THE FWSU STORY: Shifting Our Mindset About School Safety

This past Thursday evening, the Fairfax community came together to learn about and discuss the implementation of ALICE. It was a candid and honest conversation about school safety and the need to implement an option-based crisis response plan in the case that our students and staff are confronted with a violent intruder.


The safety of students and staff is an ongoing concern for all staff members. After two decades as a school administrator and father, there is no other issue that constantly weighs on my mind. It seems that on a weekly basis another incident of a violent intruder occurs in a variety of settings throughout our country. As we are aware, our rural state is not immune to violence and we must learn new skills and develop a different mindset to keep our children safe.


Last year our school, like several other schools, experienced an incident involving a threat that required us to initiate our emergency safety protocols. We collaborated extensively with state and local law enforcement to resolve the crisis and spent many hours following this experience evaluating and reflecting on how we could improve our crisis response procedures.


Our analysis prompted a multi-faceted plan to enhance school safety. Many of the actions were based on “best and promising practices” recommended by the Vermont School Safety Center.


Prior to the beginning of school, we trained approximately 350 staff members on three campuses in enhanced safety protocols known as ALICE:

  • ALERT – We will get the word out using clear concise language to describe the nature and location of the event.
  • LOCKDOWN – We will continue to lock doors but will spread out and barricade classrooms to deny entry.
  • INFORM – Continuous communication will keep staff informed to allow for informed decision-making.
  • COUNTER – Apply skills of movement, noise, distance, distraction and use our overwhelming number to gain control of the situation in ways that are age and ability appropriate. (This is only if evacuation and lockdown is not possible and a room has been breached.)
  • EVACUATE – Reduce the number of potential targets for the shooter and reduce the chance of injuries resulting from friendly fire when help arrives.

The premise of ALICE is that through consistent practice and by providing everyone with options if faced with a life or death situation, we enhance the chance of survival. These include escaping, barricading doors, and protecting oneself by any means necessary.


Simultaneously, we have added additional security cameras, began making improvements to our entry points, hired a School Resource Officer (SRO) and established a Supervisory Union Safety Leadership Team comprised of educators, administrators, staff, law enforcement, and first responders to oversee ALICE implementation throughout our system.

Equally important will be our continued efforts to be proactive in supporting all students.  We continue to use pro-social programs to facilitate a strong sense of belonging that provide our student’s agency and voice, foster relationship development, teach important social skills, practice mindfulness, and implement trauma-informed teaching and learning practices.


We understand that shifting our mindset will take time, practice, reflection, transparency, and ongoing engagement with our community. After Thursday night’s parent meeting, I am confident that together we will successfully continue to enhance the safety and security of our students. Most importantly, we will provide our students with a set of skills that will serve them in all environments throughout their lives.



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: Setting the Stage in Fletcher: Benjamin Franklin, PBIS, and those Pesky Coals

You’ve probably heard Benjamin Franklin’s old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”


But, did you know that the former inventor and scientist was actually referring to fire safety and not good health when he coined that phrase? In fact, he was advising readers not to carry hot coals from room to room or up and down stairs for fear that they might escape and cause a great tragedy. He wrote, “Scraps of fire may fall into chinks (an opening or crack) and make no appearance until midnight when your stairs being in flames, you may be forced (as I once was) to leap out of your windows, and hazard your necks to avoid being oven-roasted.”


Benjamin Franklin may not have known it then, but he was onto something big, not only preventing house fires but “behavior fires” as well, with his “ounce of prevention.”

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, follows Franklin’s sage advice. It’s a vastly proactive approach to student behavior that begins with the establishing and teaching of school-wide expectations. In Fletcher, those expectations include being respectful, responsible safe and caring, and it’s our fourth full year explicitly teaching them. While the expectations are taught, practiced and modeled all year long, the first days and weeks of school serve as a particularly important time in setting the stage for successful months to come.


Classrooms approach the teaching of school-wide expectations in a variety of ways. Many teachers bring their classes to different locations around the school – such as the cafeteria, playground, bus, and library – to talk about what each expectation looks and sounds like in that specific area. This teaching is supported by Fletcher’s PBIS Expectations Matrix, which clearly defines the expected behaviors in 12 different school settings. The matrix includes elements such as voice level, safety requirements and expectations for courtesy. F.E.S. also kicked off the school year with a whole-school gathering during which students worked in teams to discuss examples of how they meet behavior expectations.

Daily classroom Morning Meetings also provide an opportunity for teachers to incorporate social-emotional learning. Each Meeting includes a Greeting, Sharing, Activity and News and Announcements chart. Throughout the year, the school-wide expectations are purposefully integrated into Morning Meeting and other parts of the day.

MM2 (1)

Throughout the year, the adults continuously teach and revisit the expectations, particularly in the days leading up to and following longer school vacations, which can be a lightning rod for limit-testing by students. We also use data collected from this year and previous years to proactive head off any negative behavior trends.

A recognition system is also an important part of the year’s start-up and ongoing PBIS work. It is important that students know and repeat the specific behaviors that meet school-wide expectations. To accomplish this, the adults at school recognize students with specific teacher language that names the student, the expectation they met, and their specific behavior. This allows students to clearly connect their actions with the expectations so that their positive behaviors are repeated. During the recognition process, the adult gives the student a small paper token that gets added to a classroom chart. When the class reaches 50 tokens, there is a small celebration such as an extra recess or board games in the room. Recognition is intermittent, which means students are recognized only occasionally, not each time they follow the rules. Each classroom celebration earns a paper falcon that is placed on the hallway bulletin board. 25 falcons (our mascot) results in a school-wide celebration.

MM (1)

The proactive teaching of behavior expectations using the PBIS approach is intended to prevent any “hot coals” of behavior from smoldering throughout the year, thereby maximizing time for teaching and learning.

Benjamin Franklin was no stranger to constantly putting out fires. He founded the Benjamin Franklin Bucket Brigade, Philadelphia’s first fire department, in 1736. However, he recognized that prevention was a much more successful model than constantly reacting events. After all, he said it best when he said, “It’s better to prevent bad habits than to break them.”

Thanks, Mr. Franklin, for setting the stage for PBIS and a positive, productive school climate.



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: Meet the New Teachers, Part 1

We are delighted to welcome some new teachers to FWSU this year. We asked them lots of questions and over the next few weeks, we will be introducing them to our readers.  



Christopher Cowey

Teaching Assignment:  High School Math Teacher

School: BFA Fairfax

Hometown:  South Burlington, VT

Alma Mater: Castleton University

Teaching Experience: First-Year Teacher

Why You Chose Teaching: To see the spark in the student’s eyes when they reach that pivotal “Ah Ha!” moment.

Hobbies/Interests: Team Sports, Strategic Games, Fishing, Camping, Kayaking, Golf, Skiing, Traveling

Little Known Fact About You: I have owned 4 cars, all of which have been Volvos.

Accomplishment you are most proud of (so far!):  Starting my career in a warm and welcoming community that I know will foster growth as a teacher.

Wellness Lifestyle Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask for help!!!

Fun Summer Memory:  Traveling to Ecuador with my family!

A Few Favorite Things:  Red Sox, Bruins, Patriots, Celtics, Duke Basketball

Quotable: “Ask more than you answer.”




Teaching Assignment:  First and Second Grade Teacher

School: Fletcher Elementary School

Kathleen Pellegrino picture

Hometown:  Bomoseen, VT

Alma Mater/Degrees Earned: Castleton University, Bachelors in Elementary Education with minor in science.

Teaching Experience: About half-a-year as a maternity leave long-term substitute

Why You Chose Teaching: Watching as new learning concepts “click” with children is one of the best feelings in the world!

Hobbies/Interests: Ice fishing, traveling, being on the lake in the summer, stockcar races, the Pond Hill Ranch Rodeo, spending time with my Dad, gardening (small succulents indoors), cows, Shark Week, the Boston Red Sox, country music, the color pink, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, softball (playing and coaching)

Little Known Fact About You: I’ve gone by “KT” since I was 2 weeks old. K for Kathleen and T for Theresa; my middle name.

Accomplishment you are most proud of (so far!):  Landing this teaching job in such a sweet little school and district full of rockstars. Also, I caught a 14 lb northern pike last winter which is the biggest fish I’ve ever caught so that was pretty big news.

Wellness Lifestyle Tip: Drink a gallon of water a day!

Fun Summer Memory: Shania Twain concert in July!

A Few Favorite Things: Chicken Parmesan, Oreos, flowers (Lilacs especially), The Lorax, country music, autumn, 4 wheeling, apple picking, snowman building, visiting my family and friends near and far. Did I mention my love for CHRISTMAS? I love Christmas decorating, Christmas movies, traveling to see Christmas lights, celebrating Chrismas!

Quotable: When given the choice between being right and being kind; choose kind.” I love the book Wonder!




Teaching Assignment:  Preschool Teacher

School: BFA Fairfax Elementary

Molly Foreman, Teacher at BFA Fairfax

Hometown:  Bomoseen, VT

Alma Mater/Degrees Earned: S.U.N.Y Cortland, B.S Elementary Education, Antioch New England Graduate School, M.Ed.

Teaching Experience: This will be my 19th year of teaching.

Why You Chose Teaching: I enjoy making personal connections with students.

Hobbies/Interests: Spending time with my family, reading, being outside

Little Known Fact About You: I have been to 49 of the 50 states

Accomplishment you are most proud of (so far!):  The family my husband and I have created.

Wellness Lifestyle Tip: Be kind

Fun Summer Memory: Camping at the ocean

A Few Favorite Things: My family, Bruce Springsteen, the ocean

Quotable: “Love is all you need.”




Teaching Assignment:  FWSU EEE Special Educator

School: Fletcher Elementary School

Blythe Baskette

Hometown:  Haworth, NJ

Alma Mater: Sarah Lawrence College

Teaching Experience: Several years

Why You Chose Teaching: Love kids

Hobbies/Interests: Reading

Little Known Fact About You: I love my beagle.

Accomplishment you are most proud of (so far!):  Scholarship I won from church!

Wellness Lifestyle Tip: Walking is great

Fun Summer Memory: The lake

A Few Favorite Things: Netflix

Quotable: “Try. Try. Try again!”




Teaching Assignment:  6th Grade Language Arts

School: Georgia Elementary Middle School

Heather Brown Georgia Elementary Middle School

Hometown:  Fairfax, VT

Alma Mater:  Bachelor: Saint Michael’s College Masters: Southern New Hampshire University

Teaching Experience: 7 years

Why You Chose Teaching: I love working with kids. I love their excitement and the energy they bring everyday. It’s really important to me to listen to them, learn about their lives, and help shape them into respectful and responsible adults.

Hobbies/Interests: Read, Crochet, Garden, anything with my kids!

Little Known Fact About You: I played softball in college.

Accomplishment you are most proud of (so far!):  I’m so proud of my two kids: Jackson (3) Kaylee (1). I’ve also recently completed my Masters in Education, which I’m proud of as it was a huge undertaking the last three years with raising a family as well.

Wellness Lifestyle Tip: It’s easily forgotten, but I like to take time to appreciate beauty in nature, especially here in Vermont. It’s so easily overlooked!

Fun Summer Memory: We vacationed in Maine this summer. It was our first large family vacation, 12 of us in all. We rented a house and it was lots of fun!

A Few Favorite Things: My favorite thing is spending time with my family.

Quotable: “Embrace each day. We don’t know what the future may hold.”

THE FWSU STORY: At GEMS, First Days of School is All About Relationships

The new school year is off to a great start to the GEMS! The first days of the new year are always focused on creating relationships among students and teachers alike.


The goal is to build a promote respect and rapport across every member of the GEMS community.


This emphasis allows teachers to engage in positive interactions with their students, create classroom environments that are conducive to learning, and meet students’ developmental, emotional and educational needs.


Developing positive relationships between teachers and students is foundational to quality teaching and effective student learning.


The process is a year-long journey for all of us, but we are off to a great start!

Learn more about UN Sustainable Development Goal # 4 

frank calano


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



THE FWSU STORY: Students Prepare for Exhibitions at BFA Fairfax

Students at BFA Fairfax will share what they know, understand, and are able to do in a series of exhibitions throughout their time in grades 7-12. The exhibitions are built on the belief that:

Learning and growth are best understood and represented by the learner.

Essentially this means that the best way to know where a learner stands is to talk to them about their strengths, challenges, interests, and future goals. This is true for all learners, students and adults alike.


A team of teachers met during the summer to develop expectations and a timeline for exhibitions in grades 8 and 10. The team built a website that includes goals, expectations, a calendar and a variety of resources and information for students and families.

The first exhibition will be held at the end of the 8th-grade year. Students will prepare for the exhibition throughout their 7th and 8th-grade year by gathering evidence of their learning related to the transferable skills, reflecting on its importance, and exploring their passions and interests. Time and structure will be provided during students’ daily advisory time. The 8th-grade exhibition will include an audience that includes the student’s family, teachers, and choice of peers. It will be a conversation and presentation that focuses on what the students have learned, areas for growth, and plans for high school. This year’s 7th-grade students will be the first to participate in this process.

High school students will be participating in a similar, but enhanced experience at the end of their 10th-grade year. They will work on this process that, like the 8th-grade exhibition, includes gathering evidence and reflection, but also includes personal and career exploration activities. Students will work to prepare for their exhibition during advisories every Monday and Wednesday. The audience for the 10th-grade exhibition will expand to include community members who will learn about the student’s understanding, progress, areas for growth, and plans for their junior and senior years. This year’s 10th grade (the Class of 2021) will participate in an abridged version of the exhibition this spring. The Class of 2022 will prepare for and experience the full exhibition cycle. In fact, both classes have already started working! We will provide more details about becoming a community member of an exhibition panel as the year goes on.


The last portion of our exhibition plan is to develop a “capstone” experience for our seniors. Last year, a group of teachers began investigating models from other schools to find a model that could be adapted to match our goals and students. We will continue to explore and create a model for the senior year that will build on the exhibitions from grades 8 and 10. Our plan is to implement this capstone experience with the Class of 2021.

We are excited to provide students with the opportunity and structure to share their body of evidence for our Proficiency Based Graduation Requirements throughout their time at BFA Fairfax. We know that we learn so much more about a student’s learning and growth when they participate in a conversation than we will ever learn by looking at a number on a piece of paper.


John Tague is the Principal of BFA Fairfax Middle/High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @jtague252


THE FWSU STORY: Fletcher Elementary Welcomes New Teachers

The Fletcher Elementary School welcomed several new teachers to the school this fall, and they have begun the school year with tremendous enthusiasm and energy.


We are fortunate to add the following professionals to our school:

Blythe Baskette is our new preschool special educator. Ms. Baskette earned both a Master’s Degree in Education from Saint Michael’s College, as well as a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Special Education. She has extensive experience in the field of Early Childhood Education as a childcare director and teacher. She has been a special educator and teacher at the elementary level for several years, as well as a behavior interventionist. Welcome, Ms. Baskette!


Emily “Lisa” Coale joins our school as the new school counselor and PBIS coordinator. Ms. Coale earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Islamic Studies and Arabic from Middlebury College, as well as a Master’s Degree in Education with a concentration in School Counseling from George Mason University. She completed counseling internships at JFK Elementary School in Winooski and Colchester Middle School. Ms. Coale was a kindergarten teacher in the DC Public Schools for two years and received Middlebury College’s Kathryn Davis Fellowship, an award that recognizes students who build cross-cultural connections and international peace through language. Welcome, Ms. Coale!


We welcome Jennifer McConnell to F.E.S. as our school’s music teacher. Ms. McConnell earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Church Music and Voice from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and a Master’s Degree in Music Education from Castleton State College. She has been the elementary music teacher at Franklin Central School since 2004. Ms. McConnell also taught in Sheldon as the general music and chorus teacher for several years. She will share her time between Franklin and Fletcher this year. Ms. McConnell enjoys composing music and being part of a small, tight-knit community. Welcome, Ms. McConnell!

Michele Michalski is a new first and second-grade teacher. Ms. Michalski earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Studies from California State University – Bernardino and a Master’s Degree in Education with a concentration in Reading and Language Arts, also from California State University. Ms. Michalski has completed a variety long-term teacher substitute assignments, most recently in third grade at BFA Fairfax as a third through fifth-grade academic interventionist. Ms. Michalski has taught all elementary grades, as well as preschool. Welcome, Ms. Michalski!


Kathleen Pellegrino joins the F.E.S. team this year as a first and second-grade teacher. Ms. Pellegrino earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and Multidisciplinary Studies with a minor in Science from Castleton University. Most recently, Ms. Pellegrino has served as a long-term substitute in third grade in Fair Haven and first grade in Sheldon. She comes to F.E.S. with a wealth of experience with young children including being a volunteer mentor for 10 to 12-year-olds. Welcome, Ms. Pellegrino!


We are welcoming Phyllis Quarles as our new speech-language pathologist. Ms. Quarles will be half-time each at Fletcher and Georgia Elementary and Middle School. Ms. Quarles graduated from the University of Colorado – Boulder and alternated between working part-time and raising her family. She likes to mountain bike, dance, be in nature and is committed to the practice of meditation. Welcome, Ms. Quarles.


Welcome to Justin Wills, our new sixth-grade teacher. Mr. Wills is a graduate of B.F.A. Fairfax, followed by earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy with a minor in Music from UVM. Additionally, Mr. Wills earned a Master’s Degree in Teaching with a concentration in Middle-Level Education from UVM, and a Master’s Degree in Philosophy from Concordia University in Montreal. Mr. Wills has taught middle school math, science and language arts at Browns River Middle School was a grade 5-8 middle school teacher in Williston and a sixth-grade classroom teacher in Swanton. Mr. Wills has served as a volunteer in a children’s hospital in Boston, as well as a mentor and Odyssey of the Mind coach here in Vermont. Welcome, Mr. Wills!


We are also excited to have a few existing staff members in new positions this year.

Lorrene Palermo, a long-time classroom teacher here at F.E.S., will become our school-wide math and literacy interventionist. Ms. Palermo will work with students needing support in those academic areas four days per week. On her fifth day, she will teach library classes to all of our PK to grade six students.


Denette Locke, who most recently has provided both academic intervention and teacher support with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (S.T.E.M.), will become a full-time instructional coach. She will be dedicating her time to supporting teachers in providing the highest quality instruction possible in S.T.E.M. and Literacy. Denette will not be directly responsible for student instruction other than that provided as part of teacher coaching.


We are excited to be working with our new colleagues. Here’s to a great year!


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: Join the 20 Day Twitter Challenge!

This year at the start of the school year, FWSU is encouraging everyone to participate in our third 20 Day Twitter Challenge. Each day features a different topic that together is designed to tell our collective story. We are talking about the WHY behind teaching and learning in FWSU. Here is a handy guide that you can use to take part. This year, the topics include #SDGThursday tweets that will highlight the Global Goals for Sustainability which is an important part of our curriculum in FWSU.


Here are a few of the great tweets this week!

Join us for Day 5 of the challenge on Tuesday, September 4th and share a favorite mindfulness activity you use in your classroom. Be sure to tag #FWSU so we can follow along. Together we can make our world a better place and celebrate learning each and every day!