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Fessenden Welcomes New Faculty and Staff


In addition to welcoming more than 20 new faculty and staff members, Fessenden welcomed our 10th Head of School, Steve Armstrong, to the community this summer. Previously, Steve spent 18 years at neighboring Belmont Hill School, and most recently he served as their Assistant Head of School and Dean of Faculty. Click here to learn more about Steve.

Mawa Ballo joins Fessenden as a Lower School intern. She comes to Fessenden from Connecticut College, where she earned a BA in government. During Mawa’s time there, she worked as a fundraising chair for Eclipse, as a mentor for the National Urban Squash Education Association, and as a peer advisor at the Academic Resource Center. Mawa was also a member of Connecticut College’s Senior Class Gift Committee, Senior Week Committee, Athletics Task Force, Student Activities Council, Caribbean Student Association, and House Council. She has worked with the Squash and Beyond camps at Williams College and the Deerfield Summer Squad at Deerfield Academy, and she has traveled to Israel and Jordan to coach squash. While at Connecticut College, Mawa was a top varsity athlete for all four years.

Souad Belcaid is teaching Lower School science and Middle School Makers in the Ciongoli Center for Innovation. She has vast experience across age levels, around the country, and around the world. Most recently, Souad taught seventh grade science and sixth grade math, English, science, and social studies at the American School of Tangier, Morocco. Before that she taught in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Missouri, and Giza, Egypt. Souad has taught at the lower, middle, and upper school levels. She also has experience teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), and she directed a preschool for two years. Souad has a Master’s in Education and Technology and a BA in liberal studies from Lesley University, and she received the Global Teacher Prize Award in 2015.

Peter Bidstrup is Fessenden’s new Associate Director of Secondary School Counseling. Previously, he founded and has served as principal of BLG Advising. Before that, Peter spent over twenty years serving as director of admission, director of financial aid, head boys’ lacrosse coach, and dorm parent at The Governor’s Academy. During his time there, his lacrosse teams captured eight league championships in the highly competitive Independent School League (ISL). In addition, Peter has written several published articles, including “Parents’ Role In Success,” which was featured on the US Lacrosse website. He has a BA in history with a minor in classics from Franklin & Marshall College.

MiShaune Blanks is a member of the Pre-K teaching team this year and most recently served as a paraprofessional at Heath Elementary School. Since 2008, she has worked in teaching and childcare, including at Heath Elementary School, the Mather School, and the Baldwin Early Learning Center. In addition, MiShaune worked at the Orchard Gardens K-8 School, the Temple Israel Hebrew School, and Boston City Child Care. She earned her master’s degree and bachelor’s degree from Wheelock College, where she studied early childhood education and human growth and development.

Stephen Buck joins Fessenden as a vocal music teacher for Grades 4-9. He has taught vocal and instrumental music to students at the Fay School for the past ten years. Stephen received a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and Education from Ithaca College, a Master of Music in Education from Boston University, and an Advanced Diploma in Choral Conducting from the Kodály Institute in Hungary. He currently teaches graduate courses in music education at the Kodály Music Institute in Boston. Stephen has worked with the Ithaca Children’s Chorus, Worcester Children’s Chorus, and has sung with professional groups, such as Canto Armonico, Schola Cantorum at Saint Stephen’s Providence, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.

Jillian Collito is a member of Fessenden’s Lower School as a third grade teacher, bringing with her a master’s degree in elementary education from Lesley University and a background in teaching techniques such as Math in Focus, Handwriting Without Tears, Responsive Classroom, Open Circle, and Orton-Gillingham. Jillian’s previous role was as a language arts teacher at the Chestnut Hill School, and before that she worked at the Center for Early Education in West Hollywood, California. She has taught and coached across the Boston area, including at the Watertown Public Schools, Cambridge Public Schools, and the Prospect Hill Academy Charter School.

Jake Davey joins the Fessenden Middle School, where he teaches sixth grade English. Jake previously taught at the Nashoba Brooks School of Concord and the Chestnut Hill School, both in Massachusetts. Additionally, he has worked as a curriculum consultant for Coaching4Change, a head counselor for Concord Academy’s summer camp, and an assistant athletic director at the Chestnut Hill School. Jake is a certified lifeguard, and he volunteers with Bottom Line and 826 Boston. He holds a Bachelor’s in Communications from Old Dominion University, a Master’s in Education from Lesley University, and he was a Klingenstein Fellow at the Teacher’s College of Columbia University.

Shondaray Ducheine joins Fessenden as the Middle School intern. She teaches both sixth grade science and Middle School Life and Leadership, a new course on decision-making and character education. Shondaray has a BA in Classical Studies and Education from Villanova University, and she was a Fulbright Fellow for English Teaching Assistantship in Greece. She has taught English and coached the Forensics Club at the Hellenic American Education Foundation in Athens, Greece. Shondaray has also worked as a Special Education Teaching Assistant for King Philip Middle School and as an online English teacher for JiuQu English.

Nathalie Gonzalez comes to Fessenden as the new staff accountant. She has a Bachelor of Science from Salem State University’s Bertolon School of Business, and she has previously worked at businesses in nearby Waltham, including The Incentive Group LLC and Extended Stay America. Nathalie comes to us from Barclay Water Management, where she worked as an accounting administrator, and she is currently enrolled in Southern New Hampshire University, working toward a master’s degree in Management Accounting.

Leslie Guthrie is a teacher in Fessenden’s English Language Learners Department. In her previous role, she was an ESL (English as a Second Language) Teacher/Coordinator for Gloucester Public Schools for 28 years. Leslie has worked around the world, including at the Colegio Hispano Norteamericano in Puzol, Spain; the American School Foundation of Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico; and the Carol Morgan School in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. She has a Master of Arts in Teaching English as a Second Language from Simmons College, a master’s degree in elementary education from Lesley University, and a BA in English from the University of New Hampshire. In addition to English, Leslie speaks Spanish and Albanian.

Linda Hillery joins the Fessenden Middle School to teach fifth grade English. She has an EdM in reading education and an EdM in elementary education from Boston University, and a BA in communication from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Linda has worked as a literary specialist in grades four and five at the Hillside Elementary School in Needham, and she has taught fourth and fifth grade at the South Elementary School in Andover, MA. She also coaches soccer and softball in Weston, Massachusetts.

Alexandra (Al) Hogan is a teacher in Fessenden’s Pre-K program, and comes from a background as a classroom teacher and an Applied Behavioral Analysis therapist. She has previously worked at the Spruce Street Nursery School and APEX Behavioral Consulting, and she has represented the Cambridge Ellis School in a teaching exchange program with the St. James’ School in Taichung, Taiwan. Al has a MEd in early childhood education and a BA in English from Boston University.

Jason Lewis has joined the Fessenden community as the Upper School Head. He was previously the associate head of school and head of middle school (grades 6-8) at Chase Collegiate School in Waterbury, Connecticut. In addition to those roles, Jason served previously as the director of academic technology, director of environmental sustainability, and head of lower school. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and exercise science from Skidmore College, and a Master of Arts in education from Stanford University. Jason has also spent 12 summers leading 42-day, 1,100-mile canoe trips for boys in the Canadian wilderness.

Michael Lynch joins Fessenden as a school counselor. He has a graduate certificate in cognitive-behavioral therapy from Boston University, and he completed certificates of advanced graduate study in mental health counseling from Cambridge College and in educational leadership from Simmons College. Michael also holds a Master of Science from National University and a Bachelor of Arts from Ithaca College. He has worked as a school counselor for 17 years, previously at the Carroll School, the Victor School, and the Lighthouse School. Michael has also been a math and physical education teacher, a teacher’s aide, and a student advocate at schools in California and New York.

Christopher Nicastro is a new member of the Fessenden learning resources department and is a math skills teacher. He comes to us from working in the Newton Public Schools as a behavior therapist. Christopher has a bachelor’s degree in educational studies from New England College and is working toward an expected master’s in special education from Cambridge College in 2018. He has worked as a special education teacher at LABBB Educational Collaborative in Arlington, Massachusetts, and with special education in Arlington Public Schools. Christopher also has extensive experience with lacrosse, including serving as the coach at the Laxachusetts Lacrosse Club, and as an assistant coach at Babson College, Saint Anselm College, and Arlington High School.

Kathryn (Alex) O'Brien joins Fessenden as a Learning Resources skills teacher, Lower School reading specialist, and dorm parent. She holds a Master of Arts in teaching and elementary education from Brown University, and a Bachelor of Arts in art history from Boston College. Alex is certified in Orton-Gillingham, as well as Executive Functioning Curriculum from the Rush NeuroBehavioral Center. In addition to teaching, she was a member of the BC Gold Leadership Council and a founding member of the JEH Pancreatic Cancer Foundation. Alex comes to Fessenden from a position as the director and founder of Discovering Solutions, LLC, a client-focused, K-12 tutoring and academic services firm. She has also taught at St. Peter’s School in Warwick, Rhode Island; The Hamilton School at Wheeler in Providence, Rhode Island; and the International Charter School in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

Karina Olsen is a new Fessenden Learning Resources Academic Tutor. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in educational studies from Principia College in Elsah, Illinois. Karina has worked privately as an academic tutor and mentor for Horizons National Program and Principia College Center for Teaching and Learning, and most recently as a sixth grade apprentice teacher at the New Canaan Country School in Connecticut. She has also served as the assistant director for Camp Newfound in Harrison, Maine. Karina has captained and played on both lacrosse and varsity basketball teams, and she was the founder and president of the Principia Waterski Team. She is also a recipient of the Principia College George A. and Frances K. Andrews Award for outstanding citizenship and involvement in the community.

Elise Patterson-Caver joins Fessenden as a fourth grade teacher. She has 17 years of experience working with students in Kindergarten through Grade 5, and she has taught at many schools, including Lyman Winship Elementary, Blackstone Innovation School, Sophia P. Kingston Elementary School, and Idlewild Elementary School. Elise has a BS in education from Auburn University Montgomery and an MS in school psychometry from Troy University Montgomery.

Tiandra Ray is Fessenden’s first NuVu Fellow, and she works in cooperation with the Ciongoli Center for Innovation (CCI). NuVu, an innovation school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been involved with the CCI from the beginning, assisting with both the physical design of the space and the creation of its programming. As the NuVu Fellow, She will design and implement programs for the CCI that teach the iterative design process and various prototyping and fabrication skills. Prior to Fessenden, Tiandra was an architectural designer at Reverse Architecture. She has also worked as an academic facilitator for summer programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She has a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from MIT.

Abigail Soloway joins the Fessenden community as a music intern, and she works with students in all three divisions. She brings a broad range of experience to her work here. Abigail has previously been a teaching assistant at Williams College, a violinist in residence at Mt. Greylock Regional High School, and a Spanish teacher at Williamstown Community Preschool. She was also the conductor and co-founder of the Chamber Orchestra of Williams, the co-founder and director of Ephs Out Loud, the conductor and founder of Williams Opera Workshop, and is a performing violinist at summer music festivals in the US and abroad. Abigail has a bachelor’s degree in music and psychology and has worked as a research fellow in the Williams College psychology department, conducting research on infant cognition and mother-infant attachment.

Kaleigh White comes to Fessenden as a Lower School intern. She holds a BA in psychology from Saint Lawrence University, with minors in psychology, education, and sports studies and exercise science. Kaleigh’s most recent positions have been as a teacher’s assistant in the F.S. Banford Elementary School and as an advisor to the newspaper club in the J.M. McKenney Middle School in Canton, New York. She has also taught English in Trujillo, Peru and served as captain of the women’s varsity soccer team at Saint Lawrence University.

Familiar Faces in New Roles
In addition to welcoming new faculty and administrative staff, several members of the Fessenden community have transitioned into new roles for the 2018-2019 school year. Lower School Music Teacher Kristina Abella and Middle/Upper School Visual Arts Teacher Hannah Minifie are serving as Interim Co-Directors of the Arts for the academic year. Science Bob (Bob Pflugfelder) rejoined us after a one-year leave of absence, and he is teaching Middle School Makers and Lower School science. Finally, Rory Sanborn has transitioned from the science department to the English department in the Middle School.
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