About Franklin West SU

School District in Fairfax, Fletcher, Georgia, VT. Apple Distinguished Program. League of Innovative Schools. "A belief in what is possible."

THANK YOU to all of our dedicated bus drivers and safety monitors!

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This year has certainly been a change in the roles and responsibilities we have ALL taken on in our work to keep our community safe. The dedication and effort has been admirable as we witness these safe practices and behaviors daily. 

Our students and staff, along with families, have been modeling wise choices and everyone’s contribution makes a difference. 


Among our community, our bus drivers and safety monitors travel with our students daily. Welcoming students aboard and ensuring everyone is following safety protocols and current guidelines, delivering meals and student schoolwork to families within town, and monitoring everyone’s well-being as they safely transport our students to school.


It is in these times that we say “it takes a village” and our drivers and monitors certainly play a part.  We thank them for their service and for being a part of our community.

Thank you drivers and bus monitors!  We appreciate you!

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @Emery_Gems.

Big Four Focus Feature: Writing in the Elementary Grades

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According to the Jump Into Writing! site: Jump Into Writing is “a new student-inspired, teacher-friendly curriculum that helps teachers apply the everyday skills they’ve already developed as classroom leaders toward establishing a writing workshop in their classrooms.”

“Jump Into Writing! supports teachers with

  • lessons that are easy to manage,
  • a logical sequence of routines,
  • a practical, accessible voice for real teachers,
  • carefully chosen mentor texts to inspire, instruct, and engage on multiple levels,
  • embedded support that helps teachers grow as writers while they teach.

Regardless of their writing workshop experience, teachers can jump in without feeling like they’re getting in over their heads.”

This year readying themselves with our SU-wide writing focus and some professional learning opportunities, elementary classrooms set a goal of “trying on” different aspects of the program. The “try-on” found an enthusiastic following in grades 3 and 4 in particular (for a more in depth look at implementation see the November 13 FWSU Story by BFA Instructional Coach Juliet King).

Recently I had the opportunity to not only see the program first hand, but to provide writing feedback to a small group of enthusiastic fourth grade writers in Allison MacKenzie’s fourth grade class at GEMS. The goals of the Jump into Writing Launch Unit is to get students acclimated to writing expectations, introduce/reinforce the workshop model, and ignite a passion for students to see themselves as writers.

That was my goal in coming to the classroom: to get students excited about their writing, the possibilities, and provide feedback as “one writer to another.”

Four brave and very talented writers volunteered to work directly with me via Zoom while the rest of the class listened. They were eager to share their drafting from their Writer’s Notebook. The Writer’s Notebook gives students a space to gather thoughts, brainstorm writing ideas, plan, draft, and think about next steps. 

After what quickly became my favorite experience of the year so far (I cannot wait to go back), I asked Allison MacKenzie to share some of her impressions of installing parts of the Jump into Writing program in her class this year. Here’s what she had to say:

“I really appreciate the pace of the Launch Unit and all of the tools that the students build for themselves in their notebooks.  This unit gives them some great places to go for ideas by teaching them to make memory chains, lists, use artifacts, special places, and emotions to give them topic ideas.  The launch unit also gives them a variety of structures to use, such as small moment stories and list poems.  I have noticed that the pace and structure of the program has been especially helpful in teaching reluctant writers.” 

What she shared next was what I saw with her class and was so impressed by so much enthusiasm for writing:

“My students are truly excited about their writing block each day.  They loved decorating their notebooks at the beginning of the year and this helped create a sense of pride for them. They remain as engaged as they work through to the publishing stage. It’s great to have students coming up to me, voluntarily wanting to share their stories, even if it’s not their conference day.”  

I am so grateful to Andrew, Delia, Jenna, and Mary for their willingness to share their writing with me and receive some validating feedback about their work.

As a former teacher and as the FWSU Curriculum Director, one of the most gratifying pieces of feedback I could receive from a teacher came from Allison a few days later:

“So as I sit here editing Delia’s story she said, ‘I didn’t think this was going to be good, but now it’s the best story I’ve ever written.’  She took your advice and is writing about the “other dimension.”  I’ll be sure to send you a copy when she’s done!”

I”ll be looking forward to it, Delia! 

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum,
Instruction and Assessment at Franklin West
Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

BFA Presidential Scholars

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Last week, we were notified that four members of the senior class will be honored as part of the Vermont Presidential Scholars Program. The Vermont Presidential Scholars Program recognizes students for academic success, artistic and technical excellence, community service, and leadership. Across the entire state, 10 male students and 10 female students are selected based on nominations from teachers and administrators. 

