Graduation Planning

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As we reflect back on the impact of the pandemic over the last 15 months, the area that jumps out as having been most impacted has been graduation (and all of the events leading up to it). At BFA, the high school graduation progression begins with our National Honor Society Induction ceremony in May followed shortly thereafter by the prom. The week leading up to graduation is filled with the class trip, graduation practices, Class Day, the Alumni Banquet, the actual Graduation Ceremony, and finally Project Graduation. 

For the Class of 2020, all of these events were held virtually or cancelled. Our Graduation ceremony was held in two parts: the ceremony with speeches and awards was held over zoom followed by the students coming to BFA with their families to walk across the stage to receive their diploma.  Pictures were taken and a gift bag was given by Project Graduation.  All told, the event lasted eight hours. There were some technical difficulties, but there were also many positive aspects and memorable moments that will last a lifetime.  The obvious downside was that the Class of 2020 was not able to be physically with each other for any part of the ceremony.

As we began planning for graduation for the Class of 2021, our number one priority was that the members of the class would be together at graduation.  Our vision early in the school year was the 80 graduates under the graduation tent all physically distant from each other with a live streamed ceremony for their families.  As the “spigot” opened up in Vermont, it became apparent that we could have two family members with each graduate and still remain within the guidelines as they were at that time.  When Governor Scott released the Vermont Forward Plan on April 8, we increased the number of guests for each graduate to four.  With about 80 graduates and four guests each, our crowd size would be around 400.  It’s less than we normally would have, but it’s certainly the largest group of people any of us have been with since early in 2020.

As we move toward graduation on June 12th, Vermont will be in Step 3 which will allow up to 900 unvaccinated attendees at an outdoor event.  This would allow us to increase our guests per graduate to 6 (our typical number), but if we have learned one thing during the pandemic, it’s that nothing truly goes according to plan.  We would much rather surprise families with additional seats as we get closer to graduation than have to take seats away due a sudden surge in the community. 

As for the other events that lead up to graduation, we are adjusting and adapting as we go. Class Day is typically an event for the entire high school. Parents are invited to attend as well. Since the event is typically held in our gym and visitors are not allowed in the building this year, we had to rethink the event. We will hold a Senior Award ceremony under the tent on the Friday afternoon before graduation. This will allow family members to see their students recognized for their achievements while maintaining health and safety guidelines. We will hold a virtual awards ceremony during the school day for students in grades 9 – 11.

Students have taken the lead in adapting other pre-graduation events. The junior class has organized “Prom in the Park” to be held under a tent on the town recreation field. The National Honor Society Induction will be held in the same place (sans tent). The senior class officers have organized a field day to take the place of the class trip. Their goal is to have a day together as a class that doesn’t require travel or great expense.

The Class of 2021 has endured great upheaval during the last 15 months. The health and safety guidelines continue to test our creativity as we try to finalize our plans. Our students have been resilient, cooperative and understanding through it all; our goal is to make the end of their high school years memorable and positive. They deserve nothing less.

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

We Are Looking Forward to Next Year

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This year has been a year like no other. As a learning community we have encountered numerous obstacles, adapted and reinvented many different ways that we engage in learning; demonstrating resiliency and flexibility daily.  I am so proud of our students, staff and community for their responses to this extraordinary event.

As we have been actively planning for the transition to a new school year, we asked a number of BFA elementary students what they are looking forward to most as we return to “normal.”  Check out this video with our students sharing their thoughts about returning to “Normal”:

As I have shared many times, I am so proud of our students and staff for the positivity and resilience they demonstrate each day. We have adapted and persevered through a challenging year and a half. I will never doubt the ability of our learning community to confront difficult situations and find ways to be successful. With that said, I agree with all of our students and look forward to a return to many of the things that make our school a community. 

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

CO-WRITTEN BY:
Rhonda Siemons, BFA Technology Integrationist

W.I.N. Time at Gems

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W.I.N. is the acronym for “What I Need” and there has never been a time when personalized instruction and support has been so important. Focusing on individual needs socially/emotionally and academically is critical.

Research studies indicate that the depth of learning loss throughout the pandemic has been widespread and evident as students participate in local grade level assessments. Targeted intensive instruction has proven effective and can be beneficial at all ages, but most specifically at younger ages.


