THE FWSU STORY: Learner Traits and the Path to Proficiency at BFA Fairfax

As BFA Fairfax moves toward Proficiency Based Graduation Requirements with the Class of 2020, we have had to answer the following question:

If students are working toward proficiency and have the possibility to continually provide evidence of growth and learning, how will we determine if a student is eligible to participate in co-curricular activities?

In the past, our policy was based on a bottom line course grade. If a student was failing a class, they were not eligible to participate. Since growth is always possible in a proficiency-based system, it does not seem reasonable to withhold access to co-curricular activities based on initial difficulties with content. On the other hand, there needs to be evidence that the student is engaged in learning and that academic difficulties are not based on a lack of student effort.

BFA Fairfax students develop learner traits

At BFA Fairfax, we have developed a set of “Learner Traits” that we will use to determine our students’ eligibility for co-curricular activities. The Learner Traits are a subset of Vermont’s Transferable Skills, an important component of Act 77 and the shift to Proficiency Based Graduation.

Specifically, we look at:

  • Clear and Effective Communication: Can the student collaborate effectively and respectfully?
  • Self Direction: Does the student demonstrate initiative and responsibility for learning?
  • Creative and Practical Problem Solving: Does the student persist in solving challenging problems and learn from failure?
  • Responsible and Involved Citizenship: Does the student take responsibility for personal decisions and actions?
  • Informed and Integrative Thinking: Does the student use technology to support and enhance their learning?

We identified these areas because, in addition to being valuable assets for every student in every class, they also reflect qualities we hope to see in all of our players on all of our teams and activities.

High school students present their progress toward proficiency to peers and school leaders

Teachers gather regularly evidence for each of these areas and record progress in our gradebook, PowerTeacher Pro. Some areas are observed through day-to-day activities and others are assessed collaboratively by the student and teacher on a regular basis. Student work in a group in class provides evidence of their collaboration. Completion of daily assignments is an indicator of initiative and responsibility. A student’s work in completing a long-term project or assignment might be a measure of their persistence and/or personal responsibility. Finally, their daily appropriate use of technology would provide evidence for the last category.

A student’s level of proficiency in each of these areas will be viewable on our grading platform. Students and parents will be able to see their progress and work on areas that need improvement.

Two students collaborate on programming and coding in the classroom

Our goal as an educational system is to provide students with the skills they need to be successful in life. The Learner Traits provide data for important skills that are worthwhile in classes, on sports teams and in the workforce. The development of these Learner Traits is an important step on our path to proficiency.




John Tague is the Principal of BFA Fairfax Middle/High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @jtague252

THE FWSU STORY: Fairfax Relays Celebrate Over a Decade of Tradition, Spirit, and Community

This past Tuesday, October 9, the annual Fairfax Relays cross country event was held on the BFA Fairfax campus.  

Students in costume run the BFA Fairfax Relays!

For over a decade, this race has brought thousands of runners to BFA Fairfax, sporting their best costumes, and enjoying the competitive running community.  It also serves as one of the highlight events of BFA Fairfax’s Homecoming week.

Students in costume run the BFA Fairfax Relays!

Students in costume run the BFA Fairfax Relays!

Former BFA Fairfax Cross Country coach Fred Griffin started this event over a decade ago.  In his words: “It was a process. We held a conventional relay for a couple of years but then parents wanted some obstacles, hay bales, and water jumps. We kept getting more interest from schools, but it started getting crazy when we began giving monstrous cookie plates and expanding concessions. Somewhere around ten – eleven years the ball of wax came together with  costumes, music, outrageous prize plates, and the PA system….a regular carnival!”

Students in costume run the BFA Fairfax Relays!

Students in costume run the BFA Fairfax Relays!

This year’s race did not disappoint.  458 middle and high school runners took part in costumed team categories of 4-person mixed gender, 4-person male or female, 2-person mixed gender, and 2-person male or female.  Prizes were awarded not only for the race winners but also for the best costumes in each category.


Students in costume run the BFA Fairfax Relays!

Another important aspect of this event is the overwhelming school and local community support.  Parents, staff, students, athletic teams, the Fairfax Fire Department and Fairfax Rescue all contributed to everything from concessions and parking to safety and security. Without their assistance, this annual highlight of Homecoming week would not be possible.

Students in costume run the BFA Fairfax Relays!


Current BFA Fairfax Cross Country coach Karen Witalec-Krupa shared “This year’s event was one of the smoothest on record.  The creativity of students gets better and better each year, and it’s really great to see the student-athletes taking a break from serious racing to have fun and enjoy themselves as we prepare for the big championship races (NVAC, State Championship) coming up in the next couple of weeks.”  

Students in costume run the BFA Fairfax Relays!

BFA Fairfax thanks everyone for their support of this very fun and exciting day.  We hope to see you next year!

Geri Witalec


Geri Witalec-Krupa is an Athletic Director/Assistant Principal at BFA Fairfax is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You follow her @GLWit  

THE FWSU STORY: Congratulations to 2018 Outstanding Teacher Ian Flint

On October 1st, educators from all over Vermont gathered at the University of Vermont to recognize Vermont’s Outstanding Teachers. BFA Fairfax was represented by our Band Director, Ian Flint.

FWSU Outstanding Teacher Ian Flint pictured with John Tague and Ned Kirsch

2018 Outstanding Teacher Ian Flint

At the ceremony, speakers that included Secretary of Education Dan French, VT-NEA president Don Tinney, and 2018 Vermont Teacher of the Year Linda Cloutier-Namdar spoke of the importance of developing relationships with students. Ian has worked tirelessly to develop relationships with students and families in order to build and grow a successful band program.

First Concert December 2015

First Concert December 2015 at BFA Fairfax

Ian’s first concert at BFA was held on the Middle School Stage with about a dozen high school students and their parents and families. At this point, we have a high school band, a middle school band, an elementary band, and a jazz band.  Our middle school band has 48 members this year and our high school band has 34. Concerts are standing room only in the Richard Brown Gymnasium! This year, Mr. Flint will bring back BFA’s Marching Band!

Spring Concert May 2018 at BFA Fairfax

Spring Concert May 2018 at BFA Fairfax

After the featured speakers, the Outstanding Teachers were announced and presented with certificates. As Ian was called to the stage, his official nomination information was shared with the audience:

Ian Flint is entering his 4th year as the Instrumental Music Director at BFA Fairfax.  During his short tenure his knowledge, professionalism and passion has had an immediate and profound impact on the music program.  Student participation numbers have more than tripled, young musicians are being exposed to high-level content, the quality of performances is second to none, and he has significantly heightened appreciation for music and the arts within our school and greater community.  We are extremely fortunate to have Ian as a member of our faculty and school community.

Ian Flint pictured with VT Secretary of Education Dan French

We are pleased and proud to have Ian Flint represent our school and work with our students. If you have not had a chance to see our bands perform, be sure to check out a concert later this month!

Congratulations Ian!


John Tague is the Principal of BFA Fairfax Middle/High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @jtague252

THE FWSU STORY: Kindergarten Buddies at BFA Fairfax Celebrates a Tradition of Leadership and Relationships

Last week while visiting classrooms I heard a student ask, “Mrs. P, I’m all done with everything for the week. Can I head over and see if I can help out in my buddy’s classroom?” This question made me smile, as it highlighted an important value within our school.  This student could have used the remaining minutes in the school day to socialize with friends or use his iPad, but instead, he chose to support others.


Serving others is a highly valued component of our school. As a pre-kindergarten through grade twelve school, we expect all of our students to engage in giving back.  We provide frequent opportunities for students to support others and experience the value of service.

This past Friday we welcomed our newest students to our learning community at our Kindergarten Crowning ceremony. We have engaged in this tradition for decades and the ritual marks the beginning of their journey at BFA Fairfax.  


This event is one component of our Kindergarten Buddies program that matches students in fifth grade with kindergarten students for the entire year. Over the months, these students engage in a variety of activities from reading and hiking, to creating art projects or sharing a snack. Over time a unique bond is formed, and buddies young and old learn important lessons about giving back and the value of kindness.


