THE FWSU STORY: Celebrating Outstanding Teachers of 2017

Each year, the College of Education and Social Services at the University of Vermont, together with Supervisory Unions and School Districts across the state, join together to honor the accomplishments of our state’s outstanding educators. Two outstanding teachers from FWSU were recognized in a ceremony at the Grand Maple Ballroom in the Dudley H. Davis Center at UVM on October 12, 2017. 

Amy Rider and Tammy Boissoneault

FWSU Outstanding Teachers of 2017 with their Principals


Tammy Boissoneault is the type of educator we all aspire to be. First and foremost, she is committed to ensuring that all students find their place, their voice, and their passion inside and outside the classroom.

Throughout her career, she has been a strong advocate for educating the whole child. She was instrumental in the successful implementation of the Responsive Classroom model nearly two decades ago. This work is a critical component of the BFA Fairfax environment even to this day.

Tammy and Amy at the Outstanding Teacher Celebration

Tammy and Amy at the Outstanding Teacher Celebration!

“We are fortunate and grateful to have Tammy as a member of the faculty at BFA Fairfax.  She has made a profound difference in the lives of countless students and families in our community.  Please join me in congratulating Tammy Boissoneault as this year’s BFA Teacher of the year!” – Principal Tom Walsh


Tom Walsh is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Elementary Middle School. You can follow him on Twitter @ecucatamount




GEMS School Librarian Amy Rider is dedicated to students and staff all year long. Her tireless efforts are always given with a smile, and her creative talents often go by unnoticed. Amy is here throughout the summer and works late each day. She works tirelessly to keep the library current in all ways. Amy is dedicated, thoughtful, helpful, and a fountain of knowledge!

GEMS Outstanding Teacher Amy Rider

2017 Outstanding Teacher Amy Rider with Principal Frank Calano, Georgia Elementary Middle School

As an educator, Amy is conscientious and tuned into the needs of all students.  Amy has the ability to help all grade levels. She is patient, helpful and always working to benefit our students.  She often goes above what’s required to benefit the children of Georgia.  She knows each student by name and knows their personalities. Amy truly cares about every child’s access to books of interest.  She connects with students on all levels and supports teachers in achieving their students’ reading goals. Amy reads to each elementary class and brings books to the preschool classes.

Amy helps teachers with themes/research information; she is generous with her time and resources and will do whatever she can to support students and staff.  She is very flexible and knowledgeable – always researching something new for teachers and always willing to help teachers with extra duties pertaining to their curriculum. She jumps in to help out and is always willing to do extra. Amy is respectful, responsible, safe and helpful in a positive way.


Amy collaborates with students and staff at GEMS.

Take one look at the library!  Amy has worked so hard to create a special physical environment; a welcoming, modern space for GEMS and the Georgia Community. She is a magician with the use of space, technology, and books to enrich and further the progress of ALL GEMS’ community of learners…from the age of 3 to 73! She is an incredible problem solver and remains open-minded and hopeful in all circumstances.

Amy is a true star in our buildings and exemplifies PBIS in words and actions.  Her contributions to the school climate are so important; it’s like she affects us all in a quiet and positive way. The library is the heart of the school. Amy is that heart.

Congratulations, Amy, GEMS is proud of you!

frank calano


Frank Calano is the Middle School Principal at Georgia Elementary Middle School. You can follow him on Twitter  @calano_frank

A Year of Innovation, Part III

This is the third and final blog post in the series featuring the unique innovative lab spaces enhance learning at FWSU.  FWSU is proud to offer innovation spaces in all three of our schools. and how each of them impacts student learning. Today, you can learn about innovation space at Fletcher Elementary.


Last year, Fletcher School received a 3D scanner, 3D printer, 10 HP Notebooks, a large format printer and large format display to create a Learning Studio in the classroom. Students use the equipment to participate in tasks provided by Digital Promise. This digital learning studio was awarded as an effort from HP and Microsoft’s to provide and support next-generation learning, international collaboration and the “maker” movement in education.


In addition, as a result of FWSU Launch, Fletcher school also purchased The Fletcher School purchased 15 OSMO units last month as part of a Launch FWSU Grant underwritten by the Bay and Paul FoundationOSMO is a revolutionary new technology that uses the camera vision of an iPad, along with a specially designed reflector, to recognize and capture what is happening in front of it. In other words, it combines digital vision and recording with the physical manipulation of materials.