The most effective programs focus on skill building, rather than homework, and occur at least once a day in addition to classroom instruction.  Students make the most progress when placed in small groups and when that instruction is provided by a highly qualified staff member. 


Gems Elementary has looked at student data, determined individual targeted skill areas and created small group instructional learning opportunities. A variety of practices to help move our students forward and to solidify skills that are foundational to future learning.


Students and staff enjoy their small educational groups with peers and love the connections and relationships that are being forged. 

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.

Black History Month, Every Month

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In February, thousands of dedicated and well-meaning educators just like myself scour their classrooms and school libraries for books on Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and other famous Black Americans.  And, it’s not enough.

Rosa Parks

I fell into the trap, too, big time this year, as I visited many classrooms in my school carrying books on famous Black Americans and reading and discussing them with children as young as age three.  I even went so far as to buy four books on famous Black Americans for every student in my school to send home after I presented them in their classes.  I entered classrooms armed and ready to have courageous conversations about racism in a different way this year, more deeply than before, not to just read the books and call it a day.  I was pleased with myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and diving into this work school-wide, and I felt prepared by a barrage of professional learning aimed specifically at how to talk about race.

Late on a Thursday afternoon, I finished reading the fourth book in a National Geographic series for children on famous Black Americans to a third and fourth grade class of engaged and attentive students.  As with each of the previous books, I read the story with gusto, paused to discuss new vocabulary and the main ideas, to garner students’ thoughts on the subject and help them think critically about the material, and to check their understanding.  I had written a letter to families about each book, encouraging discussion at home, and I sent that letter home with every story.  I was pleased with myself, to say the least. Sounds great, right? And then, it all came crashing down.

“I sure am glad that we don’t have racism anymore,” one of our brightest fourth graders proclaimed. 

I was stunned, and it was in that very moment that I realized a fundamental flaw in how we teach students about racism.  Not only do we teach the concepts in isolation – often only in February when the calendar suggests – but we all too often teach about racism and discrimination uniquely as a historical problem.  My students could tell me exactly what I wanted to hear about Dr. King’s dream speech, Rosa Parks’s bravery on that bus in 1955, or how Harriet Tubman led slaves to freedom.  And, that’s where their knowledge ended.  With slavery abolished, Black Americans sitting freely on busses, and women being able to vote, my students celebrated the fact that equality reigns supreme, and that there would be no reason to even consider the lasting effects of our history, or that discrimination and racism might still plague our nation and our schools.

My heart sunk as I polled the class, asking them to raise their hands if they thought that racism still existed.  There was not a single hand in the air.  With ten minutes to spare, I tried desperately to give examples and convince the group that racism did not end with the events we had studied, and that we each need to play a part in the continued battle against modern day discrimination.  And they looked at me like I had three heads. 

I was deflated.  While I knew that sharing books and having discussions with students about historical racism wasn’t in and of itself bad, it wasn’t enough.  I had fallen short of my obligation to help them connect the historical context to the present day, and that had potentially done harm, not only to them, but to any marginalized population that still struggles with discrimination.  Passively and unintentionally, by only presenting the material in the past tense, I had led my students to believe that racism no longer exists.  I also risked some of my students not seeing themselves, and their struggles with race-related issues, in our learning.

In the coming days I worked feverishly to mend the error of my ways with individual and group conversations.  I tried desperately to help students understand that the work is not complete, that each of us needs to examine our own beliefs and how they impact others, and that racism very much still exists.  I hope they understood.  I believe they did, no matter how abstract it may have seemed.

Martin Luther King Jr.

I will teach differently next time.  I will discuss racism regularly, not just in February.  And, I will start with a modern day context and work my way back in time to help my students understand how we got to where we are.  Without question, it is important to celebrate the progress our country has made, and the brave individuals that led that work, and especially to recognize the continued work ahead.  In order to repair the damage of our history, we must first acknowledge the racism of our present. This learning is a necessary gift to all of our students, both as the future policy makers who will work to end modern day inequities, and as compassionate citizens who will lead the way in creating a world that is fair and just.

Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon.

