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California Department of Education
News Release
Release: #12-72
July 26, 2012
Contact: Communications
Phone: 916-319-0818

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

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 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.

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 Alma Suney Park, a sixth grade teacher at Eastside College Preparatory School, a private school in East Palo Alto, San Mateo 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.

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.
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 Art's 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.

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 or

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

Last Reviewed: Wednesday, March 25, 2020
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