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Fuller Middle's STEAM Program Experiencing "Starts and Stops" Says Superintendent

Fuller Middle School's first STEM teacher was let go, and now its second STEM teacher has been told her contract will not be renewed. She is appealing the decision while her job has been advertised.

Credit: Framingham Public Schools
Credit: Framingham Public Schools
The Fuller Middle School STEAM Program is losing steam, literally. It is struggling to make progress, partly due to staffing issues. 

Last month, its popular STEM teacher was told her contract would not be renewed, despite her work in helping to develop the curriculum with the school district's leaders and Fuller's new principal Sharon Seyller. It is Seyller's decision to decide whether to renew contracts of non-tenured teachers. The STEM teacher is appealing the decision.

During the 2012-13 school year, the Framingham Public Schools launched a STEM program at Fuller Middle School, its lowest performing of the three middle schools.

The first STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) teacher, whom English was not her first language and was new to the teaching field, struggled inside and outside the classroom. Her contract was not renewed.

In January 2013, Interim Fuller Middle School Principal James Bergeron, who is now Vice Principal at Walsh Middle School, hired Kerry Genova as the new STEM teacher at Fuller Middle School.

Students in grades six, seven and eight all participate in specific STEM classes during a small portion of the school year rotating also with physical education, art, music and health classes.

Last fall, Genova was front and center with the district's leaders in drafting the new middle school STEM - now called STEAM curriculum. She worked with Framingham Schools Director of Educational Operations Sonia Diaz, Seyller and Lori DiGisi to help write and present the middle school's new STEAM curriculum.

Her STEM teaching position was posted on the Framingham Public Schools website on May 14. Fuller Parents contacted Framingham Patch upset, after seeing her position advertised.

Genova and the Framingham Teachers Association is appealing the decision, but as she is a teacher in the district with less than three years of service, she has no union security, even if she received a positive review.

Framingham Superintendent of Schools Stacy Scott said Tuesday night, he has received the appeal and is currently "re-reviewing it" and will "make a decision by June 15."

"We support the STEAM model and the efforts that have gone into creating such a program at both Fuller and the new King School. We understand that many teachers district-wide have participated on the STEAM committee and helped to create both curriculum and programmatic plans to help launch the model for next year. However, we are concerned to hear that some of the very staff who created these plans and played a central role in starting this concept at Fuller have been non-renewed," said Framingham Teachers Association co-presidents Michael Koziara and Sarah Smith in a statement to Framingham Patch.

"This new model will require attention and support, and we strongly believe that appropriate staffing will be the foundation to help this model succeed," said the FTA co-presidents. "That being said, we would hope that the district would make every effort to retain these staff members, especially after the large efforts they have undertaken to help launch such a program."

The STEM program at Fuller has had "its starts and stops," said Scott. "I am reviewing the appeal but I can not discuss it further, as it is a personnel issue."

Scott said the goal of the STEM program is to be more than one STEM segment a year. He said he would like to see Fuller teachers integrate the use of technology into their daily lessons, in all subjects.

The district is also advertising to hire a K-8 STEM Coordinator.

Scott and Seyller have shown their committed to the STEAM program, via their outside visits to other STEAM schools.

In March, Scott, Diaz and Principal Seyller traveled to San Diego to tour High Tech High, a single charter high school launched in 2000 by a coalition of business and educational leaders. Today, High Tech High is now 12 schools (five high schools, four middle schools and three elementary schools) with a combined 5,000-plus students.

Seyller, who is in her first year as principal, even missed MCAS testing for the California trip. 

And Seyller and DiGisi toured a school in Malden (Linden STEAM Academy) to get more information about its innovative curriculum. The Level 1 K-8 school, with full SAGE classes in every grade, was a public school before becoming a Title 1 Innovation school.

In 2012, Governor Deval Patrick gave the public school innovation status to convert to a STEAM Academy. (Innovation schools were created by the Commonwealth's 2010 education reform law, and allow existing school districts more autonomy in redesigning a curriculum while keeping the funding in the district.)

Scott said STEM learning is important to move forward with and expand at Fuller, as it is "rigorous and relevant." It "challenges students and prepares them for college and careers."

The Framingham Public School district is opening its ninth elementary school at the King Administration Building in the fall, with a STEAM focus. The new kindergarten students will also learn Mandarin Chinese as part of the curriculum, according to district leaders.
Jules Sullivan June 05, 2014 at 09:44 PM
So, if I understand this STEM program, there are 180 days in the school year and if my child goes there - when they have a teacher again - she will have STEM classes for 36 days, PE for 36 days, art for 36 days, health for 36 days and music for 35 days? Wow! Times have changed since I went to school. I had PE twice a week, music twice a week, art once a week and health once a week in a 6 day-cycle.
Gina Fishman June 05, 2014 at 09:51 PM
@Scott - agree!
Gina Fishman June 05, 2014 at 09:52 PM
@Jules ... you are correct (unfortunately) Not like my time in MS
ben matherson June 05, 2014 at 10:36 PM
As a taxpayer, I question this value of a STEM or STEAM program if it is nit taught every day like reading and writing? How much does this program cost taxpayers? And if it is a valid and educationally sound program to help students succeed - then I agree with the parents upset - how can you make progress if you are advertising the position twice in two years?
Robbie Goldberg June 05, 2014 at 10:48 PM
I graduated Fuller last year. I had Ms.Genova at the end of my 8th grade year. She is young, so she actually really understands the students. She also has an amazing way of teaching where you know you are receiving information but you are making the connections yourself. In a sense, she gave us the materials we needed to teach ourselves. I'm sorry for the kids who go there in future years who won't be able to take her class with her.

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