The FWSU Story: BFA 2020-2021 School Budget Update

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On Monday, January 13, the Fairfax Town School District Board of Directors voted to present a budget of $13,760,921 to the taxpayers of Fairfax at Town Meeting on March 03, 2020.

This budget represents a 6.67% increase in expenditures and a 7.25% increase in per pupil spending ($14,032.09) compared to last year’s budget. Although increasing, our per pupil spending remains significantly lower than the Vermont average per pupil spending, which is $17,133. The per pupil spending information is what appears on the ballot on Town Meeting Day. 

This budget represents essentially a rollover budget, meaning it keeps our staffing, instructional programming, co-curricular offerings, and supplies relatively the same as the previous year.  Here are some of the areas that are contributing to the increase in this budget:

  • Transportation- With the help of a grant, we are purchasing two electric buses.  The district is responsible for the first $90,000 of each bus (roughly the cost of a traditional diesel bus), and the grant pays any additional cost.  The grant also covers installation of infrastructure and mechanical training.
  • Health insurance– Accounts for slightly more than 11% of our total expenses, which increased by 12% this coming year.  
  • Pre-Kindergarten- Act 166 tuition budget increased by $36,579 over FY20 budget. Estimating 55 students at an announced rate of $3,445.

The School Board was mindful of taxpayers as we developed this budget, remaining aware of the community’s capacity to pay for an increase. Our goal was to present a budget that maintains our current programs. Given the percentage increases, the School Board and Administration could not support the inclusion of any additional expenses.

We have been fortunate to have lower percentage increases in the previous years that have also allowed us to add programs and support without significant increases in taxes. We are confident that the presented budget will continue to meet our student needs.  The tax impact on home values is listed below:

In addition, there will be a separate article for $200,000 that will be used to replace three roofs.  After the most recent bond request was defeated on December 03, 2019, we have identified this as the most critical current need.  The article would replace one high school roof that had a 2017 replacement date, a middle school roof over the 1943 wing and the elementary roof over the gym that were both slated for replacement in 2019. If this article successfully passes the tax impact on home values is listed below:

We will be sending out a budget flier with more detailed information about the 2020-2021 school budget. You are invited to attend the next School Board meeting on Monday, February 10 at 6:30 pm in the FLEX Room where the school budget will be presented. There will also be a presentation on Saturday, February 29 at 10:00 am in the Elementary School Gym of the town and school budgets.  Finally, the town and school budget vote will occur on Town Meeting Day, Tuesday, March 03 in the Middle School Gym from 7:00 am – 7:00 pm

We encourage you to learn about our budget proposal and feel free to contact Justin Brown jbrown@fwsu.org, John Tague jtague@fwsu.org, Geri Witalec-Krupa gwitalec@fwsu.org, or Tom Walsh twalsh@fwsu.org, if you have questions.  Thank you in advance for your support of our students and staff. 

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: Fletcher Students Experience “Out of this World” Learning at STARBASE

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Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning just doesn’t get any more exciting than watching a pair of sleek F-35 jets thunder off into the horizon. Or, does it? How about building flatulence molecules (yes, that’s a fart!) to learn about the periodic table of elements or designing actual working rockets that travel more than 200 feet into the air to accelerate one’s knowledge of Newton’s laws of motion? These adventures, and more, are being experienced by Fletcher’s fifth and sixth grade students.

The class has been on the Vermont Air National Guard base in Colchester as part of a five-day program called STARBASE. An affiliate of the U.S. Department of Defense, STARBASE focuses on teaching students about physics, chemistry, technology, engineering, and math, with an emphasis on possible careers in those fields. Students spend 25 hours in the STARBASE facility and the instructors also teach lessons at the school.

“Programs like STARBASE are important because it gives learners opportunities to see how science, technology, engineering, and math can be applied to everyday life,” Fletcher’s fifth and six grade teacher, Lorrene Palermo, said. “Since STARBASE is located at the Air National Guard base it also allows for students to see these important life skills in everyday careers. We had the opportunity to visit the Fire Department on base and made many great connections to student learning that we experienced at STARBASE.”

It was Amelia Earhart herself who once said, “The most effective way to do it, is to do it.” In many ways, this has become the teaching mantra at STARBASE Vermont, where the lessons are hands-on and include everything from exploring jet technology in the hanger and flying planes using flight simulators, to studying gravity through cooperative games and learning about air pressure by experimenting on marshmallows.

But, the program teaches much more than science. Its mission includes fostering collaboration and healthy choices, exposing children to cutting-edge technology and building a sense of community. Each “Starbaser,” as they are called, selects a “call sign” like a pilot. The call sign represents them personally and they are referred to by that name throughout the STARBASE experience.

“STARBASE has been my favorite part of the year. The science is just really fun to do. They teach it to you in creative and fun ways like designing a space shuttle that protects an egg when launched,” fifth grader, Collin Lucci, said. 

“They explain the lessons in a way that is fun and interesting,” sixth grader, Sabrina Nadeau, said. “They go over everything step by step to make it easier and it’s just fun to do things like design space vehicles on the computer and doing coding. It’s a fun place to be.”

STARBASE opened its doors in 1994 and reaches more than 1,300 Vermont students annually. There is no fee for schools to participate. The program even offers schools financial support with transportation. During the program’s physics component, students learn Newton’s Laws of Motion through hands-on experiments that include building and launching model rockets. Other topics include fluid mechanics and aerodynamics, much of which is learned through experiments and observations of military planes that enter and exit the base on which STARBASE is housed. 

“I liked building different shapes on the computer that helped me design my own space shuttle,” fifth grader,, Fletcher Simonds, said. “Math and literacy are still part of STARBASE, but with explosions in a tube and other cool stuff it’s very exciting.”

“It was really cool to get to see planes taking off right outside the window. The whole time we’re there it’s about science and testing out our theories and learning about the work that scientists do,” fifth grader, Maddie Weaver, said. 

Students also had the opportunity to meet and speak with Brigadier General Greg Knight, the Adjutant General for the State of Vermont, who is responsible for the recruiting, administration, equipping, training, maintenance, and readiness of the 3400 Vermont National Guard soldiers. Knight spoke about the importance of school and taking every educational opportunity they were given. 

Building blocks of matter, physical and chemical changes and atmospheric properties are all taught as part of the program’s chemistry strand. Additionally, technology innovations including the latest in mapping, nanotechnology, robotics, and chromatography (a method for separating organic and inorganic compounds to determine their composition) are features.

​Three-dimensional computer-aided design (CAD), along with information about the engineering and design processes, comprise the engineering elements of the program, while number relationships, measurement, geometry, and data analysis bring in the math. Among other projects, students used computers to design unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Place-based experiences such as STARBASE spark memorable learning opportunities for our young students,” Fletcher’s Instructional Coach, Denette Locke, said. “From these experiences we are apt to be in the presence of the future chemist or scientist who creates the next great cure or helps to come up with the solution to global warming. Perhaps the community partners on the base inspired a future firefighter, pilot or the next general. The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematical learning will transfer back to their in class learning and that of future dreams, inspirations and careers.”

Students’ last STARBASE experience is scheduled for early February, when they will launch their homemade rockets at the school.  Read more about STARBASE Vermont here.

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: School Board Appreciation

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On January 15, 2020, the Vermont legislature passed a resolution declaring January as School Board Recognition Month. Let’s pause and say “Thank You” to the community volunteers who serve as school board members. 

Fairfax School Board: Student Rep. Shane Seals (’19), Mike Bruso, Sandy Alexander, Elaine Carpenter, Kathi Muehl, Scott Mitchell, Student Rep. Kieran Shea (’20)

Across the FWSU, we have fifteen members serving three separate districts and a supervisory union. The common saying when deciding to run for school board is “its only one meeting a month.” Sure, board members attend monthly meetings. They also serve on committees and as a part of other boards such as the SU board or the Vermont School Boards Association board. They are an essential conduit to the community, receiving feedback on all aspects of our schools and providing critical information to families and taxpayers throughout the year.

Fletcher School Board: Jess Graff, Betsy Lesnikoski, Aimee Cardinal, Tara Sweet, Melissa Sargent-Minor

Key work of school boards is to raise student achievement and they do so by creating a shared vision and setting direction through policy development, providing accountability for student achievement results, and developing budgets aligned to district and local goals.

Georgia School Board: Fred Grimm, Kate Barnes, Ben Chiappinelli, Carl Laroe, Andrea Milne

Visit this page to view the 2020 State Resolution. School board meeting agendas and minutes can be located on the FWSU website under the BOARDS tab.

FWSU Board: Betsy Lesnikoski, Elaine Carpenter, Aimee Cardinal, Tara Sweet, Scott Mitchell, Ben Chiappinelli, Kate Barnes, Carl Laroe (Not Pictured: Mike Bruso)

Please join me in recognizing the work of school board members. Let them know the hard work and dedication is noticed and appreciated!

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

The FWSU Story: Educators Earn Digital Promise Micro-Credentials through FWSU Graduate Course

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During the fall semester, 13 educators from across the district enrolled in the FWSU digital course, Designing Experiences For All. The course was designed to allow teachers to select their own personal pathway to research, design, and implement an innovative experience for students.  All of the participants were able to expand their learning and design planning along with Greg Kuloweic, Edtech Teacher during the FWSU November Institutes.

These teachers were then challenged to demonstrate their learning by submitting an application for a micro-credential through Digital Promise’s competency-based recognition for professional learning. 

In order to maximize personal learning, teachers were given a choice of which micro-credential best suited their pathway to learning. Teachers selected from the following micro-credentials:

All participants in the course applications were reviewed by an independent evaluator and all were awarded micro-credentials!

Congratulations to Tammy Boissoneault, Marc Choiniere, Eric Hadd, Dana Hamm, Deb Howard, Sandy Leclair, Vicki Pinault, Lorrene Palermo, Ben Pasoros, Sharon Rock, Sean Theoret, Eve Thorsen, and  Erin Young.

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

The FWSU Story: Early Release Days – What do the staff do on those afternoons?

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This school year, as a supervisory Union, FWSU’s calendar includes three Early Release Days.  One in October, this past Monday – January 20, and a third on March 25. Each of these days allow professional staff time to work together throughout the district  in order to build capacity and opportunities for student learning and growth.

This past Monday, Principal Conrad and I had the pleasure of working with both the GEMS and the BFA Fairfax grades 5-8 staff.  We had the pleasure of facilitating discussions with staff to further refine our teaching and assessment practice with Transferable Skills. Transferable Skills identify the crosscutting targets for skills that FWSU believes are important to be successful in and beyond school.

As a district, FWSU has agreed upon the following transferable skills across all subjects:

As Our Transferable Skills are woven throughout all of our teaching and learning, it is our purpose to ensure that all students become informed, literate, critical thinkers who demonstrate responsible social and civic behaviors in school and beyond.

Our work is to continually define, refine and differentiate what each of these skills looks like across grade levels; how students demonstrate or struggle with them; as well as how to we can more consistently teach and assess them across grades 5-8. This requires sustained time and effort. These early release times provide essential, deep work time for educators to engage in rigorous and thoughtful conversations in service of greater clarity, coherence, and focus for our work with students.

I can confidently speak for the participants in our session and each of the sessions taking place in Fletcher, Georgia, and Fairfax that this time is productive, essential, and absolutely helps us each to better meet the needs of all learners throughout FWSU.  And for that we thank you, our community, for supporting us in continuing to grow opportunities to support our “belief in what is possible.

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

The FWSU Story: The Pulsera Project at GEMS and BFA

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“By sharing art, knowledge and ideas across cultural lines, we can create a more ethical and colorful world.”  – Pulsera Project

BFA Fairfax High School Spanish students selling items in the school lobby

As part of The Pulsera Project, BFA Fairfax High School and GEMS 7/8 Spanish classes participated in sales of fair-trade goods in November and December, 2019. Through The Pulsera Project (non-profit organization in the U.S.), Spanish teachers Kerri Brien and Laura Mathieu ordered original, hand-woven bracelets and bags made by artists in Nicaragua and Guatemala. The classes sold their merchandise at school for two weeks and all the money raised went directly back to the artists. 

Prior to the sale, Spanish students learned about poverty issues and conflict in Nicaragua as well as learning about individual artists (using videos and other materials by Pulsera Project). They also learned about the hardships faced in these countries and helped raise money to support community programs and fair trade employment.  The whole school increased their awareness and global citizenship. 

GEMS students shopping for free-trade items and reading about Pulsera Project

The positive impact by the GEMS school community was over $2,400, the equivalent to 1.2 houses or 8.6 months of fair-trade employment, or 40 months of educational scholarship.

Students inspect the hand-made items from Pulsera Project

At BFA, the students sold 139 bracelets and bags and raised $756 for Latin American artists.

Here’s what some of the students thought about the experience:

  • I felt like a good person for selling the bracelets. I felt like I was supporting the artists as a good cause.
  • It was for a good cause, all money goes back to artists. We’re not taking any of the profit.
  • Cool that unsold art goes from school to school.
  • When you learn how hard they worked to make it, you appreciate it more.
  • I liked it because was for a good cause. We learned about it beforehand, which was good.
  • Good idea to open up sale to whole school because it was for a good cause.

For further information, please visit http://www.pulseraproject.org. Congratulations to all who helped make this project a success!  

Students selling Pulsera Project items at GEMS

Today’s blog comes from Kerry Brien, BFA HS Spanish Teacher, and Laura Mathieu, GEMS 7/8 Spanish Teacher. Be sure to follow #FWSU on Twitter!

The FWSU Story: Thank You and Good Luck to Danielle Kiscak, BFA Fairfax Special Educator!

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Wendy Chase and Danielle Kicsak, Special Educators

Danielle Kicsak has been a special educator at BFA Fairfax for the past nine years. She formed many positive connections with students and staff. She has been an integral member of the middle and high school special education team. She is a prepared and conscientious teacher who works hard to support all learners. 

Danielle has contributed to the BFA school community. She was a facilitator of a student leadership team, Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together (YATST).  YATST is a network of youth and adult teams from Vermont high schools. The group works to ensure that students and adults are highly engaged in school improvement that is responsive to our rapidly changing world. Danielle actively worked to engage and strengthen the student voice. Through her work with the YATST team, they were able to successfully expand communication, understanding, and collaboration between our faculty and student body.  Her dedication and effort has contributed to making BFA a wonderful school.

Danielle is relocating to Florida at the end of January.  We have enjoyed working with Danielle, and we wish her all the best in her future endeavors.  She will be missed!

Thank you, Danielle! 

Danielle Kicsak, Special Educator and John Tague, BFA Fairfax HS Principal

We are fortunate to have an outstanding long term substitute, Paula Thompson.  Paula will join us for the remainder of the year.

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

“She is collaborative, kind and funny!  We will miss you!”

“Danielle has a great sense of humor!  Good luck in Florida!”

“Danielle has been a great team member!  She’s always been reliable and fun to work with!”

“She’ll be missed, and we wish her the best in her new adventure!”

“She has demonstrated great leadership to the support staff.”

YATST Team

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