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: School Brass Overrides Students' Speaker Pick  ( 31352 )
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« : June 11, 2013, 06:44:29 AM »

The following article written by Jessie Forand, Messenger Staff Writer appeared in the Monday Evening Edition, June 10, 2013 of The St. Albans Messenger:

Decision angers some seniors
Messenger Staff Writer

FAIRFAX - The man first chosen by students to be the commencement speaker this Saturday at Bellows Free Academy, Fairfax's commencement ceremonies has been barred from doing so.

John Woodley was a special education teacher at the school who recently resigned and although the senior class students voted to have him speak, the school administration has rejected the idea.

BFA senior Lyla O'Brien contacted the Messenger to explain, saying "I, and a large portion of the senior class at BFA have become very discontented and disturbed by the administration at our school."

She claimed the graduating class was given the opportunity to vote on a speaker, with no restrictions given.

The majority of the seniors voted for Woodley; she said, during a meeting supervised by teachers, who also serve as advisors.

"Later that week, although there were no formal announcements, the senior class heard we had to revote for our class speaker because Mr. Woodley was not allowed to speak, although no reason was given why;" she continued.

O'Brien and fellow students became "outraged" at the school administration, she said, adding that she and classmate Emily Filiberti met with the school's principal Michael Clark in hopes of learning why their choice of a speaker had been denied, a decision they felt was unfair and a denial of students' rights.

Clark, she claimed, refused to provide a reason, saying that any information that could be given was "confidential."

O'Brien said she asked Clark, "Is Mr. Woodley allowed on school grounds?" She said that no answer was given.

"What was most disturbing about this meeting was I knew why Mr. Woodley did not work at BFA at the school anymore," O'Brien said, adding that strained relationships with school leadership have led some
faculty members to leave their positions at the school.

She c,ontinued, "As students we have a right to be informed and I am outraged at the way my school treats both its students and its faculty. I believe that graduation is about the seniors and we should be allowed to make important decisions as adults and question the authority of the administration."

O'Brien's mother, Paula Minch, also contacted the Messenger.

"They (the students) overwhelmingly voted for Mr. Woodley, a former teacher at the school. A week later the seniors were told they had to revote but no reason was given why Mr. Woodley could not speak. They revoted with more than half the class missing because they are all so angry about it. Now a little more than a week before graduation they will not tell the seniors who will be speaking at their graduation," she claimed.

However, Clark told the Messenger this morning, "The school is very proud to have Katie Mack as its graduation speaker." 

Mack is a teacher and soccer coach at the school.

Clark said of Mack, "The students nominated and voted her in."

That vote occurred May 20, he said. This came days after Woodley said he had been chosen. In that voting process, Clark said, a number of faculty members were nominated, students voted, "and Katie Mack was
the person that they selected in that nomination."

When asked about Woodley specifically, Clark said, "If you want to talk about John Woodley you're going to have at the superintendent's level."

Superintendent Ned Kirsch said this morning that he had not heard from students or parents, concerned about the speaker.

"I don't think it's an issue, 1 think the biggest thing is, we have a graduation coming up Saturday and we're going to be celebrating great accomplishments of hard work for a ton of kids, and really; to me, that's what's important," he said.

Kirsch said the high school principal felt it wasn't an appropriate decision to have Woodley speak. Kirsch said he supported that decision.

When asked for specifics he said, "As I'm sure you know, there's just some things that we're not at liberty to discuss."

Kirsch said he had not seen anything like this happen during his three years as superintendent with the Franklin Northwest Supervisory Union.

"I'm focusing on a real positive graduation. I'm really surprised that this is the story, but, you know, I haven't read the story, obviously" he said.

The superintendent said "he was surprised that he had not been contacted by those offering complaints. "I'm not sure where this is all coming from," he added.

Kirsch said he looks forward to Saturday's graduation when "kids and parents and community celebrate our amazing seniors who are graduating and entering the world and following their dreams."

Woodley, while he wished to comment further, told the Messenger that he also was barred from doing so under conditions agreed to at the time of his resignation.

However, he did allege that other Fairfax teachers fear retaliation should they speak out and that students are "feeling bullied and not listened to."

Woodley said he was "concerned that the behavior of administration runs completely contrary to the mission statement of the school and contrary to the supervisory union action plan, not to mention basic
human dignity."

Bellows Free Academy, Fairfax, according to that plan, "is committed to ensuring all students become informed, literate, critical thinkers who demonstrate responsible social and civic behaviors."

O'Brien said she felt graduation should be focused on the school's seniors, too, but that they should be allowed to make adult decisions and question the authority of administrators.

