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California Department of Education
News Release
Release: #11-47
June 24, 2011
Contact: Tina Jung
Phone: 916-319-0818

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces State
Finalists for Prestigious National Teaching Awards

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated six outstanding secondary teachers as 2011-12 California finalists for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). The national winners will be named next year by the White House.

The math nominees are: William Conrad Thill, an Advanced Placement (AP) statistics and calculus teacher at the independent Harvard-Westlake School in North Hollywood, Los Angeles County; Kentaro Iwasaki, a math teacher and chair of the Mathematics Department at Mission High School in the San Francisco Unified School District, San Francisco County; and Juliana E. Jones, an algebra teacher at Longfellow Magnet Middle School in the Berkeley Unified School District, Alameda County.

The science nominees are: Dean Andrew Baird, a physics teacher at Rio Americano High School in the San Juan Unified School District, Sacramento County; Ericka Senegar-Mitchell, a biotechnology teacher at Junipero Serra High School in the San Diego Unified School District, San Diego County; and Ziba Mayar, a biology teacher at Temecula Valley High School in the Temecula Valley Unified School District, Riverside County.

"As a teacher, it is my honor to recognize these educators and the work they are doing to inspire students in mathematics and science, and prepare them for success in our technology-driven economy," said Torlakson, a science teacher-on-leave from Contra Costa County's Mount Diablo Unified School District. "All six nominees have demonstrated a deep understanding of their respective disciplines. Congratulations and good luck to all of them as they move forward in the national competition."

The California Department of Education 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 life-long learning, and show leadership in education outside the classroom. Each candidate was also required to submit a 45-minute video lesson in support of their application.

Thill has taught upper division math, including AP statistics, pre-calculus, and calculus since 2000 at the Harvard-Westlake school. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in math from the Trinity University and a Master of Arts degree in secondary math education from California State University, Northridge. His video featured a pre-calculus lesson on creating patterns, conjectures, sequences, and proofs.

Iwasaki teaches math and serves as the Chair of the Mathematics Department at Mission High School, a high poverty school with 38 percent of its students learning English. He not only teaches struggling students, but also excels at teaching honors and AP math courses, explaining the most complex math topics in such a way that students can then become teachers of math themselves.

Jones has taught algebra since 2008 at Longfellow Magnet Middle School. Prior to that, she taught in the Oakland Unified School District. She was named in 2007 as the Alameda County Teacher of the Year. Jones, who earned both a Bachelor of Science in math and a Master of Arts in education from the University of California, Los Angeles, was an Oakland Teacher of the Year, the 2005 Mathematics Teacher of the Year for Alameda-Contra Costa counties and a 2007 Alameda County Teacher of the Year. Her video focused on factoring, using an area model to determine length and width.

Baird has taught physics, computer science and electronics, and physical science since 1986 at Rio Americano High School. He is the recipient of numerous local, state, and national recognition awards and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from the University of Michigan and a Master of Science degree in instructional leadership in curriculum and instruction from National University. Baird presented his "Why the Sky is Blue" video that actively explores a variety of alternative explanations through experimentation, demonstration, and discussion.

Senegar-Mitchell has taught biology and biotechnology courses since 2007 at Junipero Serra High School. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry from Loyola Marymount University, a second Bachelor of Science in biology from the California State University, Dominguez Hills; a teaching credential in biological sciences and chemistry from California State University, Fullerton; and a Master of Arts and a Doctorate in Education Psychology from Chapman University. Senegar-Mitchell is San Diego Unified's 2010 High School Teacher of the Year, a San Diego County Teacher of the Year, and a finalist for the California Teacher of the Year. Her video was a laboratory-based lesson focused on mammalian cell culture techniques.

Mayar has taught high school biology courses since 2001 at Temecula Valley High School. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from San Diego State University and was selected as the 2011 Riverside County Science Teacher of the Year. Her video focused on DNA re-combination and used student coaches to instruct and support the learning of other students.

The nominees' applications will now be sent to the National Science Foundation and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for additional consideration for this highly esteemed national award that will be finalized next year. PAEMST is the highest recognition that a kindergarten through twelfth grade math or science teacher may receive for outstanding teaching in the United States. PAEMST was enacted by Congress in 1983 and authorizes the President each year to bestow up to 108 awards to math 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. PAEMST awards primary and secondary teachers in alternate years.

Since the program's inception, 82 California teachers have been named PAEMST recipients. For more information about PAEMST, please visit the California Department of Education's (CDE) 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 or

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Tom Torlakson — State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Communications Division, Room 5602, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100

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