THE FWSU STORY: Moving Innovation Forward

Get better every day.

Sounds simple and it is something FWSU strives to do. So how do we do it? There are many ways that we try to improve our system overall to make it more responsive to family and students. And also to make our schools as innovative as possible. One of biggest drivers of our school improvement efforts over the last several years is our membership in the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools.

FWSU is one of 93 members in the League and one of two member districts in New England. League members are selected through a peer-reviewed application process. The League is an organization that brings together the most innovative schools in the nation to working together, to learn together on shared priorities, and to find solutions to make our schools better. League schools also partner with leading entrepreneurs, researchers, and educational leaders to pioneer innovative learning and leadership practices. These practices lead to improved outcomes for students that help prepare them for lifelong learning.

Since becoming part of the League, FWSU has continued to design, champion, and scale effective, innovative learning opportunities to advance equity and excellence for every student. The League has opened opportunities for our students, that would not have ordinarily been available to small rural districts. Here are a few examples:

  • BFA Fairfax Middle School participated in a unique research opportunity sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).  The NSF is a United States government agency that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering. The project, Playing with Data, is a three-year research and development study to investigate how to support middle school science teachers in using data from students’ digital gameplay for formative assessment and differentiated instruction.
  • Students in Fletcher worked with Digital Promise Global on an initiative that supports innovation, by providing students worldwide with cutting edge technology to solve real-world problems.  The project was part of the Hewlett-Packard-Microsoft’s Reinvent the classroom initiative, which aims to provide and support next-generation learning, international collaboration and the “maker” movement in education.
  • FWSU has been named one of nine schools in the country to participate in a NSF Challenge Collaborative to help develop K-12 Computational Thinking Pathways. Computational thinking is the thought processes involved in formulating a problem and expressing its solution(s) in such a way that a computer can effectively carry out (i.e. – coding). Our system will share its knowledge, best practices, learnings, and frameworks around computational thinking with Digital Promise and other participating districts over the course of three years. What we learning and frameworks we establish will be published as part of a public-facing toolkit
  • FWSU was one of the League schools featured in published “playbook” that was shared with schools all over the country on implementing proficiency-based education.

Partnering with entrepreneurs, researchers, and leading education thinkers and serving as a test-bed for new approaches to teaching and learning has benefited our schools. Learning from the above experiences, as well as other League schools, has led to many innovative changes in all of our schools. Since joining the League each of our schools has established Innovation Labs, expanded computer science education, expanded our global education work and put a focus on improving outcomes for our students with the smart use of learning technologies.

Stay tuned for what is next for FWSU!

Young BFA Fans “Meet” Author Rick Riordan

Target 3 – Flexible Learning Environments. FWSU will maximize flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.

Action Step – Provide students w/ access to content, resources, and methods for learning beyond the school day and beyond the school walls.

Indicator of Success – Staff, students and community embrace the digital, social, mobile and “always-on” learning styles of 21st century students.

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Opening opportunities that were once inconceivable, is one of the many reason why BFA Fairfax has turned to a connected learning environment. One, of many examples, is an author chat that occurred last week when a group of 7th & 8th grade students participated in a live chat.


Author Rick Riordan, is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the Kane Chronicles, and the Heroes of Olympus. He is also the author of the multi-award-winning Tres Navarre mystery series for adults.  He chatted live with our students from the top floor of the Empire State Building in NYC. 

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He answered questions submitted by teachers from around the world and then read an excerpt from his new, not-yet-published book, The Blood of Olympus. He also announced a new series based on Norse Mythology. This was an exciting experience for all of our Riordan fans!

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Teaching Above the Line

Target 2: Leadership in a Student Centered Learning Environment
 FWSU will foster the development of teacher & student leaders who provide innovative opportunities for local and global student-centered learning.

Action Step – Redefine high performance in a student-centered, collaborative, technologically rich learning environment 

Indicator of Success – Creativity and risk-taking will be evident and celebrated as learners embrace new technologies.

The 2013/14 school year is the start of the third year of the current FWSU Action Plan. While we are still implementing our plan, we are also now turning the focus to evaluation – specifically how we are integrating technology in our schools through our action plan.  To accomplish this, a small group administrators attended an Apple Education Seminar – What’s Next? Transforming the Future of Learning.  At the seminar the team had the opportunity to work with leading education researchers to evaluate the impact of our learning initiative and identify opportunities for growth.

The team recommended using the SAMR Model (Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition) to assist us in determining what level technology is being integrated into our  classrooms.  1323957_orig

The SAMR Model was created by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, the founder and President of Hippasus, a consulting firm based in Western Massachusetts, focusing on transformative applications of information technologies to education.  You can learn more about Dr. Puentedura and SAMR at the Hippasus weblog. The SAMR model offers a method of seeing how technology might impact teaching and learning. It also shows a progression that adopters of educational technology often follow as they progress through teaching and learning with technology.

When learning occurs at the  upper levels of augmentation and redefinition it has more of an impact on learning. Therefore, when you teach above that line, you are now transforming learning, not just enhancing it.

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Prior to school starting, the administration team took part in SAMR learning exercises. In doing so, administrators gained a better knowledge of what SAMR looks like in a classroom. Equipped with SAMR background knowledge, administrators can now visit classrooms and give formative feedback to teachers on how technology is being used in the classroom and how it is impacting student learning.

FWSU Board

To ensure that all stakeholders understand SAMR, Superintendent Kirsch shared information about SAMR with all of our school boards. Board members were able to actively engage in activities to better understand how technology can be implemented to meet the demands of good teaching and learning.

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The final step in implementing SAMR came to the staff at each of the schools. Staff was introduced to the SAMR model in staff meetings.  After learning what SAMR is and how it can impact learning, teachers then begin to collaborate with team members at evaluating and designing lesson plans that allows teachers to teach above the line.




BFA Fairfax Celebrates its 4th Chinese Cultural Exchange Camp

Target 4 – Engaged Community Partners. FWSU staff and students will collaborate, innovate, create and conceptualize ideas and learning with local, regional, state, and global partners to make a difference in their community, state, and world.

Action Step – Develop partnerships with global partners to carry out a project related to units of study.

Indicator of Success – Collaborative student projects/partnerships become part of the fabric of the broader community.

photo 2 (1)For the fourth consecutive year, BFA Fairfax High School is hosting students from China in a two-week long cultural and language exchange program. The students are brought to Vermont by SPIRAL International for a 3-week intensive English Language immersion program. FWSU-area host families are welcoming the visiting students into their homes, which undoubtedly enriches their experience in the our country. The group has already spent time in Washington DC, New York, Philadelphia, and will be visiting Boston before they fly home. BFA educators Sara Villeneuve and Emily Cogan are serving as co-coordinators and co-lead teachers roles for this project.

photo 3Student leadership is an essential component of the BFA program. High School students serve as mentors to their Chinese friends throughout the exchange. It is a great experience for our students with lasting benefits. Past mentors have shared how important this connection was to them as learners and some have even kept in touch with the visiting Chinese students.

photo 1Cultural understanding is another pivotal piece of the exchange. Schools throughout FWSU have been promoting the concept of Intercultural Competence. Programs such as BFA’s Cultural Summer Exchange aids students in communicating with one another in Fairfax, even though they have different cultures and languages. The program provides an environment that enables students to share subject matters and to also socialize. As pictured above, our students do have a lot in common.

photo 5This year the program features a technology-rich environment to mirror how students at BFA, and our guests, learn. Mrs. Villeneuve created the curriculum using iBooks which is freely accessible to both students and mentors through iPads or individual handheld devices.

photo 1 (1)Friendship and colleagueship is certainly a huge part of the exchange each summer. We are proud of our students, families and teachers who are working hard to create memories that will last a lifetime.

FWSU Receives Grant From Bay and Paul Foundation For Global Student Engagement

Target 2 – Leadership in a Student Centered Learning Environment
FWSU will foster development of teacher & student leaders who provide innovative opportunities for local and global student-centered learning.

Action Step – Provide multiple avenues for students and staff to lead,
advocate, and serve within the school and community

Indicator of Success – Creativity and risk-taking will be evident and celebrated as learners embrace new technologies.


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We are excited to announce the Bay and Paul Foundation has granted FWSU $17,000 to continue its work engaging our students with other students from around the world. This grant allows all of our schools to continue work that has been occurring for the last two years. For example, this year students in grades 3 – 8 at GEMS and BFA collaborated with classrooms in South Korea and Mexico. The learning experiences for our student working with our partner classrooms has broadened their knowledge and understanding of other cultures and other’s notions of citizenship.

Our goal for next year, with generous grant, is to expand the program to more grades next year as well as building our capacity of working with additional countries in Africa and Asia.  In addition, the grant will support an opportunity for a team of FWSU early educators to study and visit Italian preschools, establishing partnerships with the Reggio Emilia teachers and students.

