The FWSU Story: Fairfax Presidential Scholars Honored in Montpelier

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On Monday, January 13th, the best and brightest high school students from Vermont’s Class of 2020 gathered at the State House for the Vermont Presidential Scholars Award Ceremony. This year, BFA had four students among the 25 students selected statewide. Natalie Bates, Nathan Langlois, and Mahlia Parsons were selected as General Presidential Scholars. Abigail Pease was selected as a Technical Education Presidential Scholar through the Burlington Technical Center. 

Mahlia Parsons, Abigail Pease, Natalie Bates, Nathan Langlois

The evening began with welcoming remarks from Secretary of Education Dan French. He congratulated students for their accomplishments and acknowledged the support provided by the families and teachers of those students. Each student was then called to the center of the House Chamber to receive the official certificate from Mr. French and to hear a summary of the accomplishments that led to their selection as a Vermont Presidential Scholar.

Mr. French and Natalie Bates

Natalie Bates was selected for her work supporting proficiency at BFA. Natalie has been an active voice working with students and teachers to transition to a proficiency based system. Natalie also worked with Up for Learning to increase student voice in our school and has presented for that organization at schools within Vermont and at a National Conference.

Nathan Langlois was selected based on his ever expanding role within the student run Coffee House at BFA. He has served as emcee since his freshman year and has grown in confidence and performing ability throughout the years. Nate is an active participant in cross country running and nordic skiing while demonstrating excellence in his academics. 

Abigail Pease was selected by the Burlington Technical Center. She is in BTC’s Health Sciences program and excels both in and out of the classroom. Abigail plans to pursue a career in a health related field after graduation.

Mr. French and Mahlia Parsons

Mahlia Parsons was selected for her overall leadership and involvement in school and community activities. Mahlia has attended National Leadership conferences. She participates in drama, cross country running, nordic skiing and track and field.

We are extremely proud of our Vermont Presidential Scholars and their achievements. We know that they will continue to represent the very best of BFA and Vermont as they continue their studies.

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

The FWSU Story: Innovating the Playing Field – eSports at BFA Fairfax

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Just as technology itself is ever-evolving, so too is BFA’s TASC (Technology and Society Challenge) Club.  This spring, the club is working to establish and enter a team in an eSports League. This spring, we will be connecting with PlayVS, a nationally recognized High School eSports organization affiliated with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to get started.  

An eSport is exactly what it sounds like: similar to more traditional sports, eSports teams compete in a variety of electronic games in organized seasons throughout the calendar year, leading up to finals and championships for top-ranked teams. eSports take place at state, regional, national, and global levels. eSports require a large amount of commitment and dedication by each of the team’s individual members. Players meet to strategize, practice, and learn to work together as a cohesive unit.  

eSports offer students, many of whom may not opt into other extra-curricular activities, an opportunity to build team-based character traits and demonstrate transferable skills they can carry with them well beyond high school: Self Direction, Clear and Effective Communication, Creative and Practical Problem Solving, Informed and Integrative Thinking, and Responsible and Involved Citizenship (the foundation of BFA’s Learner Traits). In order to be successful, teams have to have excellent forward-thinking, decision-making, and communication skills.  

Similar to traditional sports, eSports help students to cultivate a sense of community, connection, and belonging within their school. We know from contemporary research and data, a sense of belonging is one of the greatest factors affecting individuals’ wellness.  

Here are some of the things our current BFA Fairfax students had to say about the potential of eSports as an opportunity at our school: 

  • “Being able to do something I’m interested in at school makes me feel happier while I’m at school.”  
  • “Most of the school’s extracurricular activities are basically sports, so having other opportunities that aren’t sports would be good for building team spirit for those who aren’t into traditional sports.” 
  • “eSports teach cooperation and teamwork and the value of good communication. And they teach us that we’re stronger when we work together.” 
  • “Playing team games works on students’ communication and strategizing with your team to defeat the opposing team, and helps your team to come closer together.”

And then there are the opportunities for the future. BFA High School student, Jonny Gillilan, has already participated in an eSports challenge on his own time through Norwich University, earning a $6,000.00 scholarship for his future steps. And Norwich isn’t the only school that has an esports program by any means. 175 Colleges and Universities across the country currently offer officially recognized eSports programming through the National Association of Collegiate eSports (NACE). The majority of these schools all offer eSports scholarships as well, and the number is growing every year as eSports continue to rise in popularity.  

