As we approach Town Meeting Day, I want to thank all of the communities of FWSU for supporting our schools. As a student, parent or guardian, family member, or as a resident – your commitment to our schools has been fantastic. Each day, I witness hard work and creativity reflected in the faces of our students. I also see courageous and dedicated teachers and staff working to make our schools better.
The budgets you all will be voting on are available for you to see on our supervisory union webpage. Early voting is available now in Georgia and Fairfax (also new this year is same-day voter registration). The per pupil spending, which is how budgets are now voted upon, is once again below LAST year’s state average in all of our schools. In addition to having low per pupil spending, our towns also have low tax rates compared to other towns in our region. All of the schools within FWSU are high-value educational environments that are inspiring, stimulating, and innovative for our students.
The last calendar school year was a very positive one for all of us in FWSU. We documented our successes every day on our blog “The FWSU Story” (www.fwsu-blog.org). Every day for the past five years, we have shared stories about numerous student and staff achievements in our schools. In December we reached a milestone when 100,000 people visited our blog. Thanks to all of you who follow our progress each day. I’d like to invite those of you who are unfamiliar, or who have lost touch with our schools, to connect with us and subscribe to The FWSU Story where you can see our schools in action and celebrate all we have accomplished together. Below are a small sampling of the highlights from this year (there are many more):
- Launched Innovation Lab makerspaces in all of our schools
- Featured in the national educational journal Edutopia for our work in the area of global education
- Recognized nationally as an Apple Distinguished Program for the second time
- Received into the League of Innovative Schools (one of 80 in the USA)
- Fostered innovation in our classrooms through the generous support of Bay and Paul Foundation and Digital Promise grants
- Having two BFA Fairfax students recognized in the last two years as Vermont Presidential Scholars. About 20 students from across Vermont are recognized each year for this honor.
As I reflect on our district’s recent successes, I am confident that, together, we will continue to move forward on the four FWSU targets of our Action Plan. The FWSU Action Plan is the roadmap which guides our work. The plan emphasizes four key areas:
- Target 1: Proficiency-Based Personalized Learning
- Target 2: Leadership
- Target 3: Flexible Learning Environments
- Target 4: Engaged Community Partners
We know our students are entering a world which is rapidly evolving. The foundational skills, knowledge, and concepts traditionally taught in school are still tremendously relevant today. However, students will need to demonstrate competence in additional areas in order to be successful after they graduate high school. Skills such as collaboration, critical-thinking, creativity, adaptability, and problem-solving are essential characteristics of a 21st Century learner. Teaching and learning today requires an environment that extends beyond our ability to ask the right questions and seek solutions for the world’s most difficult problems. Our students not only have to be problem solvers, they also have to be problem finders.
We recognize that our teaching and learning cannot be limited to the four walls of a classroom. Most of all, our plan asks schools to start the process of personalizing learning for every student in ways that are relevant and engaging. Three years ago the Vermont General Assembly passed Act 77 (Flexible Pathways Initiative). A major hallmark of this legislation is the move to Proficiency-Based Learning.
Vermont public schools must provide students with flexible and personalized pathways for progressing through grade levels and to graduation. All students graduating in 2020, this year’s ninth graders, must graduate with a proficiency-based diploma. As stated on the Vermont Agency of Education website, “Proficiency-based learning is designed to identify and address gaps to provide equitable learning opportunities for every student. This is in contrast to traditional systems which advance students based on seat time.”
As a result of this legislation, all FWSU schools have been working hard to adapt our curriculum, teaching, assessments, and expectations toward this new-and-improved system of learning. It is difficult to change a system that has been in place for well over 100 years, but this is part of the efforts our schools have undertaken this year. To learn more about the work of all Vermont schools in proficiency-based learning, please visit http://education.vermont.gov/student-learning/proficiency-based-learning (this Vermont Agency of Education webpage offers a lot of good information about this complex change.)
In closing, it is always important to remember that teaching and learning is the heart and soul of any school system. Our acute focus on teaching and learning allows us to deliver an education that is rigorous and relevant in the real world and reflects the knowledge and skills our students need to graduate ready for success. I look forward to serving the towns of FWSU in partnership with you to ensure every student’s continued success.
Ned Kirsch, Superintendent