2014-06-09 08.11.43The Bay and Paul Foundation is an independent private foundation located in New York City. The Foundation’s education grants are for School Change and support a variety of efforts to empower students and teachers by promoting the practice of democracy in schools, encouraging student voice, advancing an ethic of environmental stewardship, and integrating academic course work with meaningful community service.


The Bay Paul Foundation recognized the FWSU Action Plan was aligned with its core mission related to school change, personalized learning, and student voice. It also recognized FWSU leadership in Vermont incorporating technology into our teaching and learning in all of our schools. We are excited to continue work offering students opportunities to be leaders not only in Georgia, Fairfax, Fletcher and Vermont, but also to use those skills to lead globally.


BFA Driver Educator John Viau Receives Award for Excellence

Target 1 – Student-Centered Learning. FWSU students will engage in personalize learning involving collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creative learning opportunities.

Action Step – Highlight, create and model innovative learning opportunities that promote collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creativity for students and staff.

Indicator of Success – Students and staff will apply existing knowledge to create original works as a means of personal or group expression.


BFA Driver Education Teacher John Viau was recognized as Vermont Driver Education Teacher of the Year, and he has been nominated for national recognition by the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association (ADTSEA) for his innovative teaching strategies.    John was chosen to showcase his effective use of digital tools, especially his innovative use of  instructional tools in the car that enhance young driver’s knowledge and skills in driver and traffic safety education.  The theme of this year’s National ADTSEA conference is Strategic Planning: Driver Education in the Digital Age, and John Viau has much to add to the conversation.

In the car 2CoachEyeAppAt BFA, students routinely mount their iPad over their right shoulder when they enter the car for driving practice.  John uses the iPad with the Coach’s Eye App to gather evidence and data so that students can analyze their driving skills once they are back in the classroom. Students can then share their own personal driving videos, reflect on their experiences behind the wheel, and practice with their parents.  Students use this digital tool to do analysis and self-assessment of their driving as a regular part of their instruction.


Students also work in groups to create PSA’s to raise awareness about safety issues such as drugged driving, animal hazards, and text driving. Groups of students are charged with creating powerful messages for the community using  podcasts, movie trailers, and presentation software.   They act as responsible citizens, educating their community on safety issues as part of their driver education experience.



John’s work with local law enforcement provides in-class instruction and simulations for students, and it also emphasizes their responsibility as responsible citizens,  a key outcome for all BFA students.

Alcohol Simulation

Congratulations to BFA’s Driver Education Teacher John Viau and BFA students for their innovative practice and their willingness to harness the power of technology to promote traffic safety within our school and community. The world is watching!


BFA Teacher John Viau recognized for excellence.


“Two aspects of John Viau’s practice  were recognized in his selection as Vermont’s Driver Education Teacher of the Year-  John’s alignment of his program with FWSU’s Action Plan and mission statement, and his extensive use of technology in his program.  John is also recognized by others for his leadership and the individual interest he takes in each of his students.”     Lindsay Townsend, VDTSEA Exec Director

GEMS and BFA Celebrate Global Learning with IVECA

Target 4 – Engaged Community Partners
FWSU staff and students will collaborate, innovate, create and conceptualize ideas and learning with local, regional, state, and global partners to make
a difference in their community, state, and world.

Action Step – Develop partnerships with global partners to
carry out a project related to units of study

Indicator of Success – Collaborative student projects/partnerships become part of the fabric of the broader community.


Once again students from both Georgia Elementary School and BFA Middle School engaged the broader global community to enhance their understanding of intercultural competence. This semester eight classrooms of students interacted and learned alongside students from Mexico and South Korea. The students interacted virtually on a weekly basis with their peers through a learning management system (LMS) provided by International Virtual Schooling (IVECA). 

photo 1 (1)The goals of IVECA match the FWSU Action Plan goals to expand the opportunities for our students to become leaders and learners in a global society. Our students will need the skills obtained in IVECA to thrive in the world they will enter after high school. Starting the process of understanding how to work and learn with students from around the world is beneficial.

This is the third consecutive semester that our students and teachers have participated in the virtual exchange. Next year we plan to continue and to add other countries where our students are paired with a school in order to find peers to share their learning.

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The highlight each year of the program is the “live class” culminating event. Students meet each other face to face via a video link to discuss their learning and to just have fun. It is always a pleasure to see the excitement and the smiles on the faces of the students when they participate in the live class.