GEMS Use Technology to Fabricate Frank Stella Inspired Artwork

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As part of art class with Mrs. Dorsey Hogg, 4th Grade students learned about American painter, sculptor and printmaker, Frank Stella. Students found inspiration in Stella’s minimalist work and use of technology in his design process. You can learn more about this modern artist by accessing the Frank Stella’s Retrospective Page.

The students began the design process by sketching ideas on paper. Like Stella, they used their imagination to create organic shapes that would eventually transition into their final design.

After working collaboratively together on their original ideas, students then went to work with Mr. Eric Hadd, technology integrationist to create their drawings on the computer using CorelDRAW

Next, the students sent their digital renderings to the laser cutter in the innovation lab to cut the pieces needed for their cardboard sculptures.

Finally, students were able to take a set of cutouts designed by their group and personalize the pieces for their own unique creation.

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.

Save the Date for the FWSU Community Forum

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FWSU’s Three Rs Plan: Reconnect ⇼ Reimagine ⇼ Reinvent

FWSU wants to hear from you! Join us on May 6 at 6:30pm via Zoom to share your ideas about the kind of educational experiences you want your children to have in FWSU as we look forward, together, to the 2021-2022 school year! 

*Click the image to zoom in.

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

The Show Must Go On!

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Music and the arts are an essential part of life and who we are as a BFA Fairfax community.  This month, I asked Mr. Wallace and Ms. Maynard to share some thoughts on our music program this year. I hope you will join me in thanking them (and all of our music and choral students!) for their adaptability, and for their willingness and dedication to keep music in all of our lives.

This year has seen the BFA Band program doing its utmost to be flexible and adaptive while still providing our young musicians with fun, engaging, and challenging rehearsals, working on repertoire ranging from Wind Ensemble standards to cool Bossa Novas, Frere Jacques to Star Wars, and all points between and beyond!  Thanks to the support and accommodation of our admin team, the parents of band students, and our colleagues in other subject areas, we’ve been able to roll with the many different punches this year has thrown at us, developing myriad new schedules and finding as many ways to rehearse as possible.  Most impressive throughout this process has been the way our students have continually stepped up and put in the effort they needed to, whether on Zoom, before school, or in their own practice time; without their effort, we wouldn’t have been able to find anything like the success we’ve achieved.

With all that said, the BIG NEWS, as many of you have likely heard, is that this month we’ve begun working in more and more in-person rehearsing!  While taking all the necessary precautions to do so safely, we’ve been able to get nearly all of our instrumentalists back in the band room for at least one sectional.  I can’t begin to express the joy and relief I’ve felt in finally having students making music TOGETHER, the way it’s meant to be made…and what’s even more rewarding is seeing the obvious joy our young musicians are feeling!

Looking ahead, we’re exploring options for our end of the year concert; the hope is that we might just be able to get the whole band back together for an outdoor, in-person recording session to craft a video performance for the Spring Concert (scheduled for June 3rd).  Unfortunately, the concert itself will likely have no in-person audience, but we’re extremely excited to be working with BFA Chorus program to do something a little different for this show.  Without giving away too much, I’ll just say that we’re entitling it, “BFA Music presents…A Night Among the Stars.” – Mr. Wallace

Ms. Maynard shares the following about Chorus:

As I think about our BFA Chorus students this year, a particular memory comes to mind.  One morning, at the beginning of chorus rehearsal, one of our singers wrote a quote on the board that has become our mantra:  “We’ll make it work…we always do!”  This statement embodies the attitude and perseverance of our music students this year.  Whatever has been thrown at them, whether it was singing outside while snowing, humming our parts when inside the building, playing choir chimes and Boomwhackers, or spending tons of time tapping out sight reading rhythms with drumsticks, chorus members have kept the music going.  Singers have continued to participate in “normal” activities such as auditioning for All State, even when we’re not sure what being selected will look like.  They have been very good at keeping the focus on what we can do and what the future can hold for us.

As you may know, we recently were given permission to sing inside the building with safety precautions.  The singers were so thrilled on the first day that we were able to sing together again (with lyrics and not humming) that they laughed and literally jumped up and down for joy. It was a moment that I will always carry in my heart as a reminder to never take for granted what means the most to us.  

