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California Department of Education
News Release
Release: #15-77
October 20, 2015
Contact: Communications
Phone: 916-319-0818

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2015 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated 10 outstanding secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2015 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

"These remarkable teachers are dedicated, passionate, knowledgeable, and use innovative teaching methods that help prepare our students to thrive in a world in which technology changes at a breathtaking pace," Torlakson said. "They are helping to turn our students into problem solvers who can be the innovators and inventors of tomorrow."

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—the highest recognition in the nation for a math or science teacher. State finalists were selected by a review panel of their peers who reviewed each candidate's content knowledge, pedagogical effectiveness, achievement results, and professional involvement.

Mathematics Finalists

Katharine Clemmer is a math teacher at El Segundo High School in the El Segundo Unified School District. She has been teaching for 22 years. She taught the Secondary Math Methods course at Loyola Marymount University for 15 years and helped create the Mathematics Leadership Corps to provide training to kindergarten through grade twelve math teachers.

Clayton Dagler is a math teacher at Luther Burbank High School in the Sacramento City Unified School District. He has been teaching for 15 years. He has been a trainer for the University of California, Davis C-STEM (Computing, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) program. The program provides a variety of formal and informal educational activities designed to help prepare students for college and careers. He was the 2013 C-STEM Teacher of the Year at the UC Davis Center for Integrated Computing and STEM Education.

Genevieve Esmende is a teacher and mathematics department chair at Wangenheim Middle School in San Diego Unified School District. She has been teaching for a total of 15 years. She is a Master Teacher Fellow for Math for America San Diego through which she mentors new middle school math teachers.

Maria McClain is a math teacher at Deer Valley High School in the Antioch Unified School District. She has been teaching for 26 years. She achieved National Board Certification in 2003 and recertification in 2013. She was a leader in creating the California Academic Partnership Program, which develops curriculum and professional development for teachers to support the Common Core mathematical practice standards, which promote critical thinking and problem-solving skills

Kathleen McHeffey is a math teacher at Meadowbrook Middle School in the Poway Unified School District. She has been teaching for 25 years. She achieved National Board Certification in 1999 and recertification in 2009. She is a leader who helps plan and present professional development throughout the Poway Unified School District.

Science Finalists

Dean Reese is a physics teacher at Tracy High School in the Tracy Joint Unified School District. He has been teaching for 13 years. He has served as a Content Area Specialist for the University of Pacific Science Teacher Credentialing program. Reese is a National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent and Young Adult Science. Since 2007, he has served as a Faculty Scholar at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Michael Towne is a physics and engineering teacher at Citrus Hill High School in the Val Verde Unified School District. He has been teaching for 13 years. Towne helped design and implement an aquaponics program, which won the Golden Bell Award for innovative programs in 2013. He also established an on-campus program including a tilapia breeding, research and development, and a production facility for vegetables and germination. Towne also developed a program of on-campus science camps for elementary and middle school students. He addressed the U.S. Congress on behalf of the College Board due to his work with students in his Advanced Placement Physics course.

Jill Grace is a science teacher at Palos Verdes Intermediate School in Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District. She has been teaching for 16 years. Grace is a lecturer in the Science Education Department at California State University, Long Beach. Since 2013, she has been on the Board of Directors for the California Science Teachers Association. She has been involved in the transition and implementation of the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS) as a member of the NGSS Implementation Plan Strategic Leadership Team, a teacher stakeholder of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress Science Stakeholder Meeting.

Jon Paul Ewing is a physics and anatomy teacher at Paso Robles High School in Paso Robles Joint Unified School District. He has been teaching for 10 years. Ewing brings in medical professionals to talk to his students and works closely with the biology department at the California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo. In addition, he worked with colleagues in the science department to develop the Science Honor Cord recognition for eligible graduating seniors.

Brian Grigsby is the science department chair at Shasta High School in Shasta Union High School District. He has been teaching for 22 years. He currently teaches a space science and robotics class, which is a dual enrollment course that allows students high school and college credit. He is the creator and coordinator of three national programs through the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that teach students and teachers how to conduct research with authentic NASA spacecraft data.

The National Science Foundation administers this awards program on behalf of The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. 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.

# # # #

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

Last Reviewed: Tuesday, April 28, 2020
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