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California Department of Education
News Release
Release: #16-70
September 30, 2016
Contact: Dina Fong
Phone: 916-319-0818

State Schools Chief Congratulates Four Outstanding California Teachers Receiving Presidential Honors

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson congratulated four distinguished teachers who were recently named California winners for the 2014 and 2015 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

The 2015 PAEMST mathematics winner is Maria McClain, who teaches multiple courses at Deer Valley High School in Antioch (Contra Costa County). The 2015 PAEMST science winner is Michael Towne, an engineering and AP physics teacher at Orange Vista High School in Perris (Riverside County).

The 2014 PAEMST mathematics winner is Andrew Kotko, a teacher at Mather Heights Elementary School in Mather (Sacramento County). The 2014 PAEMST science winner is Erica Rood, a teacher at CHIME Charter School in Woodland Hills (Los Angeles County).

“These teachers represent the best of their profession in math and science and are extraordinary role models for their students,” said Torlakson, a former high school science teacher. “Their dedication and expertise prepare our students for successful careers in a technologically advanced world and a global economy.”

The PAEMST award is the highest recognition given to mathematics and science teachers in the nation from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Winners are selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians, and educators following an initial selection process at the state level.

Each year, the award alternates between teachers in the kindergarten through sixth grade level and those teaching seventh through twelfth grade.

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. Torlakson recently announced the 2016 nominees [Note: the preceding link is no longer active].

Winners of this presidential honor receive $10,000 from the National Science Foundation. They are also invited to Washington, D.C., for an awards ceremony, educational events, and visits with members of the Obama Administration.

2014 Mathematics Awardee (Grades K–6 Cohort)

Andrew (Andy) Kotko has been an educator for 14 years and has taught first grade at Mather Heights Elementary School for the past five years. He is a founding teacher of the Folsom Cordova Academy for Advanced Learning, a public magnet school focused on inquiry and project-based learning. By affirming exploration and risk-taking, Kotko instills a foundation of critical thinking and problem-solving in his students.

A National Board Certified Teacher, he earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from California State University, Sacramento. He is certified as an elementary teacher and to teach mathematics and physics through twelfth grade.

2014 Science Awardee (Grades K–6 Cohort)

Erica Rood has spent the last eight years teaching third grade at CHIME Charter School. As an innovator in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education, she has created curriculum for both National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Edwards Air Force Base’s Junior Test Pilot School to inspire elementary students toward STEM disciplines.

She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from UCLA in musical theater and her master's of curriculum and instruction, with distinction, from California State University, Northridge. Erica is an Elementary Education faculty member at California State University.

2015 Mathematics Awardee (Grades 7–12 Cohort)

Maria McClain has been teaching mathematics for 28 years. The last 20 years have been at Deer Valley High School, where she teaches Mastering Algebra I, pre-calculus, AP calculus, and AP statistics. In her role as Mathematics Department Chair, she supports the transition to the Common Core by facilitating professional development and collaboration opportunities for teachers.

McClain earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from California State University, Sacramento. She is certified to teach pre-kindergarten through grade twelve and adult mathematics.

2015 Science Awardee (Grades 7–12 Cohort)

Michael Towne teaches geometry, symbolic logic, and engineering to tenth grade students in the inaugural year of Orange Vista High School. He taught AP Physics and Engineering at Citrus Hill High School for nine years, where his students’ results garnered national attention. His students have won local, regional, and state awards for applied science and engineering projects they designed and built.

Towne received a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from the University of California, Riverside, and a Master of Arts in education from the California State University, San Bernardino. He holds multiple- and single-subject credentials with authorizations in mathematics, physics, and earth science.

For more information, visit the national PAEMST Web site External link opens in new window or tab.. For detailed biographies of the awardees, visit the CDE PAEMST Web site.

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

Last Reviewed: Friday, March 13, 2020
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