We have been spending our time learning new pieces for our upcoming concert which will definitely be a “star-studded” event. In addition to our concert pieces, we’ve been working on a piece from the musical, “Dear Evan Hansen”.  We’ve got folk songs, a song from a movie, and even a Hall and Oates tune.  Not all of it will make the concert but we are having a blast, even taking student requests to pull pieces from past years to JUST SING!

I am so proud of our music students, the music department, our administration and classroom teachers for their flexibility and positive attitudes.  They have helped make this challenging year a year of growth and positive experiences.

We look forward to our upcoming concert on June 3rd.  Stay tuned for more information!

As the old saying goes, “If you can talk, you can sing; if you can walk, you can dance.” I am so grateful for all of our musicians for just rolling with it this year and continuing to make music.  And thank you to our music staff for continuing to support our musicians and singers to find joy and make music despite all of the tribulations of this year. And, I look forward to our upcoming performances!

…and speaking of performing arts, please remember that this weekend is the premier Help Desk!

Please read this note from the directing team of Help Desk:

We are so excited to perform our newest (virtually) LIVE show, Help Desk, this Friday and Saturday. Our cast is excited and READY! We are hoping for great audiences so we hope you are spreading the word to friends and family!

Show Times: Friday 7:00pm and Saturday 2:00pm and 7:00pm

Please visit the BFA Dramatic Arts Ensemble website to access all the Zoom webinar links to our show. 

The show is entirely free. If you feel inclined to donate, visit our Donations page and support one of the theater organizations there. The pandemic has been hard on live theater and many could use your support.  

While you are looking around our website, be sure to visit the Virtual Performance page to meet our cast members as well as the (More) Sponsors page to see the many businesses supporting our productions. 

____________________

I hope you will enjoy our performances and please have a restful and recharging April Break!

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.

Other duties as needed…

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The job description for principals includes many of the tasks you would expect-supervise teachers, manage the budget, maintain student discipline- but, like every other job description, it includes “other duties as needed”. In a typical year, these “other duties as needed” might include supervising a school dance, cleaning up a hallway mess, or substituting for a teacher in an emergency. This year, two new “other duties as needed” have emerged: public health official and lunch delivery person. Both are necessary and important as we navigate through the school year in an effort to keep students and staff healthy and in school. To clarify, here are additional details to add to the principal’s job description.

Public Health Official:

Since the school closing last March, principals have worked with school nurses to better understand the health implications of the COVID-19 virus. As we planned for the return of students in the fall, we collaborated with them to make sure that our spaces were set up to allow for appropriate spacing between students, planned entry procedures (drop off and pick up routines, temperature checks), and worked together with the maintenance staff to ensure sanitation and cleaning products and processes were in place. This work was really just a variation on our regular summer planning to reopen schools. 

It wasn’t until our first positive COVID case was received that we started in the Public Health Official duty. The school nurses typically receive a call from the Department of Health regarding a positive test result. Sometimes the family may inform us directly, but our school nurses are always the first point of contact. They immediately advise the principal of the situation and we begin to work together to determine next steps. We establish when the person was last in the building and compare it to the time when they were contagious. We look at class lists and seating charts to determine who we may need to advise to quarantine. We speak to classroom teachers to determine what activities may have been occurring in the classroom as some activities (like a science lab) might require closer contact for more time. All of this information is shared with the Department of Health and we work to establish a plan. Do we need to quarantine an entire pod of students? Do teachers need to quarantine? Are buses involved? Can we keep school running as normal or do we need to go remote with certain impacted groups due to staffing needs?

Nurses Michelle Sheehan and Amy Black consulting with Principal Tom Walsh

Once we make these decisions, we start to contact families. We divide up the list and make direct calls to every family. We explain the situation, tell them dates for testing and return to school, and answer any questions they may have. Since COVID is unpredictable, we make these calls when we get information. Sometimes that means we are calling on a Saturday night, a Sunday morning, or even 5:30 on a Tuesday morning. We follow up with emails to each impacted family with the details of quarantine and then a general email to our entire school community. Throughout all of the calls we have made, families have been gracious, cooperative, and understanding. Our community knows that we all have to do our part to get through this and return to normal. 

While this duty is a new task for all of us, it has been made so much easier because of our school nurses. They have given up time on their nights and weekends to work through this process with us. Honestly, they do the majority of the work and have established a smooth process to make sure we don’t miss anything. Communicating information to families is not new for principals.  This year, as we work through the health crisis it has become a much more important and essential duty for us all.

Lunch Delivery Person

One of the guidelines for reopening schools was that school cafeterias could not be used as we normally would. We determined that students would eat their lunches in classrooms. This meant we had to figure out how to get meals to students since they were not able to access the cafeteria. We decided that principals would take on the task of delivering food. At first, it might not seem like a good use of a principal’s time, but if you consider that, in the past, we spent some portion of our day supervising the cafeteria, delivering food is not that drastic a shift.

Every day, we load up our delivery carts with (hopefully) the correct number of meals, milks, fruits and other accompanying items. The process became a little more complicated when our foodservice added additional options for students, but we worked through it!

. Mr. Brown’s Food Taxi

We move out and get the food to our students as quickly as possible. We use thermal bags to keep the hot foods hot and the cold food cold (who remembers the McDLT!). After three elevator rides and about 20 minutes, every student who needs lunch has a meal in their hands.

If I’m being honest, I prefer the food delivery option over cafeteria supervision. I get the chance to interact with every classroom and student every day in a pretty relaxed setting. I get feedback on which meals they prefer (no surprise-it’s chicken nuggets and pizza!) and, as a bonus, I get quite a few steps in along the way! 

Satisfied high school food delivery customers!

One thing that is certain about this change is that it could not have been possible without the flexibility of our teachers and staff. They have made adjustments to their day to support the students in their classrooms during what would normally be a short break in their day while students were in the cafeteria. We appreciate our staff for this and the thousands of other duties as needed they have taken on this year!

When we return to school in the fall, these two duties will certainly be reduced or removed, but there will most likely be some new “other duty as needed…” to take its place. Which, of course, is what makes the job of principal interesting, challenging, and exciting!

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

Bulletin Boards Help Tell Our Story

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As I walked the hallways of our school the other day, I was noticing and appreciating the quantity and quality of information on display throughout our school. One of the important design features of the elementary school were bulletin boards throughout our hallways. It seems simple, but bulletin boards serve many purposes. I value our staff’s efforts to consistently and effectively use bulletin boards to foster a sense of community, celebrate our students, and communicate about learning.

Our students and staff spend a significant amount of their daily time in our school building. In a sense, our school building is a second home for all of us, and similar to our own homes, is personalized through photos, art work, and family memorabilia. It seems so simple, yet it requires time, effort, and a commitment to enhance our place of learning.

I am keenly aware that our families are not able to enter our school because of the pandemic. Nonetheless, we still hold the belief that bulletin boards foster a sense of belonging in a learning community, they make learning visible by displaying student work, and make our house a home. I value all of our students for the willingness to share their learning with all of us. And a big thank you to our dedicated staff for the extra time they spend making our school an engaging and supportive learning community.

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

Scott Thompson Named New FWSU Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

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Franklin West Supervisory Union is pleased to announce that Scott Thompson has accepted a position as the new Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union, effective July 1st 2021. He will replace Linda Keating who is retiring after 6 years at FWSU.

The decision made by the Franklin West Supervisory Union Board of Directors follows a comprehensive search process which began on March 1st 2021.  A search committee was formed of superintendent, principals, content-area specialists/teachers, school board members, and FWSU staff. Following interviews, the committee identified 3 finalists out of a pool of 10 applicants. Scott Thompson was presented by Superintendent Tager to the FWSU Board and they voted unanimously to offer him a contract.

Scott Thompson is currently the Professional Development Coordinator with the Tarrant Institute for Innovation at the University of Vermont where he has served for the past 7 years.  Prior to that, Scott served as Assistant Principal/Principal at Milton Middle and High School for 8 years.  Scott received his Master of Education degree from Saint Michael’s College and completed School Leadership through the Snelling Center for Government: Vermont School Leadership Project. Scott brings over 17 years of experience in education to the FWSU team.

Upon acceptance of the Director of Curriculum position; Scott stated that he is “honored to join the FWSU team.”  The Board is confident that Scott Thompson’s extensive knowledge of curriculum and broad administrator experience make him an excellent fit for this position. We look forward to welcoming him to FWSU in July!

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