BFA Courtyard Deck: Years In The Making

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For many years, the area outside the Multipurpose Room has been viewed as a space with great potential for outside learning and relaxation. It is contained within four walls surrounded by the Multipurpose Room, the kitchen, a high school hallway and the IT central command center. The space is sloped and typically overgrown. 

 In September 2012, the advisors for the Class of 2016 presented the idea of reclaiming the courtyard as a four year project for the class. Students cleared brush and trees from the area, but over the years, the project lost its momentum. The class ended up donating two picnic tables to be used in the space when it was redone. Revitalizing the courtyard was included in the unsuccessful bond vote in 2017. 

At the end of the 2018-19 school year, several students once again expressed interest in the courtyard project. One student, Caden Getty, through his work with the Teen Institute group, presented a new plan for a deck that extended out over the sloping terrain. He brought the idea to Science Teacher, Tom Lane who had become the keeper of the plans for the project and oversaw many of the attempts to clear and utilize the space. “It seemed like a simple solution that we could easily get done” was Caden’s initial thought about the project.

Tom and Caden worked with Facilities Manager, Tod Granger to check the feasibility of the plan and develop a cost estimate. We applied for a grant through the Berlin City Auto Group’s Drive for Education Program. In January 2020, we received a giant check from Berlin City to pay for the deck materials. We developed a plan to construct the deck in the Spring. It seemed like after years of unproductive starts, BFA would finally move forward with this project. Then the pandemic hit and school was dismissed for the rest of the school year. 

Since we had the funding, Tod Granger ordered the material in the Spring, although we were not sure when teachers and students would be able to get together to build it. Toward the end of the summer, Mr. Lane came in and built the structure for the deck.

When students returned, he used part of his class time to work with students to put on the decking and finish the project. We had extended classes for the first weeks of school, so there was time to learn some science and engage in the construction process. “With so many hands, the decking was done in no time and students got some fresh air in the process!” said Mr Lane.

The project is ready for student use and could not have been done without Caden’s idea and Tom’s persistence. We also would like to thank Berlin City, Tod Granger and the facilities crew, Mr Lane’s students and Caden’s Teen Institute Mentor, Joanne Saunders. It took a village and twelve years to get this project started. With this portion of the deck complete, Tom and Caden are talking about ways to expand the deck to provide more space, and add gardens, and stairs, and…

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

Georgia Middle School: Starting the Year Off Write

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Writing happening in Ms. Vierra’s class. 
Writing happening in Mrs. Hardy’s class. 

Our vision at Georgia Middle School is that all of our students will be able to communicate their ideas and thinking through their writing. Students are being asked to write regularly in EVERY class! We have used writing assignments in the first weeks to get to know our students and support their belief that we are all writers. 

Collectively teachers are working together on introducing and supporting students to be proficient with the ‘steal and slide’ strategy. Teachers have been working together to look at how to be consistent in supporting students and providing targeted feedback to our students about parts of this strategy. 

The first two areas of focus are: 

  1. “Eye test”: The “eye test” is helping students remember that every response has a beginning (claim), middle (evidence or insight), and an end (conclusion).
  2. Writing a claim. Writing a claim can be a challenge, so we are encouraging students to learn how to ‘steal’ the language of the question and ‘slide’ it into their claim so that they have a strong statement to defend or explain further in the rest of their writing.  

We are encouraged to see such strong evidence beginning to pop in each class from art class to science class. We look forward to continuing to learn more about each of our amazing students from their writing throughout the year. 

Julie Conrad is currently Principal of Georgia Middle School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @JulieConradVT

COVID-19, Disruption, and Public Education

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In March, when Governor Scott directed all schools to close and provide remote instruction for the remainder of the school year, my heart sunk.  I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of this directive.  As a public school administrator for the past twenty years, I have never encountered a situation that required our society and schools to immediately change the ways we educate and support students and families in such a rapid manner.  

This pandemic is like no other disruption I have encountered in my professional career.  The depth of its impact has been profound. Like previous other economic or technological disruptions, COVID-19 required rapid innovation and re-imagining of all processes and procedures.  

One historic disruption was the attack on September 11, 2001 of the World Trade Center. This horrific event had a widespread impact on our collective conscience, forced an immediate need to change, and served as a powerful reminder that we are a community.  I remember this event like it happened yesterday and have never forgotten the impact. It changed the way we travel, our safety procedures, and significantly impacted military service members, their families, and first responders. Many of us have a direct connection to this event, and I know many individuals from our community that proudly served our country in its aftermath.

Another significant disruption during my career was the invention of cellular devices. The evolution of the internet began this disruption, but widespread availability of cellular phones and mobile devices rapidly impacted our society, economy, and educational systems.  This disruption rapidly altered the landscape of education, teaching & learning practices, and educational systems in a blink of an eye. These innovations continue today and served as the backbone of our ability to transition to remote leaning.

It is now September and we have reopened school using a hybrid instructional model to support a safe and smart start to the school year.  As I reflected this summer about the past months and the impacts of COVID-19 on our community, I am struck by several commonalities these disruptions share. 

All three of these global disruptions highlighted both positive societal impacts and challenges. The most profound challenges were the increased marginalization of the most vulnerable members of our community.  Families that lack reliable broadband access, mobile devices and food security were most adversely impacted.  Families grappling with mental health challenges and addiction shared that access to their support systems was full of barriers. These are not new issues in Vermont, but this experience has exacerbated the inequities in our state.

At the same time, I witnessed so many positive responses and actions during this pandemic.  Our staff responded immediately and embraced a digital learning environment, learning new ways to provide content, and utilizing great creativity to teach and make connections with students and families. We quickly mobilized and delivered daily meals and technology devices to families in need.  Our nurses and local pastor coordinated food drives and staffed our food shelf to provide nutrition to anyone in need. I was also inspired by the strong sense of community.  So many individuals from our town reached out with offers of financial support, food donations, and gratitude for our efforts to respond during this time.  

Like any major disruption, public schools are adapting and will continue change. I am grateful for the ongoing support, the difficult lessons learned, and an increased sense of community. I am hopeful that we can continue to embrace and implement meaningful innovations that improve outcomes for our students and families as this once in a lifetime event comes to an end.  Be well. 

Thomas Walsh is currently the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount

With COVID-19 Guidelines In Place, BFA Fairfax Kicks Off The Fall Sports Season

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After a summer of intense planning and preparation, the 2020-21 school year has gotten off to a positive start.  Upon the release of the Fall Athletic Guidelines from the Vermont Agency of Education in coordination with the Governor’s Task Force, BFA Fairfax is committed to offering all of our traditional sports this fall.  High School Football, Cross Country and Soccer began practices on September 8, with their Middle School counterparts following suit on September 14. With that being said, things will look quite different this fall, and will involve a coordinated effort among students, coaches, staff, and the greater community to have a safe and successful athletic season. Some notable differences will be:

  • All athletes, coaches, and game personnel must wear a mask at all times, including during game play.  The one exception is cross country running, where athletes may remove their mask to run, as long as they are staggered and maintain appropriate physical distance. (If a student has a documented medical exemption from wearing a mask, that will also be allowed in athletics).
  • All fans must wear a mask at all times to attend athletic events, and maintain appropriate physical distance between family groupings.  Inability to adhere to this expectation will result in removal from the event. 
  • Fan attendance will be limited to the current Vermont outdoor gathering limit of 150.  Player and coach immediate family members will have first priority for attendance, and non-family member students will ONLY be allowed to spectate if we have not reached the 150 cap.  If BFA Fairfax events exceed 150 regularly, we will move to a game voucher system, where each athlete and coach from both teams receives two game vouchers for attendance.
  • Games/Meets will begin once the Agency of Education moves all Vermont schools to Step 3 (approximately the end of September).
  • Athletes’, coaches’ and officials’ temperatures will be checked daily upon arrival at practices and events.

Additionally, all BFA Fairfax coaches have been required to complete a heightened level of Covid-19 specific training to ensure the safety and well being of athletes and staff.  More detailed information regarding sports and specific protocols can be found in the BFA Fairfax MS/HS Covid-19 Athletic Handbook at the following link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1PVKQXxIn–GZntRXvor_k8jJ-O73To0zmB_1pXMf01A/edit?usp=sharing

BFA Fairfax looks forward to seeing our athletes on the fields and our spirited fans on the sidelines.  It’s going to take some effort on the part of everyone to stay safe, but the more carefully we adhere to the guidelines and expectations, the greater chance we have of a long and beneficial fall sports season.  Mask up, keep your distance, be positive, and GO BFA FAIRFAX!


Geri Witalec-Krupa is the Director of Student Activities at BFA Fairfax. Geri is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

Fletcher Elementary School Welcomes New Staff

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Fletcher Elementary School is welcoming several new staff members to its dedicated team this fall. 