As the new Kindergarten students emerged from the human bridge made by their schoolmates and received their crowns from their “Buddies”, I asked a high school student who frequently volunteers her time in classrooms if she remembered this experience.  She smiled and shared “absolutely.” Her reaction reinforced my belief that this tradition of fostering connections truly matters.


For me, this ritual is a symbolic event that provides a shared experience and fosters a strong sense of belonging. It is my hope that our Kindergarten Crowning ceremony will continue to celebrate the importance of service, leadership, and the power of relationships. I am thankful to the all the staff that continues to provide this experience for all of our students.


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

THE FWSU STORY: Student Leaders Collaborate with Adults to Transform Learning

Fifteen high school students and two faculty members at BFA Fairfax recently participated in a two-day orientation about Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together (YATST), sponsored by Up for Learning. 


The goal of YATST is to foster engagement in learning by increasing rigor, relevance, relationships, and shared responsibility (4Rs). Based on the 4Rs framework, student and teacher teams use Action Research to understand issues that impact learning from multiple perspectives and then become agents of change.  

Our YATST team learned about the 4R framework, how to facilitate community discussions through the use of protocols, understanding the importance of student voice in education, and about communication roadblocks that adults and students run up against.


Jarrett Sweet, a sophomore, actually was selected to co-facilitate the conference.  He facilitated several activities and discussions and provided valuable insight into student and adult collaboration.

Our YATST team developed goals for this year including improving school community communication, implementing restorative justice practices into our student discipline system, and hosting a Design Day in October. The Design Day is where YATST teams from other schools come together to share and learn from each other about their plans that they are implementing in their schools.

THE FWSU STORY: After Years of Planning, BFA Fairfax Welcomes its First School Resource Officer

Franklin West Supervisory Union is pleased to announce that Deputy Sheriff Andre LaBier has been selected to serve as the first School Resource Officer (SRO) at Bellows Free Academy in Fairfax, VT. The position is contracted through the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department with funding by a federal grant program.

BFA Fairfax School Resource Officer Deputy Andre LaBier

BFA Fairfax School Resource Officer Deputy Andre LaBier

Deputy LaBier comes to BFA Fairfax following a long career of distinguished service at all levels of law enforcement. He began as a parole officer in the 1980s in New York before entering the US Marshals Service. He served as Chief Inspector responsible for management of various high-profile units and operations in New York and prior to that led the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force in Washington DC. Upon his retirement as a US Marshal, LaBier served as a Police Consultant with Department of Justice in Bosnia and a Police Instructor in Afghanistan. Deputy LaBier is a Franklin County resident and has a BA in Sociology and completed his post-graduate work in Psychology. He’s served as an officer for the past four years with the Lamoille and Stowe police departments and was hired by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department in May.

The Fairfax School Board first began exploring the addition of a School Resource Officer in 2014, but it took a few more years to secure funding and find the right person for the job. In his new role as the SRO at BFA Fairfax, Deputy LaBier’s work will primarily focus on developing positive relationships with students and staff, reviewing school safety plans, overseeing implementation of new enhanced lockdown procedures, and sharing his expertise with students and staff in the classroom.


Until recently, BFA Fairfax was the only secondary school in Franklin and Chittenden counties without a dedicated officer onsite. Middle/High School Principal John Tague explained that a School Resource Officer “serves as a first responder in a crisis situation, but also provides a positive role model for students.” He added, “as we are changing and updating our security procedures, it has been invaluable to have immediate access to a law enforcement professional and give extra attention to our drills and procedures. Having high-level expertise in the building consulting with us about these things has been tremendous. Deputy LaBier brings us a wealth of experience building relationships and designing and implementing programs.”

Tom Walsh, Elementary Principal had this to say about Deputy LaBier: “Having Andre on our campus provides an enhanced sense of safety and security for our school. He has already made great connections with students and staff and our community. I see him at the busses in the morning and interacting with students in the cafeteria. He has been a positive addition to our school and community. His broad experiences also bring a wider perspective of the world for our students.”  


“I’m floored by the positive energy of the school staff. It’s contagious,” said Deputy LaBier. “We have dynamic leaders in this school who do an incredible amount of work beyond the school day.” Middle/High School Principal John Tague noted that Deputy LaBier has been an active participant in the community at soccer games and other school events during the evenings, not just while students are in class. LaBier responded by saying this role doesn’t stop at the end of the school day. He is pleased to be able to give back through forming positive relationships with students. His background in mental health and crisis response has taught him how important talking and listening is, especially with middle and high school students. “Little things can make such a difference,” he said.

Deputy LaBier added that he has been overwhelmed by the positive response to his presence in the school when he talks with parents and members of the community members. He is taking it one day at a time and sees that it’s what he does today that has meaning. He looks forward to coming to school each day.

Welcome, Deputy LaBier!

THE FWSU STORY: Positive Competition is Key at BFA Fairfax

The 2018-19 school year marks my 7th year serving as Athletic Director at BFA Fairfax. Simply stated, sports is in my blood.  Growing up, my mother was the varsity cheerleading coach at my high school, and my older siblings and I were three-sport athletes.  



My father is a Hall of Fame athlete and official at both Castleton University and the Vermont Principals Association. I was a Division 1 college athlete, and have been coaching at BFA Fairfax for close to fifteen years.  This Sunday will be the first anniversary of my marriage to a two-sport Varsity coach, and with our first child, a son, arriving in December, I look forward to many new sports experiences in the role of parent.





Needless to say, I’ve observed, played, and coached hundreds, if not thousands, of athletic events.  Those collective experiences, although differing in their nature, all hold one thing in common – competition. Competition can foster and strengthen important life skills such as teamwork, perseverance, communication, and overcoming adversity. However, in today’s sports culture we also frequently witness the darker side of competition.  Whether it’s yelling at athletes or officials, spectators engaging with opposing fans or questioning coaches, or most importantly, each of us losing perspective that sports are a game and meant to be fun, I’ve experienced it all.


Last week, on a rare day when there were no home athletic events, I had the pleasure of attending the BFA Fairfax cross country meet at Arrowhead Golf Club in Milton.  This event and the culture around it was a reminder of all that is great about youth sports participation. Don’t get me wrong, the spirit of competition was alive and well.  



Athletes, teams and coaches were pushing their limits, striving for both team and individual victory. But there was something noticeably absent as well. The roar of the crowd was deafening at times, but there was not a negative comment to be heard.  There were winning teams and individuals, as well as teams and individuals who came in last in their respective races, but not an angry face or example of negative body language to be seen. I observed athletes finishing the race significantly behind the winning runners, but still thrilled about the fact that they beat their personal best time.  I heard parents cheering not only for their own children but for the last minute kick of athletes from opposing teams, even if it meant that runner passed their own child. I observed a community of runners, coaches, parents, and spectators, regardless of team, waiting to support the final athletes crossing the finish line. Students with unique challenges incorporating a variety of special needs were all welcome and cheered on as though they were the next Olympic hopeful.  


I walked away from this fantastic day thinking “why can’t ALL sports be this way?”  Emotions are certain to run high as we approach the second half of our fall athletic season at BFA Fairfax.  Homecoming games and state championships are on the line, and no one would like to see our athletes and this community take home a title more than this athletic director.  But in the process, I challenge us all to step back, take a deep breath, and reflect on what’s truly important. Being a teenager, let alone a teenage athlete is a tough job these days.  The challenging balancing act of friends, school, jobs, family life, and sports is at times a herculean task to maintain.


With this in mind as we round out the fall season, I will be applauding the efforts of all athletes, win or lose, first or last, whether on our team, or that of our opponent.  Although I hope the last minute touchdown, goal, or sprint to the finish belongs to a BFA Fairfax athlete, if it does not, my wish is that we can all appreciate the efforts of those involved, be proud of all competitors, and remember to take a play out of the cross country playbook by staying positive, and simply having fun.  


Geri Witalec


Geri Witalec-Krupa is an Athletic Director/Assistant Principal at BFA Fairfax is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You follow her @GLWit