GEORGIA — The Franklin County educational community is mourning the loss of one of its own today.
Franklin West Superintendent Ned Kirsch died unexpectedly Wednesday evening. He was in his early 50s.
Kirsch assumed leadership of the Fairfax, Fletcher and Georgia school districts in 2010.
“It would be an understatement to say that Ned will be missed. The pride he felt for the students, staff, and administrators in the supervisory union was evident in his infectious smile and the enthusiasm with which he greeted every day,” the supervisory union said in a statement announcing Kirsch’s death. “’We have 1,698 reasons to come to work every day,’ he was known to say, and he helped us share ‘a belief in what is possible’ by believing in all of us.”
Linda Keating, Director of Curriculum at Franklin West, said, “Vermont has lost a tremendous leader in innovative education. Ned’s forward thinking pushed us all to do better for our students.”
During his first interview with the Messenger, shortly after taking over as superintendent, Kirsch said, “We have to have students who can analyze, interpret and create.”
He kept to those goals, even while meeting state mandates to explore consolidation, expand pre-K, add early college, switch to proficiency-based learning, and more.
“Ned was a progressive and innovative thinker who did much to improve our educational system throughout our state,” Kevin Dirth, the Maple Run superintendent said in a statement to the Messenger. “He often challenged the status quo and asked everyone to think outside the box. I learned a lot from him over the years. He will be greatly missed.”
At Franklin West, Kirsh brought the world to Franklin County by partnering with IVECA, an international organization that connects students with a partner classroom in another country. As a result students in Fairfax, Fletcher and Georgia have had the opportunity to study alongside – virtually – students from Asian, African and South American countries.
Kirsch also worked with SPIRAL International to bring Chinese students to Franklin County for a summer program in which they studied at Bellows Free Academy Fairfax and stayed with local families.
Kirsch led the creation of makerspaces, where students could create everything from a video to a robot.
The entire supervisory union was named a 21st Century Exemplar Program in 2017, recognition for the schools’ work on critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.
The innovations Kirsch led brought a representative from the AltSchool, an operator of private schools which also shares pioneering work from other schools through a network of partners, to Franklin West last fall.
During a tour of Georgia Elementary School with Devin Vodicka of the AltSchool, Kirsch proudly pointed to evidence of the school’s integration of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals into the school’s curriculum. The goals are interdependent targets encouraging more sustainable development worldwide. The SDGs cast a wide net, with goals targeting everything from poverty and gender inequality to climate change and public health.
The schools used those goals as an underpinning, Kirsch told the Messenger, a way to add meaning to why a topic is important. “Why are we studying what we’re studying in science? Well, here’s five reasons why,” he said. “We want to build sustainable communities. We want to have clean water and sanitation. We want to focus on quality education.”
“We have rural kids who are reaching out to the rest of the world,” Kirsch said. “We have kids currently in our system who are going to change the world.”