The FWSU Story: Advisory and “Flex” Time at BFA High School

As we work to provide support for our students in our proficiency based high school, BFA has started the year with new systems and structures built into our daily schedule. The changes center around our daily “Advisory” time with the goal of improving access to intervention and enrichment for all students.

In the past, our Advisory time was a half hour at the end of every day where students could get assistance from teachers, work on homework, attend club meetings, prepare for their exhibitions, schedule classes, review their academic progress, and hold class meetings. Students were assigned an Advisor as they entered high school and worked with that advisor through graduation. One of the goals of this system was to foster a relationship between the student and their advisor so that every student had at least one trusted adult in the building. 

Having a trusted adult in the building is an important marker of success in high school. Our Youth Risk and Behavior Survey results showed that around 80% of our students reported that they did have at least one trusted adult. At quick glance this seems like a fairly positive statistic, but when you look through the other lens, it means that 1 in 5 of our students reported that they did not have that trusted adult. It seemed that in our quest to have Advisory fill so many needs, we may have lost out on the relationship aspect that we knew to be so important.

Our approach to address that need while still providing an opportunity for all of the other important work and needs of our students had two components. First, we separated out a part of the day for Advisory based solely on connections and relationships. Second, we acquired a software system that allows students to be flexibly scheduled based on their academic and personal needs.

Ninth Grade Advisory Activity

Advisory is held every morning after block one. Students meet with their advisor for 10 minutes. The goal is to build connections between students and their advisor and among all the students in that advisory. Each advisory group has developed a schedule of activities for the week. The activities might include “Weekend Check-in”, “Trivia Tuesday”, “Game Day”, “Walkabout Wednesday” or “Question of the Week”. This gives students some predictability, purpose, and buy-in. 

Tenth Grade Advisory Group Discussion

“I love it. It’s nice to have one clear focus of connecting with kids for that time everyday”

– Will Brooks, SS Teacher

Every afternoon, we hold a “Flex Block”. On Monday, all students meet with their advisory teacher to develop a schedule for the week based on their academic needs, interests, and goals using the Adaptive Scheduler software. 9th and 10th grade students are scheduled to be with their advisors every Monday and Wednesday to work on Exhibition related tasks. Students are able to schedule themselves for the rest of their week, unless one of their teachers has requested them. 

Sample 9th grade Flex Schedule

Teachers can schedule students to come directly to their room for academic intervention or enrichment. The goal is for students to recognize when and where they will need support and plan ahead. Teachers are able to provide more timely support for students through the scheduling process. 

Students can schedule themselves for club meetings and wellness activities if their proficiency levels are met. This system has eliminated the time needed to check in with their advisor before going to another teacher for assistance. Attendance is taken based on where students have selected. It may sound complicated, but with just a few “clicks” student weekly schedules are developed based on their individual needs. 

Sample 11th grade Flex Schedule

“I like Flex Block a lot better this year. The list system we used last year wasn’t efficient. This year we have our own flexibility. I’m glad we still have Mandatory Monday”

– Abigail S., Grade 11 student

Our work as high school this year is to continue developing a culture that supports proficiency, intervention, and equity. These changes are an important part of that work. We will continue to develop systems to provide timely intervention and enrichment options for our students as they work toward our Proficiency Based Graduation Requirements.

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: New Leadership Joins Our Schools

Two schools within the FWSU have new principals joining the team this year. Georgia Elementary and Middle School welcomed Julie Conrad as the Middle School Principal, and Bellows Free Academy – Fairfax welcomes Justin Brown, also as Middle School Principal. Both principals have had a highly successful start to the school year.

Mr. Brown, BFA Fairfax Middle School Principal

Justin is delighted to reconnect with his home community of Fairfax. With a range of experience over the past 10 years in both local and international schools as Principal of Winooski High School, Assistant Principal of Colchester High School and Principal of Vilnius International School (in Vilnius, Lithuania), he is committed to growing BFA Fairfax grades 5-8 into the best it can be. As Principal, Brown often says his primary charge is building a sense of unity and identity throughout grades 5-8 at BFA Fairfax. 

In this new position at BFA Fairfax, Justin brings expertise developing and actively building on a solid foundation of work in the areas of Proficiencies-Based Personalized Learning; sharing leadership and learning among staff and students; ensuring safe, healthy, equitable and flexible learning environments; and involvement of family and community partners. 

He is the first to say that what drew him initially, and now on his return to Fairfax, is the sense of community and focus on what is best for kids. Each day, he enjoys visiting and checking in with students and their teachers throughout their classrooms and throughout the building, as well as at after school activities.

Ms. Conrad, Georgia Middle School Principal, first day of school

Julie Conrad comes to GEMS this year having ten years experience as a high school math teacher, served 3 years as the State Mathematics Coordinator for the Vermont Agency of Education, a project manager and instructor in the Vermont Mathematics Initiative at UVM, and the last five years as the Mathematics Coordinator at Mount Abraham Unified School District. She has also been an educational consultant with various schools and districts around Vermont and New England. Julie has received her BS in Secondary Mathematics Education from the University of Vermont and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership. She has special interests curriculum, assessment, and instruction; brain research; proficiency-based learning, restorative justice, and integration of technology into K-12 student learning. Aside from work, Julie loves to spend time with her three children playing board games. She can also be found creating and enjoying the arts (visual and performing), baking, swimming or being in nature. 

Ms. Conrad with Thomas & Amelia Weber

From Ms. Conrad… “The start of the year has been going well, largely due to the amazing staff and educators that make GEMS a great place to work and learn. My personal focus for my first year at GEMS is to strengthen our learning community through developing strong relationships. This means I am actively working to build my relationships with the students, adults, and families that make up the GEMS community. I have enjoyed getting to know the teachers and students through daily interactions, welcoming them to the building, visiting with them in lunch, and visiting their classrooms to look at the learning. The Middle School students at GEMS are amazing resources that are constantly curious and offer great ideas daily about how they think we can make GEMS better from them as learners and people. It is also my hope to strengthen communication and collaboration between parents and our school. Open House is a great start to meeting our GEMS families and sharing with them about goals around proficiencies as this will be on-going work for our school in the next few years. “

Donald Van Nostrand is the Interim Superintendent of Schools at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter at @dsvannostrand

Be sure to follow FWSU on Facebook and #FWSU on Twitter to see more exciting things happening in our schools!

THE FWSU Story: BFA Fairfax, “A great place to learn and grow”

Dear Families and the FWSU Community:

Almost unbelievably, we are approaching October. I am happy to share that students throughout BFA Fairfax are deeply engaged in learning and their classroom communities.  Throughout grades 5-8, walking through classrooms, visiting with students in the hallways and in the lunch room have offered countless reminders as to why BFA Fairfax is a great place to learn and grow.

Over our first few weeks, students have learned about Growth Mindset, delved into historical research using primary and secondary sources, thoughtfully discussed ancient mythology, set learning expectations, designed their portfolios, analyzed plant species, sung and played their hearts-out, visited the Farm to School Program, along with simply connecting and reconnecting with their peers and the BFA staff & faculty.  It has also been great to see so many students involved in co-curriculars from athletics to the arts after school and on weekends, both as participants and as supporters.

At BFA Fairfax, we pride ourselves on rigorous and engaging learning both within class and in the broader community. In the near future, 5th Graders are preparing for a trip to the Stowe Performing Arts Center; 6th Grade is on their way to Science on the Green excursion in Montpelier; 7th Grade is preparing for a team-building trip to Craftsbury; and in 8th Grade, preparations have begun for the annual trip to Boston. Beyond these, there are many other opportunities to come.  For any of our learning opportunities, in the event that you would like to volunteer, I encourage you to complete the FWSU Volunteer Agreement form. This can be found at FWSU.org under the Human Resources tab. Please consider completing this form immediately, as you only have to do this once per year. Volunteer Agreement Forms MUST be completed at least 48 hours in advance of any event.

In other exciting news, BFA Fairfax (and FWSU) has successfully moved to round II of a grant to receive two electric school buses. This grant opportunity will allow BFA Fairfax to collect important data on the feasibility of non-polluting electric buses for our community and the state of Vermont. This opportunity comes at NO ADDITIONAL COST to us over the price of our conventional diesel buses. The cost of the charging station and the installation is no additional cost to us! If (when) we win the grant, driver and mechanical/maintenance training are also included- at no cost to us. If this is an opportunity you support, please write to Patsy Parker (pparker@fwsu.org) so that we can include letters of support in order to strengthen our application.  