Jarrett Sweet, Abigail Sweet, and Delaney Sweet-Werneke have been selected for recognition as Vermont Presidential Scholars. Riley Gallagher will receive Honorable Mention for her achievements. 

As pleased as we were to learn about their selection, we asked the students to share how it felt to them and their families when they heard the news.

Jarrett

  “I was so excited because my freshman year one of the seniors had also received the award and from that moment I had set a goal for myself that I wanted to earn the award. So it was a big goal I achieved for myself.”

  “My parents, I think were a little relieved because we were supposed to hear back on the 25th of November and it had been five days and I was getting a little sad because we hadn’t heard anything back from them. But, once we did my Mom and Dad were beyond happy with me and the hard work I had done during my high school career.”

Abigail

“I was definitely really surprised to be selected as a Presidential Scholar, it was a total shock to me and not something that I was expecting. I’m not going to lie–I danced around my house for about an hour when I found out. It just really means a lot when your hard work is recognized at such a high level, and I am very proud of myself and also feel very honored to have been selected!”

“My family was super excited and proud when I told them that I was selected as a Vermont Presidential Scholar! I called both of my parents while they were at work and my Dad’s whole class actually clapped for me over the phone! My brother was super happy for me as well.”

Delaney

“I actually checked the email in the middle of class, quietly went “yessss” and tried to start listening again. After Mrs Villeneuve was finished I told her I got it! I was very excited and super proud of myself for working hard and getting this award.” 

“Both of my parents were very excited and proud when they found out the news!”

Riley

“My parents were happy to see that my hard work is paying off.” 

“I completely agree with their proudness and acknowledgement of my hard work.”

Typically, the students are honored at a ceremony at the State House with remarks from Governor Scott and Secretary of Education French. Given the current health restrictions, there will be a virtual ceremony in January. Nonetheless, we are so proud to have these students join the list of BFA Presidential Scholars and couldn’t be happier for them and their families. Please join us in congratulating them.

John Tague is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

Storm Walk: An Integrated Arts Project at Fletcher Elementary School

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This year, in their Unified Arts classes, students have been collaborating on an integrated arts project. Students were charged with the task of creating a sensory walk that mimics the sounds and imagery of a storm. This project took place in their music, art and guidance classes.

In music class, students identified all of the sounds they hear during a thunderstorm. Then, they brainstormed ways to create those sounds using only their bodies. This process is called body percussion, and it allows students to engage with music inside without singing due to the COVID pandemic. 

In art class, students took these sounds and created abstract visual representations. These beautiful pieces of artwork were the result of a collaborative project where every student in the building had a hand in making them. The artwork will live in the halls of our school building and serve as a means to guide students through this sensory storm walk. 

Now that this project is completed, students will learn about their five senses during their guidance block. Students will understand that by activating one or more of their five senses, they can actually improve their ability to regulate their emotions, improve their attention and process their big feelings.

Please join us for a Storm Walk by viewing the video below:

Our hope is that through this collaborative integrated arts project, students can use this Storm Walk when they need a movement sensory break so that they can get back to class and continue learning. 

This blog was prepared by Lisa Coale, School Counselor at Fletcher Elementary. Her collaborators for this project were Art Teacher M.C. Baker and Music Teacher Jennifer McConnell.

A Belief in What is Possible

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I continue to be impressed with faculty and staff members at all three of the schools within the Franklin West Supervisory Union.  Recently I participated in a virtual quarterly data meeting with Karen Lehning, MJ Mitiguy, Haley Christie, and Lauralee Wilson from GEMS to hear about the important work that is happening in the area of mathematics at the school.  Some key takeaways included that even in the midst of a pandemic, the instruction continues to move forward for all students.  Some of the positives that this impressive group of professional educators shared is that the instructional staff is laser focused on the most powerful instructional concepts and skills, and interventions are in place for individual students who are moving forward with core instruction by providing for individual learning needs.  

BFA Fairfax Instructional Coach, Juliet King’s One Word 

“Kim Desjardins, our wonderful Elementary Art Teacher, hosted a teacher art hour where a group of us Zoomed in together to create visuals of our one words.” — Juliet King”

Another benefit that I have heard from teachers across the district is that “virtual” parent communications are a new practice that is creating more family engagement in the educational process.  Lastly, this team from GEMS spoke favorably of the positive relationships that are being forged with the flexible pivoting that is occurring among In-Person Learning, the Hybrid Model, and Remote Learning.  I feel encouraged that parts of what we all are learning as educators during this challenging time may result in some innovative practices that we can hold onto for a bright tomorrow.

This holiday season I continue to be impressed by the resilience of our students, parents, faculty, and staff as we all move forward together, doing the best that we can to provide learning for all students.  Stay safe and stay well.