Sean Theoret is the Technology Integration Specialist for BFA Fairfax High School. Harold Vance is Flexible Pathways Coordinator for BFA Fairfax High School.

The FWSU Story: Our Work To Implement PBIS Universal and Targeted Interventions at BFA Fairfax Elementary

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Each school day, BFA Fairfax students arrive with a range of academic and social-emotional needs and experiences. In response to the needs of our students, we are currently in our third year of implementing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) at BFA Fairfax Elementary School. PBIS has provided us a framework to teach school-wide behavior expectations, respond consistently to student behaviors, and use data to make decisions.

According to the research provided by PBIS.org:

“PBIS is an evidence-based three-tiered framework for improving and integrating all of the data, systems, and practices affecting student outcomes every day. It is a way to support everyone to create where all students are successful. PBIS is not a curriculum, it is a commitment to addressing student behavior through systems change. When PBIS is implemented well, students achieve improved social and academic outcomes, schools experience reduced exclusionary discipline practices, and school personnel feel more effective.”

During the first two years of our PBIS work we focused on implementing our universal practices. This work focused on consistently using positive, clear and non-judgmental language school-wide. We purposely taught school-wide expectations for all settings during the first weeks of school, after vacations, and as frequently as necessary. As a staff we developed and refined our acknowledgment process, implemented behavior protocols to respond to unexpected behaviors, and developed frequent opportunities to celebrate our students for demonstrating responsible, respectful, safe and caring behaviors.  

Last spring we began the process of implementing targeted practices and systems to provide support for students who are not responding successfully to universal supports. Our focus broadened to include ways to identify, respond, and support students exhibiting challenging behaviors. This included developing a targeted intervention team that meets weekly to review behavior data, develop behavior intervention plans, coordinate interventions and provide access to training and support for staff. 

A critical component for our school was the addition of a School-Based Behavior Consultant through a partnership with Northwest Counseling and Support Services. A School-Based Behavior Consultant provides schools with critical behavioral expertise required to support the implementation of the targeted intervention system, as well as individual behavior interventions and supports. We are so fortunate to have Caitlyn Trainer join our team. She brings experience with clinical and behavioral programming, behavior assessment and planning, data collection, and collaboration with school staff. Caitlyn has been actively working within classrooms in order to provide general support and make recommendations to school staff around how to best support the needs of all students. Caitlyn has been able to utilize modeling strategies to demonstrate for staff how to effectively respond to both negative and positive behaviors and how to provide adequate reinforcement. 

The impact of our targeted interventions, in coordination with the School-Based Behavior Consultant has been immediate and effective. The data and feedback indicates that students who were missing instructional time due to significant behavior challenges are successfully responding to the increased support and skill development. We still have significant work to do, but are excited by the progress in our development of additional tiers of behavior support. I encourage you to explore PBIS and to connect with your local mental health provider to investigate opportunities to collaborate in providing behavioral expertise and support for your students and staff. 

Thomas Walsh is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount

The FWSU Story: Outstanding Teacher of the Year – Jennifer Skerrett

BFA Fairfax is fortunate to have an amazing, dedicated and truly professional staff. I have often heard BFA Fairfax described as the true center of the Fairfax Community. This is largely due to the teachers who work with, mentor, coach and nurture our students into the community members, global citizens and adults of tomorrow.

On December 5th, Jennifer Skerrett (Grade 8 Social Studies) was formally recognized at the University of Vermont’s 39th annual Outstanding Teacher of the Year Ceremony. Each year the College of Education and Social Services (CESS) at the University of Vermont, together with Vermont supervisory unions and school districts, the Vermont Agency of Education, and the Vermont NEA, invites school superintendents, principals, school board chairpersons, and other dignitaries to honor the accomplishments of Vermont’s outstanding educators.

Jennifer Skerrett has worked at BFA’s Middle School for over two decades and has had a significant impact on hundreds of students. Her biggest strength is in developing relationships with students that allow her to differentiate and make content accessible to all students. Her goal is to teach students to think and make connections rather than memorize content. Jen’s passion for geography has led to world travel and student success in Vermont’s Geo-Bee. Her leadership has helped define our middle school as a responsive, dynamic, student centered learning environment. Her commitment to students and colleagues consistently extends beyond the school day for collaborative work and student events.

The connections Jen develops with her students to the subject area continually come alive in her room and in all of her work. The quiet rigor of study and academic skills that emerge through her work is legendary. The respect that her colleagues afford her speaks volumes of her professional practice. Ms. Skerrett engages her students as they do in-depth primary and secondary source research while they analyze and apply content and skills learned through creative and thoughtful projects year after year.

