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Thursday, May 28, 2015

STEM poses challenges, opportunities for Madison schools

Written by Sally Capone

MADISON – Calling it a “work in progress,” Superintendent of Schools Michael Rossi opened a presentation on the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum at the Board of Education’s meeting Tuesday, May 26, laying out the Madison school district’s vision for the program to promote creative thinking and problem-solving skills in students.
Matthew Mingle, director of curriculum and instruction for the grades K-12 district, detailed the “building blocks” of the STEM initiative, a “blended learning” approach that relies heavily on combining computer technology with other instructional tools:

Facilities upgrades at the grades 6-8 Madison Junior School and the grades 9-12 Madison High School;

  • Additional technology support;
  • Curriculum revision, and
  • Professional development for the instructional staff.
The May 26 discussion focused mainly on the components of facilities upgrades and technology support.


“We have a (technology) staff of three for the district — that’s a Herculean task,” remarked district Supervisor of Science and Technology Tom Paterson.

John LaPierre, coordinator of technology for the district, suggested adding a technology integration specialist and a technology support specialist to the staff.

Other recommendations included integrating STEM skills in the lower grades; expanding STEM offerings; investing in curriculum, personnel and facilities upgrades, and providing professional development support for educators in all disciplines.


Superintendent Rossi displayed visual renditions of potential reconfigurations of the media centers at both the Junior School and the high school that would include retrofitting existing computer lab spaces at both buildings.

A new 3,000-sq-ft space would be built at Madison High School to house mobile furniture for a true 21st century classroom, plus a “soft furniture” study area.

“We do a lot of things really well in Madison,” Paterson observed — but he also emphasized that space is an ongoing issue, with students building robots in the hallway.

“We can do better for our students,” Paterson concluded.
Rossi advised that at the high school, “all the components are critical” to the implementation of STEM.

“There are enormous possibilities and enormous challenges,” the superintendent said. “We need to find the right combination.”

Taking Root

Curriculum Director Mingle told the board that some of the STEM program already is in place, with new electives in the elementary schools, and computer programming that doesn’t actually involve computers, but rather is “a thinking process.”

Paterson also pointed to “a change in the science curriculum — a paradigm shift from facts and knowledge, to application and critical thinking.

“There aren’t necessarily right and wrong answers.

“In the end, this is a positive thing,” Paterson said.

Board of Education member David Arthur said he hadn’t appreciated that the school district already had much of the STEM initiative up and running.

“Now I see we don’t have as much of a catchup.

“It’s nice to see what else is going on out there,” Arthur said.


James Novotny, the technical department supervisor at Livingston High School and a former Madison Board of Education member representing Harding Township observed, “Kids who want to do ‘stuff’ haven’t had the opportunity.

“A STEM facility is a tremendous advantage, but this program has to involve everybody,” Novotny said.

From the public, Thomas Piskula of Valley Road, who has run for the Board of Education the past two years, questioned why he had “heard little about curriculum and measured performance.”
Arthur responded that “it’s no longer about pushing out kids to four-year colleges,” noting that “steamfitters in New Jersey make $125,000 a year.”

Board of Education President Lisa Ellis said the bulk of the costs related to the STEM program would be funded from the sale of the former Green Village Road School property for redevelopment, and enhancements to the curriculum would begin at the Junior School, but she also cautioned she was not in a position to say exactly when that would happen.