Enthusiastically Yours,

James Tager is the Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jrtager

‘Tis the Season for Giving Thanks and Generosity

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Even during a pandemic we remember that giving is essential to our survival as a community.

Each year, we have a dedicated crew at BFA who help to organize a Thanksgiving Food Drive to provide meals to area families in need.  With all that has impacted our families during this pandemic, the needs this year were greater than ever.  However, our community continues to rise to the challenge.

Beginning in October, we asked each advisory throughout grades grades 5-8 at BFA to donate a particular ingredient to a bountiful Thanksgiving Meal.  This year, our students and families donated enough food to help feed 21 families for Thanksgiving! Our students absolutely knocked it out of the park this year. All of this would not have been possible without the powerhouse team of Ms. Black, Ms. Sheehan and Ms. Wehman, who organized, packaged and delivered meals (following safety protocols) on the Thursday and Friday prior to the holiday.  Thank you to our school nurses and our mental health team for keeping us safe, fed, and cared for amidst this whole pandemic.

Another annual tradition at BFA is The Mitten Tree, which hosts gift ideas for children in our community for the holidays. This year, the Mitten Tree will be virtual! Here is the link if you would like to participate. If you would have questions, please reach out to Amy Black, Michelle Sheehan or Nichole Wehman.

As a staff, we are also making monthly donations to support area families in need through a regular event we call $5 Dollar Fridays. Each week BFA staff are invited to make donations on Fridays to help provide holiday and break food to BFA Fairfax families. While this tradition had fallen by the wayside in previous years, it has been revived in order to give back during this time of need.

And, just for fun, the week prior to the Thanksgiving Holiday, we also hosted Spirit week for our students. For each of our cohorts in grades 5-8, we invited students to wear clothing representing their favorite sport or team on one day and pajamas on their second day. As you can see below, even in pajamas, we continue to prove that schools are among the safest places in our communities by keeping our distance, washing our hands, and wearing our masks while we have fun and learn. 

Take care, be well and stay healthy.

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jbrownenator.

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Continuing GEMS TV Express in a Hybrid Learning Environment

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GEMS TV started 3 years ago in 2017 as a a powerful communication tool to showcase and share the innovative work of GEMS students and Staff. You can click here to see the original blog post when GEMS TV was launched. In the following year, GEMS TV evolved into GEMS TV Express, a weekly newscast written and produced by middle school and elementary students working collaboratively to produce a high quality, informative, and entertaining news broadcast. You can click here to see the original blog post showcasing the launching of GEMS TV Express.

(photo was taken prior to 2020)

This year, GEMS TV production has been able to continue in a hybrid learning environment thanks to the hard work and planning of Mr. Hadd and Mr. Clow, educators in the innovation lab. Using digital learning tools, they have coordinated multiple small groups of students who attend school on different days to produce episodes.

Although most of the materials are designed in the actual classroom, GEMS TV students have also begun to do some production work at home remotely, another modification of learning in a hybrid environment. It is the hope that this will continue to improve as the classes adapt to learning remotely. Using Zoom, 8th grader Logan Grimm was able to remotely make a video that was then edited along with Mr. Hadd who was at GEMS. You can check out the blog post featuring that video here.

To ensure smart safe productions, GEMS TV has been modified this year. This includes filming episodes outdoors, so students do not have to wear masks during an episode. In addition, instead of creating weekly broadcasts, they are creating a series of specialized episodes, shared on a playlist to share with students. The smaller class sizes in a classroom setting have allowed 7th graders to take on more responsibilities than ever before; including editing under guided supervision and the expertise of Mr. Clow.

Check out this video one of the specialized episodes created by GEMS TV at the beginning of the school year as a resource used to help families tour the school in a virtual setting.

Angelique Fairbrother is the Digital Learning Coach at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @FWSUtech

Creative Efforts Keep Students Intrigued at Georgia Middle School

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The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, is attributed with the saying “change is the only constant in life.” While changes are almost always constant, particularly in this year, there are two other constants within our school: creativity and curiosity.

Health and safety guidelines and routines keep our students and staff safely spaced throughout their day at Georgia Middle School. Some may believe that this social distancing would prove to be prohibitive to our students being able to work and learn together. However, the combination of the creativity of our teachers, the caring of all our professional staff, and the ongoing curiosity of all our students has been a constant observation in our hallways, outside spaces, and in our classrooms. 

One of the areas that has been most greatly affected by the state safety guidelines is our music department. However, Mr. Gribnau has been both creative and flexible in providing ongoing music instruction to our students this fall. Our 5th and 6th grade students have been studying drumming and have become quite proficient in their efforts, as seen in the video below. Likewise, Mr. Gribnau fills much of his day in providing online instruction to small groups or individuals to support their growth in their instruments. 