Thank you for the opportunity of allowing us to work with your young people.  We appreciate all of the support you, as families and as a community, offer to us in our work every day.

Educationally yours,

Justin Brown

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

Be sure to follow FWSU on Facebook and #FWSU on Twitter to see more exciting things happening in our schools!

The FWSU Story: “We Are All Interventionists” Training

The FWSU paraeducators attended the 4th Annual “We Are All Interventionists” training presented by Northwestern Counseling & Support Services (NCSS) School-Based programs. Paraprofessionals from schools throughout Franklin County attended a day of professional development targeted to the specific learning needs of paraprofessionals. This training is one of the many supports NCSS offers to schools and is free of charge. The training was held at Sheldon Elementary School.  

The morning keynote presentation focused on the importance of working together to better meet the mental health needs of students. They provided an overview of the NCSS continuum of school-based services and their role in schools.

Each of the four school based teams facilitated workshop sessions.  The NCSS teams are the Behavior Consultation Team, the Collaborative Achievement Team, the School-Based Clinician Team, and the School-Based Autism Program. Paras attended a variety of workshops throughout the day. The topics related to supporting the emotional and behavioral needs of today’s students. The workshops focused on functions of behavior, use of positive reinforcement, relationships, and professionalism. 

Rachel McIntyre is the Director of Student Support Services at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY

The FWSU Story: Come Home to BFA Fairfax October 7-12

Fall in Fairfax is characterized by crisp air, apple picking, pumpkin spice lattes and amazing Vermont foliage. It also means Homecoming is here! 2019 BFA Fairfax Homecoming will take place the week of October 7-12. A variety of events showcasing our 7-12 athletic teams, school spirit and service initiatives will highlight the fun and festivities for all students, staff, alumni, and the greater community.  

As with every Homecoming Week, BFA Fairfax students will be taking part in a service initiative as well. During this year’s Homecoming football game, we will be cooperating with Make a Wish Vermont. We are extremely fortunate to live in our community of Fairfax, and year after year our service minded students find new ways to “pay it forward.”

We look forward to seeing you at 2019 BFA Fairfax Homecoming!  Thank you to all our students, parents, and community volunteers who make this week a spectacular annual event.

BFA FAIRFAX HOMECOMING WEEK – – OCTOBER 7-12, 2109

Monday 10/7

  • JV Football vs. North Country 4pm
  • JV Boys Soccer vs. BFA St. Albans 4pm
  • Varsity Boys Soccer vs. Richford 4pm

Tuesday 10/8

  • Fairfax Relays!!

Wednesday 10/9:

  • 8th Girls and Boys Soccer vs. Westford 4pm
  • 7th Girls and Boys Soccer vs. Vergennes 5pm

Thursday 10/10:

  • JV Girls Soccer vs. Enosburg 4pm

Friday 10/11:

  • 8th Girls and Boys Soccer vs. Fairfield 4pm/5pm
  • Farm to School Harvest Dinner

Saturday 10/12:

  • JV/V Girls Soccer vs. MVU 10am
  • JV/V Boys Soccer vs. Hazen 12pm
  • Football vs. Mill River 2pm
  • High School Homecoming Dance 7-10pm

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

The FWSU Story: BFA Fairfax School Board Approves Building Bond

We are excited to share that after nearly two years of significant work, the Long Range Facilities Committee (LRFPC) has recommended, and the BFA Fairfax School Board has accepted, a building bond not to exceed $26.4 million. The bond proposal reflects a balance of the immediate needs and goals, while providing options for both the short and long term needs and goals of our school community. 

The LRFPC has completed a comprehensive process of evaluating our space needs, reviewing to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations, and revisiting the previous assessments of the building’s mechanical, electrical, architectural, and code and compliance/life safety needs. In addition, we surveyed the community in the fall of 2018 and incorporated the feedback into this proposal. Finally, we have reviewed the previous recommendations for the building and have identified and classified building needs and recommendations into four categories (safety, accessibility, opportunities, and efficiencies). 

In an effort to provide choices, this building bond will have three articles for the community to consider and vote on:  

ARTICLE I 

Shall general obligation bonds of the Fairfax Town School District in an amount not to exceed $16,000,000 subject to reduction from the application of available state and federal grants-in- aid be issued for the purpose of financing the final design, permitting, site work and the construction of renovations, capital improvements and additions to Bellows Free Academy Fairfax Elementary, Middle and High School together with related site work and eligible project expenses. The renovations shall include adding four (4) classrooms to the elementary school, redesigning the entrances for all three schools and the library, reorganizing the Middle School (science labs, art and maker space, a hallway to the playground, improved space for S.T.E.A.M [Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math] programs) , relocating the nurse’s station for grades 5-12, consolidating administrative offices, adding sprinkler systems where required, improving lighting and providing storage for athletic uniforms, the estimated cost of such improvements being $16,000,000. 

ARTICLE II 

In the event Article 1 is approved and only in the event Article 1 is approved, shall general obligation bonds of the Fairfax Town School District in an amount not to exceed $3,800,000, subject to reduction from the application of available state and federal grants- in-aid, be issued for the purpose of financing the final design, permitting, site work and the construction of renovations, capital improvements and additions to Bellows Free Academy Fairfax Elementary, Middle and High School together with related site work and eligible project expenses and shall include: a new Middle School Gym with separate Community access, which allows for large music space and additional practice and game space; High School Science labs; new art space; and World Language classrooms, the estimated cost of such improvements being $3,800,000. 

ARTICLE III 

In the event Article 1 is approved, and only in the event Article 1 is approved, shall general obligation bonds of the Fairfax Town School District in an amount not to exceed $6,600,000, subject to reduction from the application of available federal and state grants-in-aid, be issued for the purpose of financing the final design, permitting, site work and the construction of renovations, capital improvements and additions to Bellows Free Academy Fairfax Elementary, Middle and High School together with related site work and eligible project expenses. and shall include: a new High School Auditorium, utilizing the present stage with separate Community access; new spaces for the Band and Chorus; High School Science labs; and World Language classrooms, the estimated cost of such improvements being $6,600,000.

So how will this impact your taxes? Below is a chart that estimates the tax impact on home values based on a 20-year bond at a 2.37% interest rate. Your tax increase will be based on the number of articles that pass. For example, if all three articles pass and if you own a $250,000 home, then you will pay an estimated additional $509 per year. 

There will be four informational sessions for community members to learn more about this bond proposal. The meetings will occur on the following dates:

  • October 10, 2019 6:30 pm  (Middle School Gym)
  • October 26, 2019 10:00 am (Middle School Gym)
  • November 13, 2019 6:30 pm (Middle School Gym)
  • December 02, 2019 Special School Board Meeting 6:30 pm (Multi-Purpose Room)

The bond vote will occur on Thursday, December 05 in the Middle School Gym. There will also be absentee ballots available in the Town Clerk’s Office starting Friday, November 15. We encourage you to participate in the informational meetings and to learn about the details of this exciting opportunity for our community. 

Please feel free to contact Justin Brown (jbrown@fwsu.org), John Tague (jtague@fwsu.org), or Thomas Walsh (twalsh@fwsu.org) if you have any questions. We look forward to engaging our stakeholders in a process that serves our students, staff, and community for the next several decades.

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

Be sure to follow FWSU on Facebook and #FWSU on Twitter to see more exciting things happening in our schools!

The FWSU Story: New School Year, New Beginnings, New Teachers in FWSU

A new school year is full of excitement for all returning educators, and in FWSU the first day of school is the best day of the year. But teachers who are brand new to FWSU get a 2-day preview of what FWSU is all about, along with lunch and tour of their home school well before that first day. When you are starting a new job, it’s a pretty great way to get off to a positive start.

We are so fortunate that FWSU attracts so many skilled and talented educators. So it is important that they have a chance to find out just how special our schools are, and that they have chosen well. Our FWSU schools and our educators share high expectations for teaching and learning, and along with that, we are collectively inspired by “a belief in what is possible.”

After some great food, gift bags, and welcome greetings from administrators from the Central Office and across the district, the learning begins. Some of the critical foundations they get a chance to learn about and experience during the 2-day orientation are systems-approaches to PBIS, MTSS, Technology Integration, Equity, All Learners Universal Frameworks, and creating Trauma-Sensitive Classrooms. In addition, they get to know a bit about our 3 schools and the pride that we share in being part of Franklin West Supervisory Union.  

The culmination of this mid-August orientation is a trip to their home schools that includes lunch, time with their principals, mentors, and mentor coordinators, and a Welcome Home tour of the school. 

Linda Keating

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