The Good Stuff

After just over 100 days in my new role as interim superintendent for Franklin West schools, I’m taking the opportunity to reflect on the job so far. It’s hard to describe what the superintendent’s job actually is, but the way I explain it to elementary students is that the superintendent “works to make sure that the principals have everything they need to support the teachers so that teachers can do everything they need for students.” The students will shake their heads like it kind of makes sense, so I guess that definition works.

As superintendent, I spend a lot of time in meetings. I meet with principals, central office staff, teachers, other superintendents, parents, the teachers association and anyone else who needs my attention. In these meetings, I want to make sure that the needs of our students are met while maintaining my legal and fiscal obligations to the state and community. We work on professional development for teachers, budgets, grants, testing (both health and academic), communication and any other topic that comes up that will impact our schools and students. 

Every day is different which keeps the job interesting and challenging. However, if all I did was sit in meetings all day every day, it would be easy to lose sight of the purpose of the job. It would be difficult to be a superintendent of schools without spending a lot of time actually in schools. And so, every week I make certain that I am able to be in our schools. This allows me to speak with the principals and teachers to make sure I know what they need. More importantly, being in schools gives me the opportunity to be with students. 

I have played games with preschool students at Fletcher, experienced an all school assembly at GEMS, and researched and shared about “plants in Hawaii that curl up when you touch them” at the request of a BFA first grade student. I’ve read to third and fourth graders at BFA, learned about Alaska with MS students at GEMS, and judged a debate in AP US History in the high school at BFA. Some of those experiences were prearranged, but most of the time I can just walk into a classroom, say hello to students, ask what they are working on, and see how they are doing.  Just this morning I got to see a student’s morning share, catch some math facts work, watch a game of “I Spy..” with letters, learn a little bit about buffaloes, and participate in a movement break.  PS I can’t crab walk! (Yet.)

The superintendent job can be difficult at times. There have been disagreements and difficult conversations. We always work through them due to our shared beliefs about children. My time in classrooms keeps me centered and focused on the needs of all of our students. I make it a point to see what is happening as often as I can because in the words of Kenny Chesney, “that’s the good stuff”. And so far, I’ve seen a lot of good stuff in all of our schools in my first 100 or so days. 

John Tague is the Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

First Graders Lead the Charge on Recycling at Fletcher Elementary

The Fletcher Elementary learning community values environmental stewardship.  This month Mrs. Hurt’s first graders have been learning about recycling practices. 

Mrs Hurt read students a wide variety of books about recycling.

Students explored reading Ready to Recycle  together as a class as well as to themselves, and then they got to add color to the book.  The next day the class read a second book, about the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) and began sharing ideas for how they can REDUCE (ie. use snack/lunch containers we can rinse and use again, rather than plastic bags) and things they can REUSE  (ie. use clean paper lunch bags to make puppets, use empty jars to hold our pencils). Students were very excited to share their learning and ideas with the other classes. They feel empowered that they will be “teachers” during our school-wide meeting. First grade learning has included: a review of the reasons WHY we recycle (caring for the environment, landfills are getting full, etc), a review of WHAT we can recycle (we have modeled this since the first day of school and practiced sorting items that CAN and CANNOT be recycled), a review of HOW we can properly recycle (noticing any food in a container and rinsing it out first, looking at the list of items and guidelines from the NWSWD (NorthWest Solid Waste District) on classrooms flyers (which we plan to make for every classroom).In addition to this, every day students are applying what they learned as they recycle everything from their plastic lunch containers to scraps of construction paper.  More importantly, they know WHY they are recycling and are ready to teach others about the importance of recycling for the planet.

Aimee Toth is currently the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

BFA Fairfax Spirit Is Loud and Proud During 2021 Homecoming Week!

The BFA Fairfax community has been alive with spirit and enthusiasm this week as we celebrate 2021 Homecoming!  After nearly two years of modifications, cancellations, and other Covid-related challenges, it has been heartwarming to see the vibrance and excitement of our student body and greater community at various events.  Although still in a slightly modified format to ensure safety, this week has been a taste of normalcy, and served as a reminder of all that is great about High School in the fall.  

Leaders from the BFA Fairfax Student Council established a number of activities for the student body including daily theme days (Class Color Day, Throwback Thursday, Maroon & White Day, etc.) as well as fun Pep Rally activities during Flex Block on Thursday and Friday. 

After a year hiatus due to Covid 19 safety concerns, the ever-popular Fairfax Relays costume race kicked off the week’s Homecoming athletic events on Tuesday, October 5th. This annual celebration of the Vermont running community brings schools and teams of all sizes together for a day of fun and competition.  

Friday October 8 will host the homecoming games for girls soccer, with the JV facing CVU, and Varsity facing Oxbow at 4pm.  Saturday October 9 will round out the homecoming games with JV Boys Soccer facing U32 at 10am, Varsity Boys Soccer facing Craftsbury at 12pm, and Football facing Mill River at 2pm.  

The athletic events of the week are also serving as the Senior recognition games/events, allowing us to celebrate the numerous contributions of the Class of 2022!

Finally, all students in grades 9-12 will have the opportunity to round out Homecoming 2021 at the Fall Harvest Festival being held immediately following the football game on Saturday.  Food, games, prizes, and a live DJ will be on hand to bring this celebratory week to a close.  

Thank you to everyone in the community who has helped make this week a success! We look forward to seeing you at this weekend’s events. Go Fairfax!

| Geri Witalec-Krupa is the Director of Student Activities at BFA Fairfax. Geri is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

Proud Principal Awards

Each month the Georgia Elementary School celebrates the excellent efforts students make each and every day.  The “respectful” interactions they are having with their peers and adults, the “responsible” choices they are making throughout the day, and the “safe” decisions they are implementing through playful interactions and other daily experiences.

During lunch, recognitions are shared and I feel honored to read aloud the great characteristics teachers are seeing in their students. Among their peers, recipients hear their accomplishments and receive a Proud Principal Certificate and pencil.  Friends cheer, adults applaud, and smiles can be seen through different facial expressions.

The best part of a Principal’s day is interacting with students. It brings delight and meaning to our work and makes for a great day.

Here are quotes from Proud Principal Awards:

“You have been a kind and caring friend in the classroom and you are a great role model for your peers.  Thank you for being respectful, responsible, and safe”

“You have a kind heart towards your peers and teachers and you are a great leader for students to follow”

“You are always coming to school smiling and eager to learn.  I love how much you love school.”

“Our classroom community is lucky to have such a great classroom peer”

“You are a respectful listener and active participant in class discussions.  We can count on you to make our class a caring, safe place to be.”

| 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.

The Spirit of Innovation

One of the most exciting aspects of FWSU is the level of innovation our students get to experience and lead. Two years ago, before joining FWSU was even a thought, I was invited to visit some of the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) spaces across the district. 

Our former Superintendent Ned Kirsch was, without a doubt, a motivating force for innovation and a belief in what is possible. His influence and leadership are very visible today!

Circuitry with Sewing

Who knew this was a thing!

Students can learn about making wearable circuits using conductive thread and sewing machines. Along those same lines, I saw students making cards that light up and play music using the same materials. What a great way to be curious and creative at the same time. 

Design and 3D Printing

Who doesn’t love to watch a 3D printer in action? I remember the first time I was watching one, it was printing a chain link. I could not wrap my head around how it was going to print independent links that were interconnected. Well it did and I’m still not sure how it worked. 

As much fun as it is to watch your design come to life, the process of designing is what we are after. We are fortunate to have several printers and the accompanying software to allow students to again be curious and creative. 

3D Printer

Green Screen (So Much Fun!)

If you haven’t yet experienced a green screen, I hope you get to in the near future. Our students are collaboratively creating news broadcasts, professional presentations, tours across the world, and so much more.

I wasn’t able to get a great picture of our many set-ups so here is a stock photo to help paint the picture. 

And there’s the Transferable Skills!

Perhaps a different kind of innovation. In addition to rigorous academic curriculum, we find these opportunities support our students with transferable skills. We see so many examples of how technology creates opportunities that did not exist before.  

Stay tuned for more ……

| Scott Thompson is currently Director of Curriculum of Franklin West Supervisory Union and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @Stboatervt

Franklin West Supervisory Union Accepted into National Network of Innovative School Districts 

Franklin West Supervisory Union joins Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, will partner with other leading educators, entrepreneurs, and researchers from across the country

September 30, 2021 | Fairfax, Vermont Franklin West Supervisory Union was accepted into the League of Innovative Schools, a national coalition of forward-thinking K-12 school districts organized by Digital Promise, a nonprofit organization with the mission to accelerate innovation in education and improve the opportunity to learn for all through technology and research.

Franklin West Supervisory Union was selected from a competitive national pool of applicants based on its educational leadership, innovative vision for learning, key achievements and evidence of results, and demonstrated commitment to equity and excellence.

“We are excited to continue our work with the League of Innovative Schools which began under Superintendent Ned Kirsch. Our “Belief in what is possible” and Action Plan goals align with the work of the League. Our collaboration with other innovative leaders and school systems has the potential to positively impact our students” 
– John Tague FWSU Interim Superintendent

The Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, launched at the White House under President Barack Obama within the United States Department of Education in 2011, accepts new members through an open application process once per year.

The full list of members can be found at digitalpromise.org/districts.

“Now more than ever, the League of Innovative Schools recognizes the impact that equity, access, and opportunity can have on student outcomes,” said Dewayne J. McClary, director of the League of Innovative Schools. “The League strives to build a collaborative of close-knit districts that work together to eradicate the impact of inequitable practices, outdated instruction and resources, and districts working in silos. Part of our mission is to transform the systems and policies that create barriers for marginalized students.”

League members are represented by their superintendent, who commits to:

  • Attend biannual League meetings, which feature classroom visits, collaborative problem-solving, and relationship-building with peers and partners; 
  • Participate in League cohorts and challenge collaboratives on a broad range of topics relevant to the changing needs and priorities of school districts; 
  • Support Digital Promise research and provide critical feedback so it translates easily into classroom experiences and expands what we know about teaching and learning; 
  • Engage with entrepreneurs to advance edtech product development steeped in the latest learning science and meets district needs; and 
  • Participate in the League’s professional learning community by connecting with other members online, in person, and at each other’s school districts.

Working at the intersection of education leaders, researchers, and developers, Digital Promise and the League of Innovative Schools provide an environment for superintendents and district leaders to share and learn from best practices; leverage research and participate in continuous improvement models; engage in research and development (R&D) projects with peers to address education’s biggest challenges; and implement new technologies and innovations in their school systems.

In addition to superintendents’ participation, there are also opportunities for other school administrators, principals, and teachers from member districts to participate in League and Digital Promise-related initiatives. 

The League will officially welcome new members at its fall hybrid meeting on October 20-22, 2021, held online and in-person in Washington, D.C. The new members’ entrance into the League extends the network’s reach to 125 districts across 34 states, and expands its cumulative impact to 3.8 million students served over time.

For more information on the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, visit: digitalpromise.org/league

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About Digital Promise

Digital Promise is a nonprofit organization that builds powerful networks and takes on grand challenges by working at the intersection of researchers, entrepreneurs, and educators. Our vision is that all people, at every stage of their lives, have access to learning experiences that help them acquire the knowledge and skills they need to thrive and continuously learn in an ever-changing world. For more information, visit the Digital Promise website  and follow @digitalpromise for updates.

Brains, Learning and Creative Uses of Swim-Gear

Tristan in a swim cap

You may look at this picture and wonder why Tristan is wearing a swim cap. No, we have not started a swim club. If you look closely, the students are starting to draw diagrams on the swim cap. Diagrams of what you ask? 

What students are working on is an activity as part of their work on a unit about famous Vermonter Phinneas Gage.  This brief summary comes from the Smithsonian Magazine

In 1848, Gage, 25, was the foreman of a crew cutting a railroad bed in Cavendish, Vermont. On September 13, as he was using a tamping iron to pack explosive powder into a hole, the powder detonated. The tamping iron—43 inches long, 1.25 inches in diameter and weighing 13.25 pounds—shot skyward, penetrated Gage’s left cheek, ripped into his brain and exited through his skull, landing several dozen feet away. Though blinded in his left eye, he might not even have lost consciousness, and he remained savvy enough to tell a doctor that day, “Here is business enough for you.”

In 8th Grade English Language Arts for the past several weeks, students have been studying the story of Phinneas Gage and how what we know about the brain has changed over time. Students have studied his story and been actively involved in discussions on the parts of the brain and their roles in how we learn and experience the world. 

What was so amazing about the swim-cap activity is that students worked together to diagram this amazing organ, that we all have, and all of its parts and functions.  Beyond the story of Phinneas Gage, students learned about the frontal lobe (planning and predicting), the amygdala (flight, fight, and caretaking), and where these and the many other parts and functions are in all of our skulls by diagramming each other’s brains). 

What was particularly exciting is that as I walked through classes in the days after the Phineas Gage unit was completed, students still had their diagrammed swim caps next to them.

As students As they showed off their caps, they were able to highlight what we used to think on one side and what we now know about the brain on the other side.  Even better, was that students were excited to show off and explain how our understanding of the brain has evolved from Phrenology (that was in vogue at the time of Phinneas Gage), to more scientific and nuanced contemporary understanding of the different parts and functions that we understand today.  

I am so grateful to work with amazing colleagues like Emily Wills, who designed this unit. I am also particularly grateful to the students who so actively participated in discussions, debates, and creative designs to show their thinking and learning.  This was just one of the many reminders each day of how wonderful a place BFA Fairfax is.

| 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

Genuine Foods

Dear Genuine Foods,

Today, I’d like to publicly celebrate all your hard work for making sure our students are well fed with locally handmade and nutritious food.  There have been lots of challenges and you have faced them head on and made positive strides. I want you to know we see these efforts paying off. Good food is a universal game changer and you have made a significant contribution to the culture of our schools. There are lots of things to worry about right now but food in school is not one of them. 

Last week I was visiting classrooms in Fletcher and students were having waffles for breakfast. They were so excited! More than most mornings. I asked a third grader what they liked most about breakfast at school and she replied “breakfast is always yummy! Pretty much sums it all up. 

They say you eat with your eyes first. Today, while I was visiting GEMS, this sign caught my eye. I wanted to stay for lunch just because I was suddenly hungry.  While I was walking around watching students enjoy their lunches I asked a student how the food was? I apparently timed my question as he was chewing but I received two enthusiastic thumbs up! I’ll take that as a victory.

At BFA I was impressed by the choices students had. There was a sandwich station, salad bar, pizza and pasta. Oh and fresh fruit everywhere too! 

I had the opportunity to join the 5th grade lunch. I saw two boys sitting quietly eating so I decided to say hello. I asked how their day was going and they said “can’t talk, eating pizza.” #Pizzaforthewin.

I am grateful for your leadership, service with a smile, and genuine (pun intended) care for the students and staff in FWSU. You provide so much more than just food. 

With tremendous appreciation,

Scott Thompson

Scott Thompson is currently Director of Curriculum of Franklin West Supervisory Union and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @Stboatervt

GEMS Geocaching At Niquette Bay State Park

Yesterday, 4th grade students took their learning outside at Niquette Bay State Park located near Colchester, Vermont.

Prior to their visit, the students have been learning the math and science of how Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology works. They then applied this knowledge to learn how to navigate using the technology in order to participate in geocaching activities.

Geocaching encourages kids to explore the outside world around them and also offers lessons on how maps work, geography, and estimation. Kids search for geocaches by using GPS receivers to located the assigned waypoints (latitude and longitude) This type of exploration prompts discussions on creating graphs, measuring distances, and other math concepts as well as the geographical lessons.

As a culminating activity, students explored the real world use of GPS receivers in a local state park. Students persevered and used their problem solving skills to take on the challenge of finding hidden containers along established trails.

Now that these students have learned how to find geocaches using GPS, the next task will be creating them developing their innovative design skills.

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.

We appreciate our school nurses every day

National School Nurse Appreciation Day happens every May. While we fully intend to recognize our nurses for their work eight months from now, today we want to take some time to show our appreciation for our school nurses for their invaluable contributions to our school, particularly as we have returned to school 18 months into a pandemic.

School nurses work with our students every day to meet their health and safety needs, but over the last year and a half, they have taken on a multitude of additional tasks to keep our school and community safe and informed. 

When a school is notified of a positive COVID case in our school, the nurses jump into action and begin contact tracing. They work with the administrators and classroom teachers to determine possible close contacts who might be subject to quarantine. The nurses connect with the Department of Health to review the information and make the final determination regarding who will need to quarantine. Once that list has been established, the nurses work with the administrators to phone every family who will be impacted to explain the situation and answer any questions. This information doesn’t always come to us during the regular school day. Our nurses have been involved with contact tracing on Friday evenings, Saturday afternoons, and Sunday mornings. They have established an organized system to make sure that everyone who needs information gets it in a timely manner, no matter when we learn it. The process is stressful for all, but our nurses model calmness and attention to detail throughout.

In order to monitor COVID in schools, the Agency of Education and the Department of Health have made Surveillance Testing available for schools. We did it last year for staff, but this year students are also eligible for testing. To get people ready for the nasal swab, our nurses have to provide information about sign up (for the first round this year, we are only testing adults), organize the test kits, and facilitate the testing on the actual day. The testing happens during the day, so our nurses will be working with students as usual and taking on the testing protocol. Once again, all done without missing a beat!

Finally, our nurses are collecting vaccination attestation information from our students in grades 7-12. This information will help to streamline the contact tracing process and will eventually be used to determine our masking criteria as the year progresses. It’s another task that our upper school nurses have taken on with a smile.

As we start the year, it is important to take a minute to thank our FWSU nurses-Courtney at Fletcher, Amy and Michelle at BFA, and Terry and Melissa at GEMS- for the vital work they do every day. This year, their work has taken on new dimensions that require our acknowledgement and appreciation every day from now until their official day in May!

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

John Tague is currently the Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252