This year, the innovation space is continuing to grow with the addition of the mobile maker space. This new resource will allow the innovation space to expand and be a part of multiple classrooms. In addition, FES is looking how it can incorporate the Cricut Maker as a tool for students to use in creative design.


Fletcher’s innovation spaces are designed to creatively make the most of the digital learning tools for a school of their size. We are looking forward to all of the innovative learning projects that will be designed in the innovative spaces at Fletcher.


THE FWSU STORY: Teacher Evaluation Committee Moves Forward

This year a team of teachers and administrators have started work to re-vamp the FWSU Evaluation System for teachers. The committee kicked off this week with our first meeting.  This is the fifth year of the committee and includes representation from all three of the schools in our district.  We have a variety of people that includes administration and teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school level.

The Appreciate Inquiry model.

The Appreciate Inquiry model.

The current system, developed five years ago, has served our system well. When we first introduced our current system we added features that changed the nature of how we approached evaluation and supervision. One of the features introduced was what we called the mini-observation.  Mini-observations have allowed our building principals to be in classrooms often and has also allowed them to give teachers lots of formative feedback too. Another important feature added was the idea of stakeholder feedback. Last year every student and parent had the opportunity to give feedback on their classes and school.


New teachers learning about the FWSU Teacher Evaluation model.

Although our current system works well and has allowed for innovation, it is time to move our system forward. Last year the Evaluation Committee put forward the idea of making our evaluation system mirror our schools work on proficiency for students. A system based on evidence and not mired in paperwork.evaluationWe began by using the appreciative inquiry protocol to guide our meeting and help set the agenda for our work this year.

We all had opportunities to share what we appreciate about our evaluation process, what could be, what should be, and what will be.  Key components of our discussion came back to meaningful work that encourages growth and is responsive to individual teachers.  Specifically:

  • “What Will Be:
    • Will value our teaching and encourage growth
    • Will recognize strengths and resources in our system and share those in new and innovative ways
    • Will clearly and obviously improve both academic instruction and the social/emotional learning environment
    • Will provide multiple sources of feedback (stakeholders: peer, too)
    • Will have a system or an approach for peer feedback
    • Will be part of a coherent system, integrated with other FWSU processes
    • Will be a safe process focused on improving instruction
    • Will be flexible and responsive to individual teachers
    • Will be clear, accessible, consistent, and easy to understand


While we have many steps on our path this year, we have our direction in sight and we look forward to sharing new ideas with you all!

h sikorsky


Heather Sikorsky is a third-grade classroom teacher at Georgia Elementary Middle School. She serves on the FWSU Evaluation Committee.


Ned Kirsch Superintendent


Ned Kirsch is the Superintendent of Schools at FWSU. You can follow him on Twitter at @betavt

THE FWSU STORY: What’s a YATST? Empowering Student Voice and Agency

Recently a group of BFA High School Freshmen and Sophomores convened in Montpelier as part of a movement to bring student voice to the forefront of high school transformation. The two-day workshop was organized and sponsored by UP for Learning.

Members of the YATST team at BFA Fairfax.

Members of the YATST team at BFA Fairfax.

Here is how UP for Learning defines itself as both an organization and a movement:

“UP for Learning helps educational institutions across the country fully engage students in their own learning through a research-based model that focuses on deepening youth-adult partnerships in schools. On the cutting edge of the national movement toward student-centered education, UP for Learning provides expert coaching, facilitation, and training to youth-adult teams. It offers strategies and tools for building a school community in which learning is engaging for everyone and youth are fully empowered. Based in Vermont, UP for Learning also conducts policy advocacy to elevate student voice in learning and decision-making on a state level. UP for Learning helps schools fully embrace student voice and youth-adult partnership as central to their school culture. Fostering student voice—empowering youth to express their opinions and influence their educational experiences so that they feel they have a stake in the outcomes—is one of the most powerful tools schools have to increase learning.” — Toshalis and Nakkula, “Motivation, Engagement and Student Voice” Executive Summary, 2012

YATST team in action.

YATST team in action.

Act 77 has given Vermont high schools policy-based “permission” to transform learning for students; it is critical the students have a voice in what changes are occurring on their behalf and how those changes are communicated, implemented, and experienced. “Student voice” can be also be described as the expression of perspectives, beliefs, and attitudes about the experience of learning, including the structures and processes, from the students’ viewpoint and in their own words. Adults have largely created those “processes and structures.”  So, what would happen if students and their voices were in partnership with those adults in co-designing the shifts in learning as high schools are remodeled under Act 77? That is where YATST comes in. “Student voice” can be also be described as the expression of perspectives, beliefs, and attitudes about the experience of learning, including the structures and processes, from the students’ viewpoint and in their own words. Adults have largely created those “processes and structures.”  So, what would happen if students and their voices were in partnership with those adults in co-designing the shifts in learning as high schools are remodeled under Act 77? That is where YATST comes in. So, what would happen if students and their voices were in partnership with those adults in co-designing the shifts in learning as high schools are remodeled under Act 77? That is where YATST comes in.

YATST team engaging in training.

YATST team engaging in training.

YATST, which stands for Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together, is a network of youth and adult teams across Vermont high schools dedicated to ensuring that both students and adults are highly engaged in school change that is responsive to our rapidly changing world.

YATST student leaders pose for the camera!

YATST student leaders pose for the camera!

Most of BFA’s school-based YATST team members are already UP for Learning veteran leaders having participated in teaching and leading their Freshmen peers last year in understanding the role of motivation, mindset, and metacognition in proficiency-based learning. Ten team members joined together for this Montpelier training to strategize a plan to engage high school students who will be required to graduate with proficiency beginning in 2020 in amplifying their voice in their own learning. As sophomores, Kiana Labor, Natalie Bates, and Theresa Trenholm are continuing their leadership this year along with new Freshmen leaders Sammy Bidwell, Jarrett Sweet and adult leaders Danielle Kicsak, Mark Ladue, Harold Vance III, David Buckingham, Linda Keating, and John Tague. One way they will do this is by expanding the leadership team to include more Freshmen and Sophomores and to co-create an action plan that addresses helping their peers and faculty understand the concept of “agency.” YATST defines agency as “personal power with purpose,” and the team will add goals and tools that promote engagement and buy-in and address the 4-Rs that build agency: Rigor, Relationship, Relevance, and Shared Responsibility.


YATST team collaboration.

These students are clearly committed to establishing a culture of student voice at BFA Fairfax. Ninth grader Sammy Bidwell sums it up, “To put more student voice into our school system will improve the learning environment. Everyone learns differently, but not everyone feels they can speak out or do something about it.”


Linda Keating


Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum at FWSU. She is a regular contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward


A Year of Innovation, Part 2

This is the second in the series featuring the unique innovative lab spaces enhance learning at FWSU.  FWSU is proud to offer innovation spaces in all three of our schools. and how each of them impacts student learning. Today, you can learn about the multiple BFA Innovation Labs.

Cricut 1

Last year, BFA designed two innovation lab spaces for both the elementary and high school. Throughout the year, students had the opportunity to learn and explore in each of these innovative learning environments.

Cricut 2

Prior to the school year, Technology Integrationist Rhonda Siemons, along with the middle school team, worked hard to initiate a new learning space for grade 5-8 students.

To begin the year,  middle school students have had an opportunity to explore the MS BFA Makerspace Hub to provide an overview of resources.  This initial experience allowed students to become familiar. Students were encouraged to make connections with using these resources to support their learning while exploring the following guiding questions: How can these resources connect to what you are doing in your classes?  How can these resources extend your learning … your passion?


A schedule has been created to support Flexible Learning time where students will be using many of these resources in support of their personal learning plans including green screen equipment, e-textiles, GPS, Cricut’s, robots, and many other resources. In the future, there is a group that is planning to participate in 3D Vermont using 3D design and 3D printing.


In addition to the Makerspace Hub in the MS, BFA has also increased the capacity of the High School innovation space with the addition of newly hired Technology Integrationist Sean Theoret. Now High School students will have additional opportunities to use the space with new classes as well as a resource for the core classes.


We are looking forward to all of the innovative learning projects that will be created in the new innovative spaces at BFA!

Welcoming New Paraeducators to FWSU

Paraeducators are an integral component to ensuring the success our of learning community. All paraeducators provide valuable services to students in need of additional support. They fill many important roles in supporting the academic and behavioral needs of students. The roles of paraeducators vary depending upon the needs of the students. They provide individualized support to students in need and are essential to the educational team. They inspire, encourage, advocate, and support all learners.

We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank all of our wonderful paraeducators for their important work supporting all of our students!  Their contributions are valued in FWSU.

  • New Paraeducators at BFA Fairfax  
Crystal Maynard

Crystal Maynard

Kori Caldwell

Kori Caldwell

Erin McKechnie

Erin McKechnie

William Pebler

William Pebler

karissa peltier

Karissa Peltier

Anna Phillips

Anna Phillips

Shannon Arnzen

Shannon Arnzen


  • New Paraeducators at Fletcher Elementary School
Caroline Hassan

Caroline Hassan


  • New Paraeducators at Georgia Elementary Middle School 
kaitlyn adams

Kaitlyn Adams

Anthony Lorenzo

Anthony Lorenzo

Virginia Gonyeau-Gutkopf

Virginia Gonyeau-Gutkopf

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith

Beatrice Potter

Beatrice Potter

Amy Popovitch

Amy Popovitch

A Belief in What is Possible: Why We Tell Our Story

Six years ago we launched THE FWSU STORY. We decided it was important to share the story of our schools each and every day with our communities and stakeholders. Our initial goal was to use blogging as a platform to broadcast the “good” news and build awareness of our system. Our goal remains the same and as of today, we’ve had over 109,000 views of our blog! 

THE FWSU STORY stats dashboard in WordPress

Along with telling the good news of our districts, we also wanted to report on and document the work of our schools towards our new centralized FWSU Action Plan. The plan started a change in our system. The plan looked at how we operate our schools and what was important for our students’ future. It looked at creativity, innovation, global understanding/interaction, community partnerships and leadership as regular parts of our instructional practice. It was a systematic belief in what is possible. Four target areas were identified for our action plan:

  • Proficiency-based student-centered learning
  • Leadership
  • Engaged community partners
  • Flexible learning environments

The beauty of the targets is their simplicity. They are simple to grasp, easy to believe in, and made our schools feel more human and less industrial. Since the initial plan was launched it has been revamped; under the direction of the FWSU Board, however, the targets have remained the same. The board made a decision because of the evidence of the positive impact our plan is having in our district. Some of the examples include:

  • FWSU has been named an Apple Distinguished twice in the past 5 years. The designation is reserved for programs that meet criteria for innovation, leadership, and educational excellence.  FWSU is the only system in Vermont with this designation.
  • FWSU is also one of 83 districts nationwide to be a member of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools. Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools.
  • FWSU has been named a school of distinction by IVECA (International Virtual Education). IVECA Center for International Virtual Schooling focuses on the concept of intercultural competence in our education program. Superintendent Ned Kirsch was invited to speak on a panel this summer at the United Nations on our schools work in this area. 
  • FWSU launched Innovation Labs in all of our schools. Innovation Labs offer students a more intense focus on design thinking and innovation enlarges our capacity to integrate sets of skills such as coding, research, fabrication, making and gaming to solve the authentic problems our world is now facing.
  • FWSU was one of ten schools nationwide featured in the Education Elements competency (proficiency) based education playbook. FWSU (BFA Fairfax HS) was recognized for its leadership in building a personalized system for our students.
  • FWSU is a finalist for P21 designation as an exemplar system this year (schools nationwide will be notified in November). If accepted, FWSU will be the first district in Vermont with this designation. P21 also featured a blog written by BFA Fairfax students on student leadership.
  • FWSU was one of three districts in Vermont invited to participate in the Early Learning Networked Improvement Community of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Four states are participating in this work building knowledge and capacity for strengthening early literacy and mathematics instruction. GEMS administration and teachers will represent our system.
  • BFA was named Vermont’s ACT College and Career Transition Exemplar for the 2016-2017 ACT College and Career Readiness Campaign. ACT identified BFA Fairfax as one of a select group of high schools in Vermont for the ACT College and Career Transition Award. High schools were identified based on ACT test data and high school demographics. ACT State Councils—comprised of education and workforce professionals from all 50 states—chose the school for state exemplar designation.

The work that has been accomplished could only have been made possible by supportive communities, strong school boards, visionary administrators, fabulous teachers, and outstanding students. FWSU continues to be guided by a belief in what is possible. As a learning community, we are leveraging all of the elements for success and want to inspire our followers to dream big dreams and believe in what is possible as well.

It’s one reason why we keep telling our story every day!