah-ha moment was Joelle’s presentation. Defining differential discipline as being both a community challenge and community solution. She brought specific scenarios that I could relate to my specifically assigned students. I now have ideas to work with – as well as utilizing PBIS language. I am looking forward to Fairfax having a more cohesive approach to these behavior challenges. Thank you.
  • I learned that rewards that are relational are about social connection not “related” to the problem that arose.
  • Good Company, Good Info!  Love Joelle! Thank you for group work. This was one of the best!  Hope we can work with teachers on this in the future.
  • I am going to re-evaluate how my “lunch bunch” group is set up, including having them participate in brainstorming their rules and responsibilities. Thank you for today.
  • Addressed how we can change behavior at all levels.
  • Joelle always bring me to a good place to start fresh with our kiddos!
  • Positive behavioral integration system, naming the behavior you want them to repeat. Taken – when you notice them reaching the expectation.

It was a great day of professional learning!


Target 3. Flexible Learning Environments: FWSU maximizes flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and personalized learning opportunities for all.

BFA-Fairfax Innovation Lab Designs Solutions to Real-World Challenges

bfainnovationlab3The Elementary School Innovation Lab (grades 3-5) has begun an exciting unit on the inquiry process, in which students will design a solution to a real-world challenge. Teachers Sandy Brown, Kendra Myers, Victoria Reynolds, and Rhonda Siemons have been hard at work since this summer planning opportunities for students to explore their natural worlds. See the Innovation Lab Blog to learn more about what’s happening in this incredible learning space. Between Thanksgiving and the Holiday Break, they are providing a structured process — scientific inquiry — for students engage in that exploration.  During this unit, students will develop their communication, problem-solving, creativity, perseverance and collaboration skills as they consider a real-world challenge and its potential solutions.

Students will have access to a variety of engineering and technology resources to help them in the design process.  Students will have the option of designing and/or printing prototypes of their designs using 3D-scanning and 3D-printing technology.  Other students will use SparkFun electrical circuitry kits to delve into the circuits necessary to make their solution a reality.  Finally, students for whom sensory technology is a component of their design will use Pocket Lab sensors that can measure temperature, velocity, acceleration, magnetic field, pressure, and altitude.  Students that are looking to create a full-scale model of their design will have access to a variety of construction tools.  


Future engineers learn about proper use of construction tools.

Last week, students presented their design ideas to a “Teacher Tank” (modeled after the show Shark Tank, in which entrepreneurs present business ideas to successful business people). Teachers probed students’ understandings of the problem they were trying to solve, as well as the extent to which they had planned their solution.  Once students traversed the rigors of the Teacher Tank, they were given the go-ahead to begin the design phase of their project.  The student rang a bell to signify to all students in the innovation lab that they had been given the green light to pursue their idea.  It looked like this:

Yes, that’s a broom holding up the Teacher Tank sign.  Not everything in the Innovation Lab has to be high-tech, you know!

Introducing FWSU’s New SAP Counselor, Christopher Fountain

FWSU is pleased to introduce Christopher Fountain, the new Student Assistant Support Counselor (SAP) at BFA.



Christopher Fountain, FWSU SAP Counselor


He works primarily with students, teachers and parents providing substance use prevention awareness.


Christopher is in the initial phase of providing monthly substance use prevention curriculum during designated support blocks, beginning with ninth grade in December.


He also collaborates with Bonnie Poe, FWSU Prevention and Wellness Coordinator, in implementing the WSCC model.


Chris is looking forward to working with students, parents, and teachers in continuing to foster mutual respect and holistic based education.

BFA Fairfax Students Engage Community in Celebration of the Arts with Coffee House

Last Friday, BFA hosted one of our best events, Coffee House. Coffee Houses are held fairly regularly throughout the year and are exhibitions of student talent at our school.


The thing that makes the Coffee House so unique is that they are totally student driven. BFA teacher Sara Villeneuve serves as faculty advisor for the group, but students plan, market, produce, set up, host, and clean up the whole event. They share their talents and yes, they even make coffee and sell baked goods.


At this month’s event, students played the ukulele, sang songs, recited poetry, and performed as bands. There was a magic act, a bottle flipper, and a guitar battle. Some students perform at every Coffee House. There are also a few teachers and community members that perform as well.  Every month, a new student will decide to share their talent and this month was no exception. It’s amazing to see the hidden talents that so many of our students have.

“I was really nervous, but once I started singing, I loved it. I can’t wait until next month.” – Rebekah F, student and new performer

While Coffee House is a school sponsored event, it involves the Fairfax community as well. This month’s audience was a mix of students, parents and other local supporters of the arts.


Coffee House started about six years ago. It has continued in spite of graduations and transitions of teacher advisors because the students are the leaders of the organization and they continually groom the “next generation” of leaders. If you haven’t attended a BFA Coffee House, make it a point to attend the next one.

“Coffee House continues to grow in popularity for both the audience and performers. Even with 20+ members of the Coffee House staff, it takes a huge effort to pull it all together. ” – Sara Villeneuve, teacher advisor


Professional Learning Institute Centers on Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child in FWSU

What do classroom teachers, guidance counselors, behavioral support, ELL, and school nurses from across FWSU have in common that would bring them together for a two-day inservice?  A dedicated interest in the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model that emphasizes a collaborative, integrated approach to learning and health for all children.  


During the two days, the group focused on the Family Engagement component of the model, along with the Social and Emotional Climate component.

Members of this Institute included:

  • Bonnie Poe, Facilitator/FWSU Prevention & Wellness Coordinator
  • Penny Aceto, Classroom Teacher
  • Dave Buckingham, Guidance Director
  • Melissa Fisher, Middle School Guidance Counselor
  • Courtney Foley, Elementary Guidance Counselor
  • Cindy Little, Elementary Guidance Counselor
  • Tara McMahon, School Nurse
  • Erika Merrell, ELL Teacher
  • John Rowell, Special Educator
  • Lisa Wilkins, Classroom Teacher

Although the third day for their next inservice together isn’t until March, they have already agreed to create a group communication dialogue to share their work and a request to meet for half a day to continue their work.

Both parents and teachers might want to check out one of the many websites that were used as resources during this inservice:

William Harris Challenges BFA Fairfax Student-Athletes and Parents to “Make That Change”

On the night of Wednesday, December 7, the BFA Fairfax High School athletic community welcomed Mr. William Harris to the annual winter sports parent/athlete night.


On an evening typically reserved for addressing athletic requirements, regulations, and procedures, Mr. Harris provided an energy-filled change, directing his words and passion toward student-athletes, parents, and coaches alike.


Mr. Harris is a renowned motivational speaker who travels the country sharing his passion for the athletic experience with numerous high schools and colleges ranging from nearly every high school in Vermont, to the likes of the University of Virginia and University of Florida.  A former All-American basketball player himself, Mr. Harris provides a point-blank personal perspective as a coach, parent and athlete.


Focusing on the different roles of players, coaches, and parents as part of the athletic experience, Mr. Harris outlined how each of them are a crucial part of creating a positive culture and successful athletic programs in our school community.  Parents were challenged to be supportive of all students while at home or in the stands, coaches were challenged to create a holistic K-12 program culture, while student-athletes were challenged to focus on “team” before “me”, and reminded that the Fairfax name on the front of their uniform or jersey, is far more important than the individual name that may be printed on the back.


Thanks to the positive energy demonstrated by all, we are confident that the upcoming winter season will be one where the entire BFA Fairfax athletic community “Makes That Change.”