Please join us in congratulating Jen Skerrett in her well earned recognition as BFA Fairfax’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year 2019.

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

The FWSU Story: BFA Fairfax Is Alive With the Sound Of Music!

Middle School Winter Concert, grades 5-7

It’s been an extremely busy few weeks for students and staff in the numerous BFA Fairfax music ensembles and classes. Our ever-growing school music program, under the guidance and direction of Ian Flint, Glen Wallace, Sarah Wolff and Christy Maynard, has provided multiple unique flexible learning opportunities for our students, and has treated the school and local community to some stellar music performances. 

Elementary School Winter Concert at BFA Fairfax

In early December, thirteen BFA Fairfax students attended the Vermont Music Educators Association Day of Percussion, and approximately thirty students auditioned for the High School District Music Festival. Our student musicians were also treated to a performance of Handel’s Messiah on December 8th at the Barre Opera House, which for many was the first time hearing this historical, powerful, and widely known piece with a full ensemble.

Students participating in hand drumming activity at Vermont Music Educators Association Day of Percussion
Christy Maynard and students at Barre Opera House for Handel’s Messiah performance by the Vermont Philharmonic Orchestra

The week of December 9 served as K-12 winter concert week, with unbelievable performances for standing-room-only crowds in the Richard Brown Gymnasium.  On Friday the 13th, BFA Chamber Singers attended the Vermont American Choral Directors Association Madrigal Festival, where they performed two pieces as an individual ensemble, and performed three combined pieces with schools from around the state. 

Upcoming events include a performance for Elementary students highlighting the 5th grade band on Monday, December 16th. This will take place in the Richard Brown (HS) Gymnasium at 2pm. All are welcome to attend. The month of January will bring All State auditions, as well as the District 1 Music Festival.

BFA Fairfax Pep Band morning rehearsal

As you can see, music is alive and well at BFA Fairfax.  If you have had the pleasure of attending any of the previous performances, you certainly can attest to the amazing talent possessed by our students and staff. Thank you to the Fairfax school and local community for supporting continued unique opportunities for our students! Happy Holidays!

Upcoming Music Program Activities:

  • December 16: 5th Grade Band Performance
  • January 18th:  All State Auditions
  • January 30 and 31:  District Festival rehearsal and performance
  • Elementary Choral Festival
  • All State Performance
  • Adjudication festivals

Geri Witalec-Krupa is an Athletic Director/Assistant Principal at BFA Fairfax is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

The FWSU Story: “Paging Doctor Teacher; Paging Doctor Teacher” FWSU Teachers Pursue Doctorates in Education

Last year, four FWSU teachers made a decision that would change their educational lives. Amy Gray and Karen Lehning from GEMS, Jensen Welch from BFA, and Denette Locke from Fletcher Elementary decided to move their learning to new heights; they applied and were accepted into the Southern New Hampshire Doctoral Program in Education. FWSU could not be prouder! 

The University describes the program like this: “The Southern New Hampshire University Doctorate of Education degree is designed to develop Scholar-Practitioners by advancing participants’ knowledge of leadership theory and practice, their understanding of approaches to organizational development, and their ability to effectively implement research methodologies and disseminate associated findings. SNHU’s Ed.D. program is offered as a regional cohort model, with hybrid courses occurring in a condensed weekend format during the Spring and Fall academic terms and a week-long residency each summer.” Those courses began last spring for our 4 teachers, and their journey is well underway.

As outlined in the program description, the program helps prepare “a new generation of transformational leaders to engage and lead positive change in education organizations and education systems.” As with their Master’s Program, SNHU program uses a cohort model for the Doctoral program, which helps to guide the development of the participants as “scholar-practitioners” in three areas: leadership theory and practice, organizational development, and research methodologies.

Our teachers really value the cohort model. The four of them can support each other here in FWSU, along with the other cohort members who meet regionally in Essex. Our teachers are able to apply their learning to their current work. All of them serve in some leadership capacity in their teams, schools, and across FWSU. The program is truly innovative, which makes it particularly attractive and a good fit for FWSU educators. And as anyone in a cohort model will tell you, the bonding with your colleagues unleashes support, creativity, and well, even some fun!