Full video available here.

Our student’s curiosity and collective collaboration can be seen in many of our classrooms. A recent collaboration between our long-term substitute art teacher, Kait Jewett and math teacher, Mr. Coppenrath had students working to create collaborative art installation for our hallway blending the application of both their mathematical scale knowledge and artistic talents with a paint brush.

Above all, our students’ curiosity and exploration of new learning continues to be found. Our 7th grade students in Ms. Indiano’s science class recently were exploring cells under a microscope and using their iPads to capture the images that they were discovering.

Some students explored this with physical microscopes, while others were exploring the same ideas virtually through an interactive app on their iPads. The room was buzzing with excitement and discovery of the microscopic world and students were able to share their images and learn with each other from a safe distance.

Our school community definitely looks differently in our day to day operations than it has in the past. However, it is so fulfilling to see that our exceptional teachers and staff continue to be both caring and creative in finding ways to consistently spark and foster the curiosity of our students. Likewise, it is fulfilling to see the pride and excitement our students have for both the community in which they learn in as well as their new understandings of the world around them through their discovery and learning.

Julie Conrad is currently Principal of Georgia Middle School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @JulieConradVT

Jump Into Writing

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Co-Written by BFA Fairfax Instructional Coach, Juliet King

Last spring BFA Fairfax Elementary determined there was a need to create a writing block in our grades 3 and 4 schedules.  This determination was the result of many conversations about ways to extend our literacy block and increase opportunities to engage and provide additional writing instruction.  

In early August we were provided the opportunity to explore a new writing program called Jump Into Writing, with the support of literacy consultant and former Georgia Elementary/Middle School teacher, Lisa Driver.  Jump Into Writing is a program developed to support teachers who use the writing workshop model for writing instruction. The writing workshop model reflects current understandings in cognitive science about best practices for instruction: whole class focus lessons, individual and small group student application/practice, and individual/whole group reflection on learning.  

Jump Into Writing consists of teacher manuals, mentor texts, and additional online resources that support instruction in the three areas of writing identified by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS): narrative, informational, and opinion writing. This is a program that includes resources for grades 2-5. BFA has purchased this program and is currently using these resources for grades 3-5.  Each school in FWSU is using this same approach in these grade levels to build consistency across the district.

Our initial experience with Jump Into Writing has been positive. The Launching Unit for each grade level is designed to build student agency and engagement in writing.  This unit is focused on small moment stories. Students have been learning about the writing process, teacher/student conferences, and peer conferences.

Writing workshop anchor charts in one 3rd grade classroom.
Class brainstorm of ideas for Small Moment stories.

“The program is fun and I’m glad that teachers chose to do this writing program with us.  I think that the strategies are very helpful!  I have lots of ideas to write about!”

3rd grade student

Students have been learning different ways to brainstorm for writing ideas and how to expand those ideas into their personal narratives.  Our students are actively engaged in creating meaningful stories about their experiences. 

Creating maps of special places.
Left: Creating a Memory Chain. || Right: Creating a topic list for writing ideas.

“It has been really fun to see the kids excited to write!  The pre-writing activities have helped students identify ideas for writing.  Each student has at least one activity that has inspired them to write.”

4th grade teacher
Setting goals and making plans.

“It has been helpful to look at my goals and go back to meet my goals in my writing.”

“At first when I was writing, I thought that it was pretty perfect, but when I saw some goals I could have, I realized that I could write a more satisfying ending.  The writing program is helping me learn!”

3rd grade students

After the Launching Unit, students will engage in units such as Modern Fairy Tales (Narrative Writing Grade 3), Op-Ed (Opinion Writing Grade 4), and Question and Answer Books (Informational Writing Grade 3).

We are very excited and fortunate that we have been able to implement Jump Into Writing. A big thank you to Juliet King for her effective facilitation and support as we pilot the program. We appreciate our staff’s willingness to collaborate and to provide additional literacy experiences for our students.   

Thomas Walsh is currently the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

Veterans Day

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The Georgia Elementary and Middle School would like to thank ALL Veterans!  

Any day is a good day to thank our Veterans, but today, November 11th, is especially important.  We thank them for their sacrifices and the privileges we have due to their service. To ALL who have served and continue to serve…Happy Veterans Day!

This video was created by GEMS TV EXPRESS students. They have shared past assemblies honoring our veterans as well as current acknowledgements from our students and staff. Unfortunately, we could not gather in person this year to honor you and share our appreciation, but know we recognize, respect, and appreciate you.

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @Emery_Gems.