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  

National Honor Society Celebrates the Power of Student Leadership

The National Honor Society Induction Ceremony is considered the unofficial start of “Graduation Season” at BFA Fairfax. On May 1st, friends and families gathered in the Elementary school gym to witness the ceremony that welcomes new members and honors graduating seniors. Twenty eight new members were inducted at the beginning of the evening.


The new members were escorted in by current members to begin the evening. BFA National Honor Society advisor Sara Villeneuve welcomed everyone and informed the new members, “I know I say this every year, but I believe that what should make you and your loved ones the most proud is not the actual certificate, pin, and free dessert to come, instead what matters the most (and what we recognize tonight) is all that you have accomplished to be selected and honored here tonight.”


NHS President Jake H. continued the ceremony by inviting the other officers (Vice President Dylan L., Secretary Rebekah L., Historian Hannah C., and Treasurer Julia S.)  to speak about the pillars of the National Honor Society; Scholarship, Character, Leadership and Service and to light a ceremonial candle. Following the candle lighting, the new members recited the NHS Pledge and were individually recognized to receive their NHS certificate and pin.


Principal Tague spoke about Character and Scholarship reminding the students that being “selected to join NHS indicates that your time at BFA has been in alignment with our motto: ‘To Virtue, Knowledge.’” Superintendent Kirsch spoke about Service and Leadership. He urged the students “to be the leaders that our world needs. We’re counting on you.”


In the last formal portion of the ceremony, the twenty one seniors were presented with their graduation stoles to be worn with their caps and gowns at graduation. It is a time to recognize the tremendous growth and potential of our students and to honor the service and leadership they have provided throughout their time at BFA.


Finally, it was time for pictures and hugs (and of course the free dessert Mrs. Villeneuve promised). NHS Induction is a special night for students, teachers, and families. It is the first event in a series that culminates with Graduation on June 17 at 10:00am. We are proud of the accomplishments of our students and hope you will celebrate them along with us.

Student Leadership and Community Engagement In Action at BFA Fairfax

Last Friday was one of those days as a principal that remind me why I do this job.  Interestingly, I spent most of the morning and evening in the Richard A. Brown Gymnasium. Over the course of two events, I noticed many things that reminded me that I work in a really great place that supports our kids and provides them with authentic opportunities to lead and learn.


The morning event was our Middle School Celebration of Learning, a student-run assembly in which every student has a role in presenting the range of experiences our students have undertaken during the winter months.  The band and chorus provided the bookends to an hour of poetry, seasonal photos, recognition of staff members, co-curricular experiences, community service, flexible learning opportunities, and the variety of ways we engage our community and world partners.


The evening occasion was a High School Coffee House, which was also organized and run by students.  Many students, teachers, and parents from the seventh-grade class volunteered their time, and proceeds from the Coffee House will support their class trip to Boston next year as eighth graders.  Again, I was struck by the sense of community and belonging, the authentic opportunities for students of all ages to perform, and the energy and aptitude our students exhibit when provided the opportunity to lead.


I contemplated the efforts of adults that made these events possible.  Teacher leadership, collaboration, and strategic planning were evident throughout the day and evening, allowing for student voice and choice to permeate each event.  Thank you to all the staff members that gave of their time for our students.  I appreciate all the parents and families that support our school and students by attending and valuing these flexible learning experiences.


Over the weekend, I pondered the importance of such learning experiences. How might we continue to develop and sustain these opportunities, balancing their complexity with careful planning and resource allocation? How do we ensure that students continue to have a say in their academic journey?  Questions such as these continue to challenge and inspire me as a leader.  Simultaneously, they remind me that I am privileged to work at BFA Fairfax.



Thomas Walsh is the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary Middle School. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount

BFA Fairfax Develops Student Leadership in Mindset, Metacognition, Motivation (M3)

Last fall, two core teachers at BFA Fairfax presented the Freshman Class of 2020 with an exciting leadership opportunity. M3 stands for Mindset, Metacognition, and Motivation. The program is designed to teach students about how they learn, how to expand their learning opportunities, and how they can change their thinking from fixed mindsets to growth mindsets.


BFA leaders participated in two full-day training sessions in Montpelier with peers who were interested in the program. During the training, the students experienced sessions they would facilitate with their classmates in the spring. One unique aspect of the M3 program is that students teach students. BFA agreed to take part in the program and build student facilitators. The student leaders learned the material and brought it back to teach their BFA  Fairfax classmates.


The goal of the M3 team is to broaden horizons of the Class of 2020 when it comes to how to approach learning opportunities. The M3 team includes 6 student leaders and 2 teacher facilitators. The group meets weekly to prepare to teach the established research-based curriculum to peers every Wednesday.  The team then pairs up with peers to teach a section during Support Block.


The sessions include various topics related to mindset, metacognition, and motivation. For example, students engage in an online gaming competition against peers to test their knowledge about growth versus fixed mindsets, positive study habits, and brain-related processes.


The learning experience for the M3 team over the past several months has been tremendously empowering — both for students and their peers as well. Student leaders will walk away from M3 with focused skills in leadership, teaching, and making connections with multiple modes of learning.

BFA 7th Grade Studies Sustainability

sustainability [suh-stey-nuhbil-i-tee] – Environmental Science. The quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance


Over the past ten weeks, 7th graders at BFA Fairfax have been studying the concept of sustainability across their four core classes of study. In this interdisciplinary unit, students built upon knowledge from the environmental, political, agricultural, and economic perspective of what sustainability means. Our team’s Core Idea, or Enduring Understanding, throughout the unit was:

“As population grows, humans consume more resources on Earth, and this has negative and positive effects on ecosystems and communities of people.”


Throughout the unit, students dug deep to unearth the differences between industrial agriculture and sustainable agriculture in Language Arts class. In Science and social studies, they flipped the school upside down counting papers, plastics, and other waste consumption at BFA Fairfax. They met with building supervisors to find out the total amounts of fossil fuels used and bus mileage over the course of one school year. This was all in part to find out the school’s annual CO2 emissions and tally a Carbon Footprint for BFA-Fairfax.  Students determined that the school emits roughly 966 metric tons of CO2 per year.


In social studies, they studied population dynamics related to demographics analyzing population trends, carrying capacities, birth and death rates, as well as other relative data points to gather information about population growth.


The final, culminating project asked students to research a wide variety of sustainability-themed issues occurring around the globe – issues that stretched from the BFA-Fairfax community solar panel discussion to the Arctic ice sheets, Syrian refugees, Australian koalas, and the Maldives, a small atoll nation in the Indian ocean.


Their goal was to analyze a complex, contemporary problem through the lens of sustainability, population dynamics, and human impact on the environment.
Students produced well-researched informational essays and located and analyzed data pertaining to their problem.


 On Wednesday, March 30, the seventh grade put on a gallery walk, inviting teachers, students, parents, and community members to see the results of their research. It was a hit, and we are proud of their efforts and learning during this engaging unit. We hope to sustain this valuable learning experience for students in years to come

BFA Seventh Grade Team – Ashley Klein, Dana Hamm, Chris Palmer & Ben Psaros

FWSU Receives Bay and Paul Grant to Focus on Innovation and Global Partnerships



FWSU is excited again to announce the Bay and Paul Foundation has granted FWSU $60,000 to continue its work engaging our students with students and classrooms from around the world. In addition, our grant funding this year will also allow FWSU schools to begin building our capacity for global connections in innovation through the creation of “Innovation Design Labs” in our system. With the ultimate goal of engaging our students in design theory, design thinking, and design execution with global input and perspective.


The grant will allow us to build on our work developing intercultural competence among students and educators, shifting to an emphasis on environmental design. A more intense focus on design thinking and innovation enlarges our capacity to integrate sets of skills such as coding, research, fabrication, making and gaming, and to seek input from our global partners to solve the authentic problems our world is now facing.


Our plans for next year are ambitious. Creating Innovation and Design Labs “InnoLabs” will be exciting for students, but it will also be a change that will cause us to use the very design thinking we are asking our students to use. Currently we are reaching out to local colleges and universities to assist us in this very exciting endeavor for our schools. As we progress, we foresee an amazing future that will engage students and adults in all of our schools like never before. A future that will match the skills necessary for our students to succeed when they graduate from high school and beyond.


We are incredibly thankful for our grant, and continued support, from the Bay and Paul Foundation. The 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 that the FWSU Action Plan aligns with its core mission related to school change, personalized learning, global connections and student voice. It also recognized FWSU leadership in Vermont for incorporating technology into our teaching and learning in all of our schools. We are excited to continue work offering students the opportunity to emerge as leaders not only in Georgia, Fairfax, Fletcher, and Vermont, but also to develop global leadership.

Target 2 – Leadership. 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.

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

BFA Fairfax HS Senior Named Vermont Presidential Scholar

Thursday was a busy day for BFA high school senior Bhupinderjit “Binny” Singh. It was also a proud day for the BFA community and Binny’s family.

Presidential Scholar 1

After attending classes at BFA all day, Binny and his family traveled to the Statehouse in Montpelier so that he could receive recognition as one of Vermont’s Presidential Scholars. They were joined by Franklin West Superintendent Ned Kirsch, BFA Fairfax High School Principal John Tague and BFA Fairfax Director of Guidance Dave Buckingham.

Presidential Scholar 2

Binny was selected for the honor from Vermont high school seniors based on his Academic Achievement, Involvement and Service, and Leadership and Character. Twenty five Vermont students were selected for this honor by the VT Agency of Education. “Binny is the first BFA Fairfax student to receive this honor in many years”, noted Dave Buckingham.

Binny has maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout high school. In addition he has participated in Scholars Bowl, Cross Country Running, Student Council, National Honor Society and basketball. To serve his community, Binny has participated in blood drives, trail repair and worked at basketball camp. He is currently the vice president of the National Honor Society and the senior class.

Presidential Scholar 3

In his nomination, the faculty noted that, “when something needs to happen, you can always count on Binny to be involved. He is always willing to help anyone and does it with a positive attitude”

Presidential Scholar 4

When asked what the honor meant to him, Binny stated: “It’s an awesome experience to receive recognition of any type. I never thought I would be able to go to the Statehouse for the work that I do every day for myself and others. It’s very humbling to be included in this group of students.”

Presidential Scholar 5

After receiving the award and a few commemorative pictures, it was back on the road to Fairfax for the season opening boys basketball game versus Richford High School.

Presidential Scholar 7

Binny started the game, won the opening tip-off, and helped the team to secure a victory with 14 points, 4 rebounds, and  6 assists.

Presidential Scholar 8

The entire BFA Fairfax and Franklin West community is proud of the accomplishments of all of our students, including this fine young man. It is extremely exciting when we get to share our pride with the rest of the state. Congratulations, Binny!

GEMS Learning Community Lends a Helping Hand

The GEMS community took time to gather and celebrate the generosity of our community right before our Thanksgiving break. During the 4 weeks of the annual Meals Marathon Food Drive, students and families donated 4,018 food items and $76 in cash contributions!

gems food drive1

The Food Drive team gave special recognition to Mr. Toof (6th Grade Teacher) and Mr. Demar (5th Grade Teacher) who decided to motivate their students by adding in a little healthy competition to this annual event.  And in good spirit, Mr. Toof followed through by “happily” wearing a Cowboy’s jersey for a day in recognition that 5th Grade donated more items than the 6th Grade Team.

gems food drive2

Following the assembly in the gym, the students formed a “food line”….another tradition of the Meals Marathon. One by one, food items were passed along and loaded onto the truck that would take the items to the Georgia Food Shelf.

gems food drive3

“We couldn’t do this (help our community members) without your help” said June Waite who volunteers at the Food Shelf.

gems food drive4

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world.  For indeed, that’s all who ever have.” ~ Margaret Mead

gems food drive5

The Food Drive team is thankful to our students, teachers, parents and community members who helped make this an awesome, rewarding experience!

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.

Student-Led Conferences Focus on Learning and Presentation in Fletcher


In Fletcher, sixth graders have deconstructed the traditional parent-teacher conference format in favor of Student-Led Conferences (SLC’s), and the structure is getting rave reviews.

“The student is the main player in the conference process,” sixth grade teacher Jasmine Tremblay told students. “Teachers guide students through the conference process and help prepare, but the responsibility of conveying information to parents and families rests on the students.”

Throughout the trimester, Tremblay’s student’s have continually self-assessed their progress across the curriculum based on learning targets. Their self-assessments, in conjunction with feedback from teachers, is combined with work examples in a learning portfolio that is used to demonstrate how they have met the learning targets. Students complete a self-evaluation for each academic class as well as behavior, reflect on their progress and set goals for continued learning.


Last week, students practiced presenting their portfolios and substantiating their evaluations with evidence during mock conferences during the day before appearing in front of their families for Student-Led Conferences Thursday evening. Some conferences lasted as long as an hour and students had written formal invitations to their families. Students dressed the part, having been asked to look professional for their presentations.

Within each student portfolio was an evaluation for all academic subjects and behavior, a grade reflection for each area and examples of “proud” and “challenging” work.

During conferences, families actively engaged in conversations about each student’s progress, but also gave feedback on communication skills related to the presentation. Families completed a survey for teachers that asked about their experience with the conference, to what degree they feel their child was able to reflect on their progress and plan for future success and comment on any goals that they would like to see for the spring.


During the evening conferences, several adults from school, including the School Counselor, Literacy Teacher Leader, Math Teacher Leader and Classroom Teacher, circulated between Student-Led Conferences gathering feedback for students on their speaking skills. They used a six-point rating scale based on the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts, specifically literacy, and provided reflections to students on their use of eye contact, volume, pronunciation, expression, varying sentence patterns for meaning, interest, and style, and their consistency in style and tone.

According to sixth grade teacher Jasmine Tremblay, the goals of Student-Led Conferences include increasing students’ accountability and autonomy with academics and learning habits, to hone verbal communication and critical thinking skills, to emphasize a student-centered approach to learning, to build relationships with families, to support students in reaching the required speaking standards and to teach students how to persuade others by substantiating claims with evidence.


“The adult family support is the second most essential attendee to the Student-Led Conference. Your student is the first,” Tremblay wrote to families. “The adult support must be willing to let the student speak.”

Families are expect to support students in meeting their ongoing academic and behavioral goals at home, and sharing any lingering concerns with the teacher independently, if necessary.

“I felt that Student-Led Conferences really gave students a chance to manage our grades and talk to their parents about it instead of the parent teacher conference when your parent comes home and asks what you think of your grade and you can’t answer. Also, it’s great because it helps us with our speaking skills and presentation skills. Another, reason that it helps is it show our parents how much we’ve grown and how confident we are,” sixth grader Christina Ashley said.

“I thought that the Student-Led Conferences were interesting. I think this because it’s different and new and something we’ve not done before. I was a little nervous at the beginning but when I got into the flow my nervousness went away. One thing that I did during that conference was I got to lead it and I got to show my parents the grades instead of the teacher showing them. That was nice because you can tell why you got the grade you got. Also, we practiced a lot for this.We had scripts and we also had the teachers pretend that they were our parents. That was nice because it gave us the chance to practice. Overall I think this student led conference went well and I think we should do it next year,” sixth grader Brody Chipman said.


“I think that having this kind of conference is important because your parents want to know how you’re doing from you. It’s also important because it gives you a chance to show your parents that you are capable of taking the blame for the grades you have and also taking the fame. During the conference I felt like my mom was proud of me for explaining my plan to make my grades better and I was also proud of myself for being able to lead a conference with my mom. I think more schools should do student led conferences to be more confident with talking to people and being independent and handling things on your own. The conference went well and now I know that I can do more leadership stuff like this in the future,” sixth grader Jaylin Alderman said.

Students will write formal thank-you notes to the adults that attended their conferences.

Read more about Student-Led Conferences here.

FWSU Action Plan

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

Action Steps – (1) Provide multiple avenues for students and staff to lead, advocate, and serve within the school and community. (2) Ensure students and staff take an active role shaping their learning using rich, authentic questions, problems they identify, and diverse resources. (3) Develop learning habits, communication and problem solving skills necessary for collaborative learning and leadership.

Indicators of Success – (1) Teachers embrace role of coach, facilitator and co-learner in a student-centered learning environment. (2) Student voice will have the power to impact the perceptions of others.


Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon