September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2012 State Finalists for Prestigious National Teaching Award

Posted: Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has named six outstanding teachers as 2012 California State Finalists for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

The science nominees are Nathan Richard Fairchild, a science teacher at North Woods Discovery Charter School in the Gateway Unified School District, Shasta County; Michelle French, a first grade teacher at Wilson Elementary School in the Tulare City Elementary School District, Tulare County (and CSTA’s Primary Director!); and Alma Suney Park, a sixth grade teacher at Eastside College Preparatory School, a private school in East Palo Alto, San Mateo County.

The mathematics nominees are: Jamie Garner, a sixth grade mathematics teacher at the Walnut Elementary Education Center in the Turlock Unified School District, Stanislaus County; Andrew Ivan Kotko, a primary grades teacher at Mather Heights Elementary School, Folsom-Cordova Unified School District, Sacramento County; and Sara Teressa Norris, the head primary teacher at Mills College Children’s School, an independent laboratory school affiliated with Mills College in Oakland, Alameda County.

“I congratulate these remarkably talented teachers who are among the most creative and effective in California,” said Torlakson, himself a science teacher-on-leave from Contra Costa County’s Mount Diablo Unified School District. “Math and science educators are essential to the future success of students and the future of our state. I greatly appreciate their efforts to make these subjects exciting and inspiring.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partnered with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program. Each applicant had to demonstrate a mastery of math or science, appropriate use of instructional methods and strategies, effective use of assessment strategies, employ lifelong learning, and show leadership in education outside the classroom. Each candidate also was required to submit a 45-minute video lesson in support of their application.

Science Finalists

Nathan Richard Fairchild has been a teacher for the last eight years. Previously, he was a wildlife naturalist and interpretative ranger in the Wind Caves National Park. He serves as a mentor and facilitator for the Electronic Mentoring for Student Success program, an online forum for new science teachers developed jointly by the University of California, Santa Cruz; and Montana State University. He holds degrees from Michigan State University and Montana State University. Mr. Fairchild was a previous state finalist for this award. The National Science Foundation, which sponsors the award for the White House, encourages candidates to reapply in subsequent cycles. He was nominated by his school’s principal and his video lesson was an inquiry where a local volcanic eruption is possible in the Redding area.

Michelle French teaches first grade at Wilson Elementary School, where she has worked for 16 years. She is the co-director for the Improving Teacher Quality Grant—Bringing Language and Science Together project and serves as a professional learning community facilitator for her district. She has held many leadership positions in several professional associations and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, Fresno. She was nominated by a member of her school community. Her video lesson was focused on integrating language arts and science to learn about living things. Students learned about plant structures and functions.

Alma Suney Park is a sixth grade teacher at Eastside College Preparatory School, where she has worked since 2005. Originally from Illinois, Ms. Park has 13 years of prior teaching, eight of which have been in California. She possesses credentials from Illinois, California, and Michigan. She has a strong background in the biological sciences and focuses her teaching strategies around problem solving, conceptual understanding, and addressing real-world problems. She has worked with the Teaching Channel to create demonstration lessons for the Common Core Standards. She has piloted a youth philanthropy project (Project Give) focused on environmental science and climate change. She holds degrees from the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan. Her video lesson featured an investigation on climate-change that culminated a unit of study on global warming.

Mathematics Finalists

Jamie Garner teaches at a mathematics and science magnet school where all subjects are taught through the lens of those disciplines. Her classroom features hands-on, project-based learning activities. She leads a special elective class on “future cities,” where students are given the opportunity to generate model cities that could exist 150 years in the future. Mrs. Garner also provides intensive, after-school instruction for students who may be struggling in mathematics. She is a regional coordinator for PI Day (a day to celebrate the value and contributions of mathematics to our society). Her video focused on a geometry lesson determining the surface area of three-dimensional solids.

Andrew Ivan Kotko is a primary grades teacher and a member of a district-wide team designing project and inquiry-based mathematics lessons. A National Board Certified Teacher, Mr. Kotko has taught in the Folsom-Cordova Unified School District for 10 years and is a graduate of California State University, Sacramento, with a major in physics. He was nominated for the award by a parent of one of his previous students. His video lesson focused on Place Value (Base 10 number systems).

Sara Teressa Norris is the head primary teacher at Mills College Children’s School as well as a mentor to college students who are at various stages of their own professional development, working toward either initial certification or an advanced graduate degree. Ms. Norris is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and has earned a Master of Arts degree from Mills College. Prior to her current position, she taught in a first grade Spanish bilingual classroom in the San Leandro Unified School District. She has a California Multiple Subject Credential with a Cross-cultural Language and Academic Development (CLAD) certificate and Bilingual CLAD certification in Spanish. Her video lesson featured regrouping strategies within addition.

The National Science Foundation administers the PAEMST program on behalf of The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. It represents the highest recognition that a kindergarten through twelfth grade mathematics or science teacher may receive for outstanding teaching in the United States. The program was enacted by Congress in 1983 and authorizes the President to bestow up to 108 awards each year.

Awards are given to mathematics and science teachers from each of the 50 states and four U.S. jurisdictions including Washington, D.C.; Puerto Rico; Department of Defense Schools; and the U.S. territories. Since the program’s inception, 84 California teachers have been named PAEMST recipients. Teachers are recognized for their outstanding contributions to teaching and learning and their ability to help students make progress in mathematics and science and are given expense-paid trips to Washington, D.C. to attend a series of recognition events and professional development opportunities, gifts from program sponsors from around the country, and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation.

For more information about PAEMST and a link to the National PAEMST Web site, please visit the CDE’s Presidential Awards for Math & Science Teaching Web page. For contact information for the national finalists and the state nominees, please contact the CDE Communications Division at 916-319-0818 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              916-319-0818      end_of_the_skype_highlighting or

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

One Response

  1. If a vote is in order, I wholeheartedly cast my vote for Nate Fairchild. I have worked with him (e-mentoring and curriculum development, and online testing), watched him at work (at conferences and e-mentoring), and have enjoyed his generous friendship for about 10 years.
    Larry Flammer
    ENSI Webmaster

Leave a Reply


State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.