Courtney LaCasse, Nurse

Courtney LaCasse will serve as the school’s new nurse. Ms. LaCasse is a graduate of Southern Vermont College with an associate’s degree in nursing. She most recently served as a registered nurse in the Milton Town School District and in a pediatric medicine office in Burlington. Ms. LaCasse is a licensed associate school nurse who also has experience working as a maternal child specialist at the University of Vermont Medical Center. She joins the Fletcher School staff full-time this fall, in part thanks to grant funding targeted at reducing school-based exposure to COVID-19. 

Katy Jones, Paraeducator

Kathryn “Katy” Jones joins Fletcher Elementary as a full-time paraeducator. Ms. Jones is a 2020 graduate of Northern Vermont University – Johnson, with a bachelor’s degree in music education and flute performance. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in inclusive childhood education, a combination of elementary education and special education. She served as an after-school teacher for the Lamoille North Supervisory Union at Johnson Elementary for two years. She is the recipient of the United States Marine Corps Award for Musical Excellence and the NVU-Johnson Music Department Award. Ms. Jones will support a variety of students with academic and social-emotional learning.

Diane Dayvie, Paraeducator

Diane Dayvie will also serve Fletcher Elementary as a paraeducator. Ms. Dayvie worked at the school as a lunch and recess supervisor and substitute last year, and joined the team full-time this fall. Previously, Ms. Dayve was a home daycare provider and owner of the Fletcher General store.

Brian Westcom, Custodian

Brian Westcom has recently been appointed the school’s full-time custodian. Mr. Westcom has worked at the school part-time since 2018. He is a 32-year veteran of the US Army where he rose to the rank of platoon sergeant and served one tour in Iraq.

Chuck Ploof, Chef

Chuck Ploof is Fletcher’s new chef. An employee of Genuine Foods, the school’s new foodservice provider, Ploof formerly worked for a worldwide food service provider, at the University of Vermont Medical Center, serving meals to more than 800 employees each day. As part of the Genuine Foods team assigned to Fletcher, Ploof is solely responsible for the school’s breakfast and lunch programs.

We would like to welcome our new teammates! Here’s to a fantastic 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

Welcome Back!

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This week completes our first week of school for the 2020-2021 school year!  It was a return like no other. Or was it?  There are still some things about a new school year that not even a pandemic can obscure, change, or take away from us here in FWSU.

Bus drivers are still cool…

It’s still a special time for all of us… Kids still smile with their whole faces. No mask can hide that…

Recess, outdoor games, and PE still rule…

Kids are still makers… And our teachers are still creative and full of enthusiasm…

Nurses still make us feel safe… New teachers are still bringing new ideas and fresh perspectives…

And “Back to School” time is still a beautiful time of year…

We look forward to continuing the school year with all the joy and enthusiasm we felt this week. We know there may be challenges ahead, but we also know that our collective expertise, supportive relationships, a love of learning, strong communities, and “a belief in what is possible” will guide us through and inspire us to keep moving forward…together. 

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

First Week of School, Safe Smart Start

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Hybrid Instructional Model

It is with great excitement, compassion, and joy that we will welcome back students this week as we officially begin the 2020-2021 school year with the Hybrid Instructional Model.  As hard as it is to fathom; students have not been in the school building for nearly six months.  As a career long educator, I can emphatically state that our dedicated faculty and staff members are so excited to welcome all 1,963 of our talented students back to school.  Things will certainly be different; however I think it is important to note that our professional educators have been busy planning collaboratively for the return of our students over the past two weeks, in order to provide a “Safe Smart Start” and rekindle a joy for learning.  

One Word

It was an honor and a privilege to speak with our faculty and staff at the 2020 Virtual Convocation.  I have encouraged each of our faculty and staff members to choose “Just One Word” for the 2020 school year.  It is a practice that I have participated in since the time the author Jon Gordon wrote the book entitled “One Word That Will Change Your Life.”  I truly believe that selecting their own “One Word” will provide clarity, purpose, and motivation as a significant adult, to make the year 2020-2021 the best year possible.  My “One Word” for this year is “gratitude” and my heart is full knowing that this new year will offer unique yet exciting challenges.  I am committed to share an attitude of gratitude for the mere opportunity to work with students, families, faculty, and staff that together will rise to greatness.

The culture of positivity that our group of educators can bring to our students this year will create a joy for learning beginning this week, after an unprecedented and inordinate amount of time away. I believe that the relationships that are built this year will be important and life-changing.  I look forward to visiting all of our classrooms often and cannot wait to hear each faculty and staff member’s “One Word”.  One powerful thing that I witnessed a year ago was walking through a large school where all of the faculty, staff, and students were able to share their “One Word” and explain the origin of the thought process they used to create that special word. 


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

The FWSU Story: Fletcher School Creates Week-Long Send-Off for Graduates

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Fletcher Elementary School sixth graders pose for a group picture earlier in the school year. Back row, left to right, are Collin Wolfe, Jayden Pratt, Cody Gelineau, and Justus Cota. Front row, left to right, are Maggie Short, Eli Tinker, Jude Buskey and Sabrina Nadeau. Photo Courtesy of Finest Image Photography

Fletcher Elementary School graduated eight sixth grade students on June 12, but not before a week-long celebration of the group’s accomplishments. With current health guidelines prohibiting large in-person gatherings like graduation, students, families and staff took to the internet with one celebration of the graduating class each day during the week. 

On Monday, the school published individual profiles of each student, one about every hour. Students were asked a series of questions that included talking about their biggest accomplishment, the type of job they see themselves having in the coming years, what they are most proud of, and what advice they would give incoming sixth graders. The profiles were published to a variety of internet locations, including the school’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/Fletcherelementaryvt/.

The graduates’ families joined in the fun on Tuesday by contributing photographs of their students from birth to present. The photographs were compiled into a visual and musical tribute by sixth grade classroom teacher Lorrene Palermo. The video may be viewed here:

Staff members at the school remembered students on Wednesday with a video tribute filled with stories and fond memories, while Thursday’s celebration came in the form of a special song penned especially for Fletcher Graduates by Vermont artist and Pacific Records recording artist Chad Hollister, who incorporated students’ names and attributes provided by the school into a custom song that he then performed live-to-video and was released on the internet. View the song here: 

Friday’s limited in-person presentation of diplomas included an individual processional for each graduate through town and included two cars from the Franklin County Sheriff’s office, a firetruck from Cambridge Fire Department, and one of the school’s busses. Staff members lined the front of the building and cheered students on as they arrived. Each graduate received their diploma and a box of personalized graduation cookies that included a diploma, 2020 number cookies and their name.

Fletcher sixth grade graduate Cody Gelineau holds a box of personalized cookies he received with his diploma lst week. Photo: Chris Dodge

This year’s Fletcher Elementary Graduates include, Jude Buskey, Justus Cota, Cody Gelineau, Sabrina Nadeau, Jayden Pratt, Maggie Short, Eli Tinker and Colin Wolfe.

Jude Buskey with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Justus Cota with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Cody Gelineau with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Sabrina Nadeau with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Jayden Pratt with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Maggie Short with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Eli Tinker with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Colin Wolfe with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker

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: Summer Time!

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Another year is complete, albeit an unusual one for sure! The summer season is now upon us and this past week’s warm weather is welcomed. Many thanks to the students and families for the perseverance and grit these past few months. The summer vacation is now a time to explore nature, splash in lakes and pools, and catch fireflies.

Students were asked to try their best to learn from home and families were asked to support this work the best they can. All in all, I would say given the circumstances that it was a success. Schools will now turn and focus on what fall will look like. Stay tuned for information throughout the summer as the model is worked and re-worked based on guidance from the Agency of Education and Department of Health. 

To the seniors of BFA, the eighth grade students at GEMS, and the sixth grade students at Fletcher Elementary, good luck in your next chapter. Too everyone, have a safe, healthy, and enjoyable summer vacation! 

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

Last Day of School!

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On this last day of school for 2019-20, we would like to extend a huge thank you to all of YOU; the families, students, staff, teachers, para educators, bus drivers, food service workers, custodians, administrators, board members and the FWSU community at large. We have conquered the unimaginable together and proven to ourselves just how much we are capable of. We are so proud of every one of you. And we will return next year stronger and ready to face the challenges ahead!

Update on Food Delivery
As the school year ends, we have learned that we will be able to continue providing food to children aged 18 and under at least until June 30. Please contact your Principal for more information. For BFA families, if you are interested in picking up food starting June 11, please complete this form: Food Needs June 11-30

Have a great summer, everybody! Congratulations to the Class of 2020!!