"I want the administration to know that the senior class is not happy with our principal especially and we deserve change," she said.

Henry Raymond
Sr. Member
: 357

« #1 : June 11, 2013, 01:45:08 PM »

It sounds to me this is between Mr. Clark and Mr. Woodley and has nothing to do with our school.  Mr. Woodley should have been allowed to speak or the Seniors should have been told why he could not.  There is way too much crap going on behind closed doors at our school.  I feel bring it out in the open and get the parents involved in decision making.  After all, BFA has our children in the palm of their hands.  If they can 't deal with it, get out and get someone over there that cares about our kids.  There is more to teaching and being an administrator than just collecting a pay check.
rod anode
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meathead,: dead from the neck up!

« #2 : June 11, 2013, 02:26:04 PM »

right on lena.............it takes a village????????
Jr. Member
: 51

« #3 : June 11, 2013, 04:57:03 PM »

When is somebody going to question why so many good people have left their positions at BFA- Fairfax over the last 5 years? So sad, its always the kids that end up suffering in the long run.
Sr. Member
: 393

« #4 : June 11, 2013, 06:47:49 PM »

When is someone going to change leadership if there is a problem. The school Board sets the tone. If there's a leadership issue it would be there.
Full Member
: 136

« #5 : June 11, 2013, 07:34:51 PM »

I have known John Woodley for many years, and only have good things to say about him. Mr Clark, on the otherhand, seems to have worn out his welcome with both the town, staff, and teachers. I think that may be time for him to move on. Too many outstandung staff and programs have been cut or forced out from BFA under his watch. Its a shame what has happened to date...
Julie & 6pt Dave
Full Member
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« #6 : June 11, 2013, 08:33:28 PM »

Contrary to the administration's belief, it is a big deal. The kids did suffer over this event, and I know because my daughter was one of them. There were many seniors who were angry and frustrated. The courageous few tried to stand up and fight for what they believed was right. Many tears were shed. The students, mine being one of them, felt powerless to the force that was in front of them telling them he would not bend. They were not told why. They have been taught the process of democracy and this was to be a democratic process. They followed the BFA tradition of nominating those mentors that they connected the most to during their high school years. Mr. Woodley was the majority's choice and he was barred from speaking without a clear reason to the students other than he doesn't align with the mission statement. Whatever it was that happened between Mr. Clark, Mr. Kirsch, and Mr. Woodley that led to Mr. Woodley's resignation, it was between them, and it had nothing to do with the students who adored Mr. Woodley and wanted him to speak at their high school graduation. And they are the one's who are suffering. They are leaving with a bitter taste in their mouth. Shame on the administration. In my opinion, it was handled very poorly all around. In the end, what did this really teach them about democracy?
It's time the Fairfax community wakes up and realizes what has happened and continues to happen to their beloved school.
: 15

« #7 : June 12, 2013, 09:38:00 AM »

If this is as big of a deal to the parents, students, and tax payers of Fairfax as it sounds according to the posts on here and the news article, I sincerely hope that people use this forum as a way to gather and organize instead of complain but take no action.  If people are sincerely upset and feel wronged I know it takes courage and daring to stick your neck out but maybe banding together and presenting a united front at the next school board meeting, or coming up with another tactic to incite change or at least garner an explanation.  Don't let the administration make all of you feel powerless. 
Sr. Member
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« #8 : June 12, 2013, 11:18:47 AM »

Mr. Woodley has been at our school a long time &,  in my opinion,  a very good person, teacher, human being, someone who truly cared about the students.  I do not know what has happened but it is a very sad situation.  Some say go to the school board, but I can honestly say, they are controlled by a "higher power", someone who came here only a 3 years ago & tried to change things as he saw for the better~ trying to get rid of our buses for one, and no, not our principal, but the superintendent; someone who tried to push his ways through, seems to control our board too much to ever go against him, so maybe he controls the administrative staff this way too.  I have had our principal,  Mr. Clark,  have our back in a personal situation, one we still are not allowed to talk about, & he was very supportive, understanding, & helpful.  So maybe his answer is controlled by this "higher power, not OK for sure, but maybe those should request Mr. Kirsch's presence at 1 of their 3 graduation practices to get some answers.  As for him "not having heard concerns", well the students were going in the chain of command you need to follow.  Yes, some things are confidential & not be spoken of, found this out 1st hand this year,  BUT I feel these kids should have a fair answer,  & sometimes, no matter who you are & what position you hold, you have to bite your tongue, put personal feelings aside & allow others to have their choice, providing it is safe;  I think Mr. Woodley is a SAFE person & would be a wonderful speaker for these kids.
Julie & 6pt Dave
Full Member
: 179

« #9 : June 12, 2013, 09:21:56 PM »

It is interesting that Mr. Kirsch claims he was not contacted by any students regarding this matter, because I know for a fact that a letter about the issue was sent to Mr. Clark, Mr. Kirsch, and the Schoolboard Chair from an officer of the senior class speaking for the senior class. Did the press get it wrong? Or was someone not telling the truth? And if someone wasn't telling the truth, you have to ask yourself why.
Rev. Elizabeth
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« #10 : June 13, 2013, 06:13:48 AM »

Hello: I am posting this for my husband, Fred Griffin


 I have coached at BFA Fairfax for sixteen years and I have taught English here for nine years.  I am very proud of our fine school.  I offer a different voice than some who have spoken in this forum of late.

We have an extraordinary ex-curricular program in which upwards of 65% of all students participate.  These numbers are unheard of in a public school.  We produce a three-act musical, compete in the One-Act Play contest.  Our students hold two K-12 Literary Arts contests and publish two 100 page editions of Genesis, a student fine arts magazine.  We take students to England, France, Latin America.  The performance of our sports teams is exemplary.  We have an active and successful Scholars Bowl team and we enter the TASC math/science hands-on competition.  This is by no means a comprehensive list and it is not done in spite of school leadership, but with the support of school leadership.


The Support Block system instituted two years ago has given teachers a critical role in the academic success of each of the students they mentor for four years.  The extra oversight and assistance provided students in this model has reduced failures to fractional numbers.


The transition  towards a “digital” school has been difficult for an older faculty (of which I am definitely one!), but IPads have brought a creativity flexibility to my classroom I would never have dreamed possible. Virtual High School has provided a dizzying array of courses to our students they would never have accessed in a tradition setting.  I have contacted by area teachers interested in how Fairfax does what it does.  They are eager to follow our lead.


No school no business, no work setting is without issues.  They are part of human existence.  To my mind the positive initiatives and the accomplishments of our school are remarkable.  I am glad I teach here.


We prepare next year for a NEASC evaluation in which our school will be assessed on all levels by a team of professionals from outside our area who job it is to do just this. I am curious as to whether my viewpoint, or the viewpoint of some of the contributors to this forum, will be vindicated. For the moment will we be not better served to take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and take a cool, calm look at school, at life.

Fred Griffin
Teacher of English, BFA Fairfax
Head Coach Cross-Country Running, Cross-Country Skiing, Girls Ultimate
Sr. Member
: 393

« #11 : June 13, 2013, 04:36:21 PM »

Yet none of that comment speaks to what the issue was. The students chose someone and the administration decided to make their own choice. Apparently some students and parents feel they were not given an adequate explanation.
Sr. Member
: 280

« #12 : June 13, 2013, 10:37:01 PM »

I think the message is:

It is what it is - value your future; the past in done!


Life is unfair and then you die!


Accept what is tossed your way and enjoy what you can!


It is because someone has the power to do what they did!  They win and you loose ... Have you picked the color of your College dorm yet?  Have to gone Dorm Shopping yet?  You know, move on ...
Sr. Member
: 393

« #13 : June 14, 2013, 04:44:18 AM »

sounds like the last one. it actually is:

someone did something you don't like. they're at a public school to serve the public. elect new leadership and get the results you want. prior results do not equal future service. don't expect the same person to act differently when put in the same position again. if you give an inch they take a mile.

Yes, it was a small thing to an adult that has more life experience. But it was a huge thing to someone who is 18. This is a meaningful time in their lives and is this a message that is acceptable. "Well sure you voted one way but we went the other." Yes it does happen in life and that needs to change or be better explained.
Sr. Member
: 370

« #14 : June 14, 2013, 07:18:58 AM »

I have heard of the many great things that are accomplished by the students and the staff at the school.  I also know one great, hard working individual who walked away from his job there after many happy years of service over a "personnel conflict" created by the current administration.  I don't have a child at the school (yet).

However, what I do know from my own job experience is that dedicated employees of a company (or public organization) can and do achieve great things while tolerating significant personal stress.  The achievements of those individuals dedciated to the cause can be touted by some to say "Look, we are doing great things here, therefore management is good",  but that can only be done for a few years until poor management decisions ultimately grind down the spirits and dedication of those individuals. 

Even more significant is what this incident has now taught an entire graduating class about the demoncratic process :  "IF you are not in a position of power, your vote and opinion do not matter".  Unfortunately, that lesson may be all to true in our current social order/process.  Maybe this is the administrations way of sending the 2013 class off into the world with their first dose of the reality of politics and control that we (sometimes blindly)  live under. :(
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