The Spirit of Innovation

One of the most exciting aspects of FWSU is the level of innovation our students get to experience and lead. Two years ago, before joining FWSU was even a thought, I was invited to visit some of the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) spaces across the district. 

Our former Superintendent Ned Kirsch was, without a doubt, a motivating force for innovation and a belief in what is possible. His influence and leadership are very visible today!

Circuitry with Sewing

Who knew this was a thing!

Students can learn about making wearable circuits using conductive thread and sewing machines. Along those same lines, I saw students making cards that light up and play music using the same materials. What a great way to be curious and creative at the same time. 

Design and 3D Printing

Who doesn’t love to watch a 3D printer in action? I remember the first time I was watching one, it was printing a chain link. I could not wrap my head around how it was going to print independent links that were interconnected. Well it did and I’m still not sure how it worked. 

As much fun as it is to watch your design come to life, the process of designing is what we are after. We are fortunate to have several printers and the accompanying software to allow students to again be curious and creative. 

3D Printer

Green Screen (So Much Fun!)

If you haven’t yet experienced a green screen, I hope you get to in the near future. Our students are collaboratively creating news broadcasts, professional presentations, tours across the world, and so much more.

I wasn’t able to get a great picture of our many set-ups so here is a stock photo to help paint the picture. 

And there’s the Transferable Skills!

Perhaps a different kind of innovation. In addition to rigorous academic curriculum, we find these opportunities support our students with transferable skills. We see so many examples of how technology creates opportunities that did not exist before.  

Stay tuned for more ……

| Scott Thompson is currently Director of Curriculum of Franklin West Supervisory Union and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @Stboatervt

The Beauty of Outdoor Learning

There is something magical about taking students outdoors to experience nature. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? And what do you feel?  An approach to learning that stimulates your senses and connects you to our world!

 It’s an environment that is restful, relaxing and thought provoking. A setting that puts young minds at ease and one that brings learning to life.

Outdoor learning opportunities are on the rise at Georgia Elementary School and provide students with hands-on kinesthetic approaches in a variety of ways and within different classrooms.

Being able to touch, see, and understand natural concepts helps solidify knowledge of how our world works.

In Maia Hendrickson’s Kindergarten classroom students explore their surroundings through nature walks honing their observational and inquisitive thinking skills. Each day begins with a morning meeting and then an opportunity to inquire, solve, and share.

Dorsey Hogg, Elementary art teacher, takes her students outside often to enjoy the elements while working artistically.  Having an outdoor setting to continue their work, apply their skills, and accomplish their task is relaxing, thought provoking, and meaningful.  

Students appreciate this style of learning and work diligently and creatively.

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @Emery_Gems.


Students, staff, families, and our school community could never have known that the Fall of 2019 would be the last time for nearly two years that BFA Fairfax athletic teams and drama ensembles would participate in a traditional way.  Fast forward to September 2021, and we are now experiencing the benefits of the patience, perseverance, adaptability and commitment to safety demonstrated by our students, staff and community, as our multiple fall co-curricular activities are in full swing.

High School football players are sharing their excitement in being able to wear their pads again and play full tackle.  Last season was played under highly modified “touch football” rules, so our BFA/Lamoille Cooperative team athletes have been thrilled to experience the sense of brotherhood they say comes with playing the game under traditional rules.

Middle and High School cross country runners ran a smaller number of races last season, while much of the time wearing masks.  Meets were limited in size, and did not allow for mass starts involving multiple schools, so each race more closely resembled a time trial as opposed to a true cross country meet.  They are looking forward to their first “real” meet in almost two years, and experiencing the excitement and rush of competing against students from other schools in mass start formats.

Middle and High School soccer teams spent last season playing a limited schedule, and donning masks for the entirety of practices and games.  This season has brought back increased participation numbers, a high level of skill, and enthusiasm like never before.  Players and coaches are looking forward to building on last year’s success and playing deep into their respective tournaments.

The fall co-curricular activity most impacted last year by the pandemic was the Fall Musical.  Given the strict guidelines at the time around singing, playing instruments, masking, distancing, and group gathering size, our talented ensemble was unable to perform the highly anticipated Mamma Mia.  We are thrilled to have our students back on the stage this year, and eager to experience live musical theater once again! Although we may still have some slight adaptations on the performance that, if necessary for health and safety, will be determined closer to the show dates, Mamma Mia will most definitely be one of the highlights of this school year!

We look forward to your attendance at these multiple student activities, and greatly appreciate your support and continued commitment to health and safety.  Our students are thrilled to be back on the stage, fields and trails, but most importantly, to be back in school.  If we all work together and continue to make safe choices, we can ensure that our student activity participants have a fantastic 2021-22 school year! 

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

It’s Friday of our students’ first full week since March 2020!

As I’ve visited classes, the lunch room, playground and chatted with students in the hallways over our first days back in school, I have marveled at students’ excitement at being back and kind support and encouragement of one another. It was also curious to me as I wondered what our students were thinking during their first full week of school in over a year. So I asked students across grades 5-8 some questions to listen to their perspectives.

  1. What is your favorite part of being back to school full time after last year?
  2. What is weird about being back to school full time after last year?
  3. Any words of wisdom for our readers?

Eliza says that it’s good to be back to a normal-ish school. Seeing friends again is great. She thinks that wearing masks is a little weird (we thought we’d be done with them when we left school in June). Her words of wisdom are to read Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

Kaileigh says seeing friends and making new friends has been the best part of being back to school. It is a little weird to have the same teachers two years in a row. (she clarified and said that it’s a good weird). Kaileigh agrees with Eliza that everyone should read everything by Shannon Messenger.

Kayden says the best part of being back to school is seeing friends he hasn’t seen in a long time. Rylee agrees. They both agree that it’s also weird to reconnect with friends they haven’t seen in a long time. When I asked them what words of wisdom they had for our readers I leaned back in my chair and they both told me that I should always keep “4 on the floor.” Then Rylee told me that she wanted to be a mystery student.

Harper told me that his favorite part of being back to school was playing football at recess and to finally be able to do science and social studies. He also likes being able to walk to UA’s. What’s weird for him is being able to take more mask breaks than last year.  He is excited to have the same teachers for two years!

Rhiannon’s favorite part of being back in school is not having plexiglass dividers this year.  She also likes having lockers to keep her stuff safe. She went on to say that she loves her new teachers and new classmates. 

Lyla also appreciates not having plexiglass this year and being able to go to the cafeteria. Having lockers with combinations along with her new teachers is great. She also is super excited about having band this year. It is a little weird seeing so many teenagers around, but she likes seeing different people in the halls. Her advice is that we should definitely bring back the ice cream machine.

Jaiden is very happy to be with us this year and says that it’s different, but better. She really likes having a more consistent schedule and thinks using lockers is very helpful to organize and store her stuff. It is a little weird having lunch at 1pm. Her Words of wisdom are to not be scared of the work, because she says, “it’s all doable”

Colin both likes and finds it a little weird to be moving between spaces this year and to have so many different classes.

In some ways, it’s almost like we are picking up where we left off pre-pandemic. But overwhelmingly we all, students and staff are absolutely loving being back in session full time. I am so proud of our students for taking such care of themselves, each other and their community. Here’s to a safe and full school year!

|Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jbrownenator

Transferable Skills and the Engineering Design Process at BFA-Fairfax MS


Over the past month, teachers at BFA-Fairfax Middle School have been attempting to redefine students’ Initiative Time (or Supported Study) experience to be more student-driven, with the purpose of helping students develop 21st-century skills like self-direction, creativity, leadership, and problem-solving.  Last month, for instance, students in Mr. Psaros’ (8th-grade social studies) Initiative Time visited Lake Champlain Chocolates to learn about chocolate production, then donated homemade chocolate to the St. Albans Rehabilitation Center as an act of service to the Franklin County community.  Similarly, students in Mrs. Messier’s (7th-grade science) Supported Study are choosing to participate in one of four project-based learning units over the course of the next several weeks.


While considering ways to bring together science and math principles from their respective curricula and pose a challenging, authentic problem for students to take the lead in solving, Mrs. Hamm (8th-grade math) and Mrs. Barnes-Cota (8th-grade science) had an idea.  Over the past 10 school days, students in their Initiative Time groups have been immersed in an engineering design process, building and racing two different types of lego-like cars: solar-powered and battery-operated.  Students have worked in groups of four or five, building their cars in preparation for a race against other teams of students with the same type of car.  Students have been extremely engaged, and the air of competition is palpable.  Mrs. Barnes-Cota reports that students have built cars, recognized design flaws, collaborated with their teammates to fix those flaws, and rebuilt their cars to optimize performance.


An interesting twist: this experience is the first of three.  This time, students are following the directions that come with the car kits.  Next, students will be free to modify and adapt the cars they have built to improve speed and distance.  Finally, in the third iteration, students will be given a pile of parts and just one simple direction: “Build!”  After each round of designing, building, and revising, students will be assessed (and will self-assess) on four of the five Vermont Transferable Skills:

  1. Clear and Effective Communication
  2. Creative and Practical Problem Solving
  3. Responsible and Involved Citizenship
  4. Informed and Integrative Thinking


Students must demonstrate evidence of these transferable skills in order to graduate from high school.  These Transferable Skills are also the infrastructure for goal-setting within their Personalized Learning Plans, both in middle school and in high school.  Perhaps most important to note about this learning experience is that students are in the driver’s seat (pun intended) when it comes to their learning.


GEMS Students Welcome the New Year

After a long holiday vacation, students are eager to be with friends and teachers, share their joyous experiences, and launch back into the daily routine of school.

img_1380Morning Meeting is a great time to collaborate, share, and smile while working on social and academic skills at the elementary level. Everyone is excited to be back and ready for the great start of a new year in 2017!!!!

img_1385Greeting friends during morning meeting…img_1383Sharing New Years Resolutions and vacation stories…img_1397Revisiting PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support) and modeling what “Responsible, Respectful, and Safe” behavior looks like…img_1402Creating personal goals for the New Year…img_1389Looking for patterns and fractions during number corner conversations…img_1394Collaborating with peers…img_1400Writing about holiday gatherings…img_1388Practicing Fundations and tapping out sounds…img_1384Creating lines and taking turns…img_1410Brainstorming personal goal ideas…img_1414

FWSU: A Great Place for Students to Learn and Thrive

FRANKLIN WEST SUPERVISORY UNION is a great place for students to learn and thrive. Below are some recent facts about our schools and supervisory union that you may not have been aware of.


  • FWSU is the first and only school to become an Apple Distinguished School in Vermont. There are approximately 50 schools per year nationwide who receive this 5 (7)
  • FWSU is the first school in Vermont and New England to be accepted into the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools. There are 77 schools in the nation with this distinction.
  • BFA Fairfax High School scored in top 8 of all Champlain Valley High Schools in both Language Arts and Math on the 2015 SBAC. The Champlain Valley Region includes all high schools in Addison, Chittenden and Franklin counties. Average cost per pupil is $14,392. BFA per pupil cost is $12,019.
  • The BFA Fairfax 2014-15 graduation rate was 92%. The Vermont average is 88% and the national average is 79%.IMG_1855 (1)
  • FWSU is the 14th largest school system in Vermont based on ADM count. Average Daily Membership (ADM) is a count of resident and state-placed students who receive an elementary or secondary education at public expense. There are 60 districts/supervisory unions in Vermont.
  • 87% of BFA Fairfax 2015 senior class attends a four year college or two year college/technical center.  The national percentage is approximately 70%
  • This year 95% of all 4th grade students participated in a six week, ongoing,  educational experience with a school in another country.unnamed (2)
  • Every FWSU school spends less per pupil than the Statewide average of $14,095. The FWSU average is $12,742.
  • FWSU was recognized by the Vermont Agency of Education as a “clear standout” in a recent federal grant compliance review for their teamwork in conforming to federal regulations governing the expenditure of federal grant funds.
  • FWSU is the first school system in Vermont to employ a Learning Management System (LMS) for all students and families pK-12. FWSU uses Schoology.
  • Presidential Scholar 3BFA Fairfax student Bhupinderjit “Binny” Singh was one of 20 Vermont High School Students to be named a Vermont Presidential Scholar. 
  • BFA Fairfax HS has hosted 30 students from China each year for the past 5 years for two weeks in the summer. Students are immersed in an English language program taught by BFA faculty and students.
  • The FWSU blog posts a story featuring our district every school day for the last four years. We may well be the only district in the US to make this claim. To date we have had over 68,000 views of our blog.IMG_0191
  • FWSU (and CSSU) has the lowest rate of student tobacco use in Vermont based on the results of the last Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS).
  • Although Vermont schools are losing students every year, that is not the case in FWSU. Last year FWSU grew in size.
  • FWSU students in grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 11 (only grade tested in high school) all scored above state average in both Language Arts and Math on the 2015 SBAC
  • In the last 3 years, BFA Fairfax has had 5 recipients of the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) Scholarship awarded at the Vermont State Athletic Directors Association Student Leadership Conference. Kayla Baczewski ’14, Chace Carpenter ’15, Ben Bosland ’16, Victoria Brown ’16 were recipients of this annual scholarship awarded to the top 10 student-athlete leaders in Vermont high schools.
  • FWSU has consistently performed under its budgeted expenditures for the past ten years, and has reduced school assessments in FY15 and FY16 based on the accumulated fund balance from these savings.



Ned Kirsch is Superintendent of Schools at FWSU. You can follow him on Twitter @betaVT

School Counseling Helps Fletcher Students Stay “In the Zone!”

The American School Counseling Association model for counselors’ time with students is broken into three categories: classroom, small groups and individuals. In Fletcher, I use a curriculum entitled, “The Zones of Regulation.” Written and created by Leah M. Kuypers, it was designed as a curriculum to foster self-regulation and emotional control in students. It is published in conjunction with a series of Social Thinking books written by Michelle Garcia Winner. Additionally, it was first recommended to me by Joelle Van Lent, a psychologist hired by our district to consult with schools as we become more trauma informed. I began using the curriculum last year and immediately became impressed in its ability to give students a structure for expressing and regulating their emotions. Currently, I am using various aspects of the curriculum with the Kindergarten class, children in small groups ranging in age from first to fourth grades and several individual students. I have also had the privilege of explaining its concepts to many teachers, staff and parents of FES.


The basis of the curriculum is that we all have four zones of regulation that we are in at different times: Blue Zone, Green Zone, Yellow Zone and Red Zone. We are in the Blue Zone when we feel sad, sick, bored or tired. We are in the Green Zone when we are feeling happy, calm, focused and ready to learn. Yellow Zone is when we are feeling frustrated, worried or silly and are starting to lose self-control. Finally, the Red Zone is when we are really mad, terrified or out of control. The first half of the curriculum focuses on helping students to recognize when they, or those around them, are in the various zones. They learn about how people look and feel in their bodies when they are in different zones.  Additionally, although it is normal to sometimes be in any of the zones, students are taught when we would expect people to be in each zone. They discover that the Green Zone is the optimal zone to be in most of the time at school because it’s when we are best able to learn. The second half of the curriculum is designed to introduce students to several types of strategies, or “tools,” that people might use in different zones. They might use “sensory, calming down, or thinking tools” in order to help them return to the Green Zone. After learning about many different tools, students create “toolboxes” of strategies that might work best for them.


“If you see someone that is in one of the sad or mad zones you can help them get happy by trying to get them to the green zone,” third grader Emma Spiller said. “To get somebody into the green zone you can try to cheer them up and talk to them. We learned how to tell what zone someone is in or that we are in and how to keep in the green zone, which is the best zone.”

“I use the zones to help me calm down,” fourth grader Chase Murray said. ” If I’m in the red zone I can do things like go to a private space or quiet area and that can help get to the green zone.”

“To get out of the blue zone, and help focus, you can sit up straight, take a little walk, get a drink of water, and that can help you get back to work,” fourth grader Jack Packard said.

“To stay in the green zone and stay calm and focused I listen to instructions and sometimes move around a little that helps get energy out,” fourth grader Logan King said said.


It has been wonderful to witness the emotional growth that I have seen in many students through the use of this curriculum. The entire Kindergarten class is now able to express a feeling or energy level by stating their zone. One student who I have met with individually for a couple of years is now able to keep himself in the Green Zone by using a tool called “The Inner Coach.” Several of my groups have been creating, drawing and naming characters to describe the inflexible thinking that might keep them out of the Green Zone. I am excited to continue to use this curriculum with more and more students at FES in a variety of settings. I look forward to seeing not only their emotional growth, but also the social and academic growth that will result from staying Green!

Target 1 – Student-Centered Learning – FWSU students will engage in personalized 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 – Teachers embrace role of coach, facilitator and co-learner in a student-centered learning environment.




Sandi Simmons is a School Counselor at Fletcher Elementary. This is her first contribution to the FWSU Blog. 



STAR’s are Born at FWSU

Recently Juliet King, Literacy Specialist/Coach at BFA Fairfax provided mini-workshops to review STAR 360 with special educators and SLP’s. STAR 360 is a comprehensive K-12 assessment tool, allowing educators to screen and group students for targeted instruction, measure student growth, predict performance on Smarter Balanced exams and Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) assessments, and monitor achievement on Common Core State Standards.


STAR 360 includes all the features of STAR Reading, STAR Math, and STAR Early Literacy, giving educators valid, reliable, actionable data in the least amount of testing time. It’s perfect for screening, benchmarking, student growth measurement, progress monitoring, and instructional planning. Educators have immediate access to the data and insights they need to improve student outcomes. You can learn more by clicking on the link here.


STAR 360 has already provided valuable data that has allowed teachers to gain a greater understanding of their students strengths and vulnerabilities, allowing for modifications in instructional practices or curriculum as needed. The guiding question for our educators is: How is this informing instruction?


Follow your STAR’s

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 – Develop opportunities for students to collaborate, innovate, create and conceptualize in all learning settings.

Indicator of Success – Use of digital tools to differentiate and individualize learning.

“It is Often What You Don’t See in Classrooms That is the Most Telling!”

Target 1 – Student-Centered Learning
FWSU students will engage in personalized 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.

1UntitledIn today’s educational environment, the most important thing a principal can do is to be in classrooms interacting with students and staff members on a daily basis. Without making this a priority,  I am not sure how a school leader keeps a pulse on the quality of instruction, the school climate, and student learning. 8Untitled Being in classrooms is my favorite part of my job.  I learn so much about pedagogy, behavior management, assessments, and my students from observing and interacting in classrooms.  A mentor of mine once said, “It is often what you don’t see in a really great teacher’s classroom that is most telling!”  This statement is full of wisdom and has made an important impression on my professional practice.  


Engaging classrooms and responsive teachers do not happen by accident.  It is the result of constant professional learning, high levels of collaboration, ongoing reflection, and a laser-like focus on student needs.  

4UntitledIt can be challenging to put into words the qualities and characteristics of effective teachers and the classroom environments they develop.  In the classrooms of the most effective teachers, learning is constant and respect is evident at all times.  It can be seen in the relationships, in the rigor of the learning, and the relevance of the content and learning opportunities.


In many ways state and national testing creates a similar paradigm.  Although test data is important, it is also what the tests do not assess and do not show us that is equally important!  Tests do not measure important qualities such as respect, responsibility, compassion, service to others, perseverance, or collaboration.  We are charged with preparing students for future jobs that do not yet exist.  This requires us to remain focused on skills, competencies, and dispositions that will allow students to learn, unlearn, and relearn throughout their lifetime.  It is an exciting challenge and a compelling reason to continue to look for those things we cannot always measure.


We are so fortunate to have so many effective, student-centered, and caring educators at this school.  As the landscape of education in Vermont continues to change, our students will continue to be well-served, and I hope we continue to monitor those valuable qualities we cannot assess and those important components we do not always see.  





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