Thank you to the following teachers for participating this spring  — Ben Psaros (BFA), Melinda Carpenter (BFA), Andrew Sealy (BFA), Jen Skerrett (BFA), Alexis Bell (GEMS, Kay Lee (GEMS), Sandy Leclair (GEMS) and Karen Lehning (GEMS). Without their hard work this remarkable program would not have been available to our students.

BFA 9th Grade Students Explore Early College Opportunities

Target 3Flexible Learning Environments
FWSU will maximize flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.
Action Step – Engage all staff and students in creating a personalized learning networks (PLN) that contribute to learning and instructional practice
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Earlier this week BFA Guidance Counselor Katherine McElroy led a group of 9th grade students on site visits to the Community College of Vermont (CCV) and St. Michael’s College. The trip had many purposes including exposing students to future opportunities, helping them begin to think about their education and career goals. It also allowed students to learn about flexible pathway options now available to all Vermont high school students such as Dual Enrollment and Early College.
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In addition , the excursion also addressed a primary goal for all BFA ninth grade students. Students in high school  are asked to think in earnest about their future.  To begin with, ninth graders are first asked to  think of “Who Am I?” As the students progress in high school they are also asked to think about “Where Am I Going?” and “How Am I Going to Get There?” Answering such questions help students to prepare for the future after high school before they enter their senior year.
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There were many lessons learned during the trip, including a lot of excitement about earning college credit in high school.  Students also had the chance to sample college life during the trip by participating in a scavenger hunt around campus, sampling the cafeteria (always fun!!) and interacting with college students.

I think a college education is important no matter what you do in life.

Phil Mickelson

FWSU Teacher Evaluation Committee Considers New Technology

Target 2 – Leadership in a Student Centered Learning Environment. FWSU will foster development of teacher & student leaders who provide innovative opportunities for local and global student-centered learning.

Action Step – Redefine high performance in a student-centered, collaborative, technologically rich learning environment.

Indicator of Success – Creativity and risk-taking will be evident and celebrated as learners embrace new technologies.

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The FWSU Teacher Evaluation Committee continued its work earlier today and, in the spirit of Digital Learning Day, reviewed a new technology now available to all educators in FWSU. ENA Live is an easy-to-use, cloud-based videoconferencing solution for schools and classrooms. What makes the technology so exciting is the ease of collaboration that it offers.

photo 1Members of Evaluation Committee spoke directly with one of the founders of Panorama Education in Boston this morning. Panorama has been selected by the committee to develop and facilitate our teacher and parent feedback surveys which will be implemented next year. The data analytics that are compiled after the surveys will provide teachers with incredible amounts of information.

photo 2 (14)The surveys will be another indicator within our evaluation system to improve educator practice. Check out sample surveys on Panorama to learn more about the kind of meaningful data that can be collected using this helpful survey tool. The FWSU Evaluation Committee welcomes this new technology to support data-driven decisions.

More information about the new FWSU Evaluation System:  

FWSU Teacher Evaluation System Continues Year 2 – Blog Post

FWSU Evaluation Committee Continues Work – Blog Post

Teacher Evaluation Work Moves into Final Stages – Blog Post

FWSU Teacher Evaluation Committee Update – Blog Post

FWSU Launches New Teacher Evaluation Committee – Blog Post

FWSU Teacher Evaluation System Document (PDF)

School Life – Janurary 2014 @ FES

Target 1 – Student-Centered Learning
FWSU students will engage in personalize learning involving collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creative learning opportunities

Action Step – Highlight, create and model innovative learning opportunities that promote collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creativity for students

Indicator of Success – Students and staff will apply existing knowledge to create original works as a means of personal or group expression.

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FES students developing a geologic timeline

Today could be seen as simply a cold January day like so many others this month. It is easy for us all to get lost in the moment and to forget about the learning that occurs every day in our schools. Today was a typical, but it was also filled with excitement, engagement, innovation, creativity and hard work.

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A brief yoga exercise to get our students ready for some serious learning

Brain research shows that movement stimulates learning- especially important on a day when students can not get outdoor exercise.

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Reading, reading and more reading. No better way for a day to start.

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Filming a group presentation about scientists

Flexible learning environments give students opportunities to learn in a variety of ways.

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Matching words and letters

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Collaborating to write and produce a music video to demonstrate understanding.

Today was a typical day – nothing more. It was all about learning!