I asked each of the teachers what attracted them to this program at this time in their teaching career, since typically it’s administrators who pursue doctorates. Here is what they had to say:

Amy Gray, Grade 8 Math Teacher at GEMS: “I get asked frequently why I decided to do this. Most people are wondering what I’m going to do with that degree. And, I do have goals, but that’s not what it’s really about. For me, education is all about personal transformation.  Learning is a journey, a journey I love and have always wanted to travel. In fact, that’s why I teach. What other job asks you to be a lifelong learner? As far as the EdD program, I wanted to do something that would push my learning to the next level and really challenge me. And, it certainly is!”

Karen Lehning, Math Content Leader and Interventionist at GEMS: “I chose to pursue a Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership through Southern New Hampshire University because I was looking for an opportunity to grow professionally in a challenging and supportive environment. Pursuing this degree has allowed me to think critically about complex educational issues that will impact both current and future students. My hope is that this program will transform my practice as an educator and provide me with new ideas, resources, and perspectives to support the efforts of educators and students in this district.”

Jensen Welch, BFA Fairfax High School Math Teacher and Proficiency-Based Learning Support: “I’m pursuing a doctorate in education because I was looking for an opportunity to pursue ‘something next’ and the SNHU Doctorate Cohort was being formed, so I jumped at the chance. When friends and family ask me how I am able to do all of the work and be away from family for most of a weekend a month, I explain that the topics and theories we are studying are so fascinating and interesting and engaging, that the extra effort and time are worth it.”   

Denette Locke, Fletcher Elementary Instructional Coach: “Originally I was not sure that the timing of the doctoral journey was right for me because of my crazy, wonderfully busy personal life, caring for a parent, and my own professional responsibilities. Those reasons also sparked why I should be starting the journey, too, kind of weird really! When Jensen and Karen both reached out to me after the Profile Weekend and said ‘you would be perfect for this,’ knowing the value of a cohort model and having colleagues reach out to me sparked me in moving forward. The cohort, the model of the Ed Leadership program, and the fact that I am a ‘scholarly practitioner’ in this journey makes it make sense to me. I love learning…I love the opportunity to make connections to both my professional and personal lives and I love growing, challenging myself and using my brain muscle!”

These four outstanding educators, who also just happen to all be skilled math leaders, have captured the most essential reasons why teachers pursue doctorates, reasons that we need to pay attention to in designing professional learning for all educators: personal and professional transformation of practice, challenging and supportive environments, complex and engaging issues to address, the motivation and inspiration of a cohort model, and valuing teachers as “scholarly practitioners” and researchers. Dr. Wendy Baker, SNHU Executive Director of Advanced Studies and one of their doctoral professors, summed it up this way, “FWSU doctoral students are deepening their work as educators by designing original research into an area they’re passionate about within their school setting. Their tireless pursuit of the scholar-practitioner lens has already changed their outlook on their work with classrooms and colleagues. We can’t wait to see where their studies take them next!”

I couldn’t agree more — these teachers are truly challenging themselves to actualize “a belief in what is possible.”

Linda Keating

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

The FWSU Story: BFA Fairfax Community Building Bond Defeated

On Thursday, December 05, the residents of Fairfax were asked by the BFA Fairfax School Board to vote on a building bond that considered three articles not to exceed $26.4 million. The voters of Fairfax voted not to approve all three of the articles in the building bond:

ARTICLEYES No
Article One579628
Article Two529664
Article Three517680

As a school administrator for the past two decades, I have experienced the challenges and discord that occurs when communities grapple with the allocation of large amounts of resources. The democratic process should be full of robust debates and opportunities to examine the issues from multiple perspectives. I am proud to work in a community where the citizens are engaged and passionate about their school and students. I appreciate that I work in a town where our citizens take the time to get informed and to advocate for their point of view.  Our community has spoken and we must now come together, determine another solution to the imminent needs of our school building, and begin to move forward together. 

I wanted to express my appreciation to the Long Range Facilities Planning Committee members: Alice Scannell, Stephanie Lynch, Scott Mitchell, Mike Bruso, Fred Griffin, Terry Briant, Nicholas Hibbard, Roberta Rodimer, Matt King, Cathy Larsson, and John Tague. These individuals have volunteered their time and energy over the past months to support this process. The work of the LRFPC has been challenging and complex. I am really proud of this committee’s work and their efforts to listen, learn, and communicate about the needs of our building and our community. 

Being an engaged community member is essential to continuing to make our school a responsive and supportive learning environment. Thank you to all of the community members that took time to attend the informational meetings, provided feedback, and voted. 

Thomas Walsh is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount