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:

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

The FWSU Story: GEMS Teacher of the Year – Lauralee Wilson

“Teachers, I believe, are the most responsible and important members of society because their professional efforts affect the fate of the earth.” – Helen Caldicott, author and peace activist

The 39th Annual Vermont Outstanding Teachers Recognition Day is being held on Thursday, December 5, 2019 at the Grand Maple Ballroom in the Davis Center at the University of Vermont.  This ceremony is held to thank outstanding teachers and publicly honor them for educating the next generation – each day helping them to be smarter, more creative, and more humane. To recognize the long hours, the patience, the perseverance, and passion defining their important work, and to honor them for their commitment, their successes as well as their trials, and the powerful impact they have on the children of Vermont and our future.

Honored at this ceremony will be our GEMS Teacher of the Year. Math Specialist, Lauralee Wilson.  A leader among her colleagues, Lauralee has taught at the Georgia Elementary School for the past 17 years engaging students to become mathematicians, problem solvers, and respectful members of every learning community.  As a true advocate for children, Lauralee’s approach takes into consideration the whole child; socially, emotionally, and academically. Lauralee is a valued educator within our community across all facets of her work and she is a proven GEM!

Lauralee’s colleagues had the following things to say about her:

“She demonstrates the qualities that our school promotes.  Lauralee is very respectful to adults and students, she is very responsible about her lesson planning, and she works well as a team member.  She is also very positive, calm and flexible.”

“Lauralee is amazing to collaborate with.  She truly knows the meaning of what it means to be a team player.”

“Her passion for teaching is contagious.  Every time Lauralee enters the classroom students are immediately interested and engaged in her math instruction.  Every day, she is able to set each child up for success and helps all students feel valued, regardless of their math ability.  Lauralee is a constant source of inspiration to be the best educator one can be. She is not only a superb math instructor and teacher, but also has a genuine love for the children, enthusiasm for teaching and a bright disposition toward all things.” 

“She is positive , calm, and flexible”

“”Students always come first”

“She has a wonderful sense of humor”

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

The FWSU Story: Crayola Grant Helps Fletcher Students Get Creative

Fletcher Elementary is one of 20 schools nationwide to receive the 2019 Champion Creatively Alive Children Grant from Crayola and the National Association of Elementary School Principals. The grant provides $2500 cash to support the arts and $1000 worth of Crayola art supplies. 

“This grant affirms Fletcher’s dedication to being on the cutting edge of arts integration,” art teacher MC Baker said. “Through art, we teach math, literacy, science, creativity and a variety of other academic and social skills. Art has such potential to span the entire curriculum, to create spectacular connections, and we are incredibly thankful that the funding and materials from Crayola will allow us to expand our commitment to arts integration in the future.”

Baker, along with kindergarten teacher Cathy O’Brien and first and second grade teacher Katheen Pellegrino, authored the grant request, which asks students to think about how they can make the world a better place. Entitled, Personalized Global Projects, the grant asks students to design and participate in art based one or more of four focusing Global Goals that include reducing inequities, good health and well-being, quality education, and peace, justice and strong institutions. As part of the project, each student will create an artist’s statement around one of the Global Goals and consider the impact they can have on solving the problem.

Created by world leaders in 2015, the 17 Global Goals aim to make the world a better place through international collaboration. In addition to the goals that focus Fletcher’s current grant work, the Global Goals include 13 additional efforts such as gender equity, ending hunger and poverty and protecting the environment. 

“The arts play an essential role in supporting students’ exploration of these broad, global ideas,” Baker said. “Through drawing, painting, design and other creative outlets, students can process the significance of world issues in a developmentally appropriate way and think about solutions and how they can help.”

Fletcher has also connected the grant project with its schoolwide behavior approach, Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), within which four schoolwide expectations to be respectful, responsible, safe and caring encourage a positive culture on a more local level. Using materials from the grant, students creatively decorated both large and small stones as part of the Kindness Rocks Project. The smaller stones, called palm stones, were exchanged school wide before Thanksgiving break so that each student received a stone to take home while celebrating thankfulness. Students and staff transformed the song, Rock you, to become Rock you, With Kindness, for the exchange (see video). Students wrapped their stones in small gift boxes adorned with ribbons and designs before the exchange. Larger stones will be displayed and placed outside in the spring.

“Doing acts of kindness regularly actually has a scientific impact on the chemistry of the brain,” Fletcher School Counselor Lisa Coale said. “Through the act of intentionally being kind to others the body creates endorphins that activate the areas of the brain that are linked to social connection and trust.”

According to Coale, highlighting kindness, as a theme for the school, sends the important message to students that simple acts of treating each other well has a ripple effect that not only benefits their overall happiness and wellbeing, but contributes to the happiness and wellbeing of the greater community and world. 

“Beyond increased social connection and trust, my hope is that by focusing on kindness we will also see students feeling less stressed,” Coale said. “We know that when children and adults alike feel connected, safe, loved and accepted, their brains are better able to think creatively, process information effectively and regulate their thoughts and emotions more consistently.”

“The Crayola grant allowed us to bring the kindness theme together with art for a common goal by providing the materials needed to design the stones and gift boxes,” Baker said. “This is an incredible partnership between Crayola, our art program and our school’s efforts to create a welcoming, positive environment while also thinking about issues that impact the word globally.”

Students’ projects will be on display at the school’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) Night in the spring.

“Having new art supplies is very motivating,” sixth grader Colin Wolfe said. “You get to enjoy making really special art and think about how you can help other people around the world at the same time. Those two things kind of go hand-in-hand. It’s like making beautiful art with a bigger purpose than just looking good. It’s about saving the world. I think Fletcher School can do that. I really do.”

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

The FWSU Story: What is Proficiency Based Learning at BFA?

Last week, I sat in the lobby during high school parent conferences and answered questions about BFA’s Proficiency Based system. As I spoke with parents, I had the opportunity to share our process and reflect upon our journey toward proficiency. The conversations were especially important given recent news coverage regarding the Class of 2020 and their college applications. The Class of 2020 is the first class impacted by Act 77, Vermont’s law the requires Flexible Pathways and Proficiency Based Graduation.

There are many aspects to a proficiency based system that distinguish it from a traditional system. There has been a focus on transcripts, “grading”, and reporting systems in proficiency systems, but the heart of a proficiency based system is clear expectations for learning. At BFA, learning scales based on our Proficiencies, Indicators and Targets provide that clarity and will be the focus of this post.

BFA high school and middle school teachers began the transition to proficiency in the summer of 2015, when the Class of 2020 was about to enter 8th grade. Teachers and administrators worked with a consultant to understand and develop “Learning Scales”, which have become the backbone of our proficiency system. A Learning Scale provides the expectations for a student in a specific skill or process. It establishes clear criteria for evidence of proficiency. A learning scale also defines the components that are lacking if a student is not proficient or the additional aspects necessary for Extended Proficiency. All assessments in the high school use a learning scale to provide feedback on student learning. All Learning Scales provide the opportunity for students to demonstrate learning beyond the “Proficient” level. We continue to develop and revise our Learning Scales.

Teachers worked with the consultant throughout the year to develop Learning Scales within their content area. At the same time, teachers worked to develop the Proficiencies and Indicators for their content area. They based their work on the national standards (Common Core, NGSS, C3…) for their discipline. Proficiencies are the broad categories (Writing, Historical Inquiry, Algebra…) for a content area while the Indicators are more specific sources of evidence within each proficiency (Write informational text, determine validity and reliability of  source, solve equations). Targets are the focus of lessons and topics that students engage with in class. Targets inform Indicators and Indicators inform Proficiency. This system allows students to understand how the work they are doing in class is related to the Indicators for a course and their level of Proficiency toward Graduation. 

Learning Scales allow us to gather a body of evidence of a student’s level of proficiency in each content area and transferable skill. A common misconception is that students are allowed to repeatedly take an assessment until they demonstrate proficiency. In reality, students have multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency in each course and over several courses through different learning activities and assessments based on the Learning Targets. 

For example a student might write several informational essays in a ninth grade English class that all provide evidence for the same indicator based on different topics. They continue to write informational essays in subsequent English courses based on the focus of the class. Over time, we acquire a collection of evidence that shows the students progress toward proficiency regarding informational essays in particular and writing in general. It is these multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency in a specific area (but in different contexts) against a consistent learning scale over time that define BFA’s Proficiency system. 

The journey to proficiency at BFA began long before the Class of 2020 started high school. We have made mistakes and adjustments along the way and will continue to learn and adapt in the years to come. Proficiency Based Learning represents a seismic shift in teaching and learning. Learning Scales helped us begin that shift. Since 2015, we have worked to develop a recording and reporting system, common assessments, and benchmarks for students. We are confident that our work provides equity and opportunity for our students and would be happy to answer your questions.

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: Fletcher Elementary Hosts Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s “Fanfare” Brass Trio

On Monday, November 4, Fanfare, the Brass Trio of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, performed before a school-wide audience and several community members at Fletcher Elementary School. 

For over three decades, Fanfare has toured the state, performing in town halls and other local settings. Through their annual school performances, they introduce hundreds of elementary school students to brass instruments each year. Current trio members include Glendon Ingalls on trumpet, Ron Wold on horn and Bear Irwin on trombone. 

“It was a great concert,” first grader Mateo GraffBell said. “They played songs and then taught us stuff and then played more songs and then taught us again.”

Fanfare’s performance included a variety of musical styles plus demonstrations of how the instruments produce their sounds and how each one has changed over time. 

“My favorite part was when they used a long garden hose and a funnel to show us exactly how brass instruments work,” GraffBell said. “Those instruments would be very long if you unwound them like the hose.”

In addition, audience members had an opportunity to ask questions of the performers. The program used a unique blend of old and new music, serious and popular, to produce a lively and informative concert.

The performance was part of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s SymphonyKids education program, which reached over 18,750 school children last year with 262 presentations in 131 Vermont schools. It was made possible and cost-free by a grant from the George W. Mergens Foundation.

“Part of our obligation as teachers includes helping students realize opportunities for lifelong learning beyond the school walls,” third and fourth grade teacher Tracey Godin said. “The great thing about having the trio here was that our students can begin to learn an instrument and play in the school band now, as elementary school students, and potentially continue that experience beyond Fletcher in middle and high school and into their adult lives.”

“I never even knew that you could have your job be playing an instrument as a professional,” fourth grader Faye Hood said. “Or that playing an instrument involves so much math. They have to practice and study a lot to get this good but it pays off because they get to travel around and share everything they know with other people.”

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

The FWSU Story: BFA Fairfax Community, Annual Musical and Giving this Season

Leapin’ Lizzards!

2019 Marked the 10 year anniversary of the BFA Fairfax fall musical under the production of Mr. Jerry Bailey. Upon my arrival this summer, I quickly began to notice the dedication, passion and hard work throughout the many, many students, adults and community members involved in this year’s production of Annie. With over 31 Middle School students, 38 High School students; 2 student musicians; along with 14 community members involved in bringing Annie to our stage, the final performances this past weekend were heart-felt, full of a sense of community and a perfect example of the power of community theater.  

Each year’s production is announced in the year prior. Auditions are held each spring and are attended by a spectacular variety of performers. Somehow, each year the production team seems to fit the skills of the performers with roles that are a just-right fit for the growth of their talents.  

Immediately upon my arrival at BFA during the summer of 2019, I was astounded by the array of work and responsibilities taken on by cast and crew. This year’s production involved student led choreography, direction and behind-the scenes set development. From Choreography camps, vocal workshops, rehearsals and even dog-training (for our guest star Fozzie!) all ages and abilities came together to coach, rehearse, practice and refine the smallest to the biggest parts of the musical for months on end.

Even in the weeks prior to the final performances, students were leading the charge and helping one another to refine choreography, cues, set pieces and lines to make the performance the best it could be. Having had the opportunity to enjoy all 4 performances, it was amazing to see our student performers refine and relax into their roles, while backstage seemed to be operating seamlessly.  

While the performances were each a highlight in their own right, listening to the students’ post-performance appreciations for one another, their mentors, their families and communities was a true joy.  

Some may discount the arts or theater as frivolous, however, I know I am not alone in my observations that throughout the development, rehearsal, performance and beyond it is clear that through these experiences we are developing aware, involved, articulate, thoughtful and committed community members. Through their involvement in this year’s, and future productions, our students are practicing the transferable skills which we hold in such high esteem across all of our work at BFA Fairfax: Clear and Effective Communication; Self-Direction; Creative and Practical Problem Solving; Responsible and Involved Citizenship; and Informed and Integrative Thinking.

Each student should be proud of their role, whether it be on the stage or back stage (or in the pit, as the case may be). To share in the joy of the audience across all of the performances was a privilege. We hope that in the future you will continue to support our theater program either through attending the shows, donating concessions, or helping with costumes. It takes a community to put on a show this large, and we appreciate everyone who has assisted us over the years. See you next year! Looking forward to next year’s performance already!

This Season of Giving:

One of my favorite parts of living in Vermont, and Fairfax in particular, is the sense of community and willingness to help our neighbors. Each year, BFA Fairfax students across our schools work together to support area families in need. Prior to the Thanksgiving Break, students in grades 5-8 come together to create Thanksgiving Baskets and Break-Boxes for area families who are food insecure. Student leaders step forward to assist with shopping for ingredients, the assembly of meal kits and preparations for delivery/pickup. Our goal is to ensure that every family in the Fairfax community can celebrate the upcoming holidays in warmth and comfort.

Beginning in December, BFA Fairfax is host to a variety of opportunities to support area families in need. We hope you will join us in the spirit of generosity this season. Winter Gift Giving Mitten Trees will be on display in both the Elementary & Middle/High School Lobbies from December 2-12. Middle and High School classrooms will be conducting our annual December Happiness Food Collection & Coin Drop in classrooms. Grades 5-8 are taking part in a “coin war” fundraiser and High School Classrooms will be accepting Food Donations. Finally, we are also hosting a Winter Sock Drive from December 2-20 in both the Elementary and the Middle/High School Lobbies.

Wishing you a warm and hearty Holiday Season!

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

The FWSU Story: For Fairfax/Lamoille Football, the Journey is the Ultimate Victory

On Saturday, November 9, in front of a packed stadium at Rutland High School, our BFA Fairfax/Lamoille Union cooperative football team faced Poultney High School in a gritty, exciting, and hard-fought Vermont Division 3 state championship game. It was the ultimate in title games: two extremely talented and well-coached teams, with identical records, and similar styles of play facing off for the thrill and honor of bringing a state championship home to their communities. In these situations, it is unfortunate that there has to be a winner and a loser, and on this day, it was Poultney who took home the title with a 17-8 win. Although their disappointment was visible, our Bullet players demonstrated admirable class and poise as they accepted their runner-up trophy and medals, and congratulated the Poultney team.  

Some would gauge victory and success on the number of titles won, a win-loss record, or postseason accolades. For Fairfax/Lamoille football, however, the cooperative team journey has proven to be the ultimate victory. This team of 35 players and managers, representing two counties, four different schools, and multiple communities has become a shining example of the power of athletic participation. Fairfax, Lamoille, Stowe, and Peoples Academy are rivals in most sports, but when it comes to football, these four communities have bonded together and become one team and a shining example of pride and sportsmanship.  

US Women’s Soccer team member and Olympic champion Alex Morgan once said, “Winning and losing isn’t everything; sometimes, the journey is just as important as the outcome.” For Fairfax/Lamoille football, the cooperative team experience has been the ultimate victory, and will continue to be the standard of success. When the sadness of Saturday’s loss is a distant memory, what will remain is the impact of four communities whose pride, passion and support have helped build a truly positive education-based athletics program and culture. 

Congratulations on an amazing season, Bullets! You made ALL your communities proud!

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