Eighteen years ago I was offered the opportunity to transition from being a special educator in Milton to a school administrator at BFA Fairfax. To this day, it remains one of the best decisions I have made in my professional career. BFA Fairfax has provided me every opportunity to learn, grow, and make a positive impact on teaching and learning.
My connection to Fairfax was immediate. Although I am a “flatlander” from central New York, Fairfax reminded me of my home in so many ways. My hometown of Hamilton, New York was a rural farming community and I attended a Pre K-12 school for my entire public school education. Unless you have been in one building and community for your formative years you cannot completely understand the unique dynamics that impact and shape you.
This experience is one of many factors that have led me to remain at BFA Fairfax for nearly two decades. Another important component of my longevity is the opportunities to grow, change, and be part of a community with similar values, priorities, and a focus on what is best for our students. Together we created a vision that continues to guide our work:
Bellows Free Academy Elementary/Middle School Vision for Teaching and Learning
At Bellows Free Academy Elementary/Middle School, we strive for academic excellence because we believe that all students can achieve high standards. During this time of dramatic cognitive growth, we seek to provide a rigorous curriculum that is socially significant and reflects the personal interests and learning styles of our students.
We engage students through learning opportunities that are relevant to our students and enable them to make real-life connections. Our curricula align with the Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, Three C’s, and include learning opportunities that require higher-level thinking, knowledge, skill development, student experiences, experimentation, and reflection.
Our school continually strives to create a personalized learning environment. Whenever possible, we implement flexible scheduling to enable students to engage in extended projects, hands-on learning experiences, and inquiry-based learning opportunities. Comprehensive services foster healthy physical, social, emotional, ethical, and intellectual development. We strive to make all students feel supported, safe, and willing to take risks and to challenge themselves.
Technology is an integral component that supports learning by providing teachers with interactive tools with which to engage students. Digital technology will continue to evolve and it is our responsibility as educators to stay at the forefront of these modern advances by providing technology-based learning opportunities. Through these opportunities, we will ensure technological equity among all students.
Teaching and learning are interconnected. Teachers continue to learn about themselves, their practice, and their strengths and challenges. We discuss student work as a means of enhancing our own practice. We learn new ways to teach by listening to our students and colleagues. Continuous professional development, teacher mentoring, a caring staff, a supportive community, consistent expectations, and dynamic learning opportunities help us reach our potential as educators.
We continually work to create a school that is deeply rooted in the community. Parents, teachers, and students develop alliances that enhance learning. Informed parents and community members serve to make the entire community an extended classroom that supports learning and healthy development. We welcome and seek guidance from parents and community members in charting the school’s path toward high performance, to preserve traditions, and to develop new celebration.
Once again the needs of our students and school system require a change in the leadership structure at BFA Fairfax. Change is challenging but often necessary to maintain the functionality and growth of any organization. For the past six years, I have been the educational leader of both the elementary and middle schools. However, the growing demands and needs of both schools have increased and warranted a restructuring of leadership responsibilities. Next year, I will be assuming responsibilities for students and staff in Grades PreK-6 while my colleague, John Tague, will be responsible for students and staff in Grades 7-12. In addition, Geri Witalec-Krupa will continue in her vital role as Assistant Principal/Athletic Director.
It is with mixed emotions that I embark on this new phase of my career. I appreciate the opportunity to refocus my energies with more manageable work and leadership responsibilities. In many ways, this change is a continuation of our efforts to increase our shared leadership structures that facilitate and guide the work of meeting the academic, social, and emotional needs of our learning community. BFA Fairfax’s successes are the result of highly qualified and committed educators, a progressive school board, an engaged and supportive community, and curious and resourceful students.
I have worked with many of the staff in the middle school for all of my career in Fairfax. They are more than my colleagues, they are lifelong friends. We have shared many life experiences and collaborated to provide innovative and responsive middle-level learning for two decades. I am so proud of our work and look forward to continuing this journey.
I am confident that these changes are necessary and will allow our school to continue to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape of public education. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your community for the past eighteen years. I value the continued opportunity to learn and grow.
Thomas Walsh is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary Middle School and is a regular contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount