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California Department of Education
News Release
Release: #18-58
September 21, 2018
Contact: Dina Fong
Phone: 916-319-0818

State Superintendent Torlakson Congratulates California Math and Science Teachers Receiving Presidential Honors

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today congratulated two California teachers who are among the 104 educators nationwide recently announced by the White House as recipients of the 2016 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). He also announced six outstanding teachers as the 2018 California state finalists.

The California mathematics winner is Gabriela Cárdenas, a first and second grade dual language teacher at the UCLA Lab School, the laboratory for the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies in Los Angeles. The California science winner is Nancy Wright, who teaches grades three through six at Lorin Eden Elementary School and serves as the Science Teacher on Special Assignment for Hayward Unified School District in Hayward, leading the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards  for her district.

“I applaud these teachers who play an essential role in shaping and inspiring our students in the areas of mathematics and science—which is so critical especially in California, where technology reigns, “said Torlakson, a former science teacher. “Their students are our future scientists, engineers, and inventors who can make a huge impact in our country.”

Gabriela Cárdenas earned a bachelor of arts degree in Mexican-American studies with an emphasis on Latinos in education from California State University, Los Angeles, and a master’s in education with an emphasis on curriculum and instruction.

Her focus has been on inquiry, Cognitively Guided Instruction in mathematics and dual language development. She understands the importance of establishing a democratic learning community that respects the voice of all children. She also serves as a mentor to several educators and university students.

Nancy Wright increases students’ wonder for science using hands-on activities. Her work extends beyond the classroom. She teaches after school gifted and talented education, leads the engineering club, and coordinates the school science fair. She supports science teachers through one-on-one coaching and writing sample curriculum, and plans all science professional development for K–12 science teachers in her district. She earned a bachelor of arts in human development from California State University, East Bay. She is certified to teach multiple subjects to elementary students, teach integrated science to students in kindergarten through ninth grade, and teach biological sciences up to twelfth grade.

The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching program is the highest recognition that an elementary or secondary mathematics or science (including computer science) teacher may receive. The program is administered by the National Science Foundation (NSF) on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Presidential Award recipients are honored at the White House and receive a $10,000 special award from the NSF and serve as models for other science and mathematics teachers; help to inspire students to study mathematics and science; and serve as leaders in their disciplines. 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; U.S. Department of Defense Schools; and the U.S. territories.

The California Department of Education partners with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program. Each applicant has 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 is also required to submit a 45-minute video lesson in support of their application.

For more information, visit the CDE’s Presidential Awards for Math and Science Teaching CDE web page or the PAEMST website External link opens in new window or tab.. The teachers may be contacted directly at their respective schools.

Mathematics Finalists

Megan Smith, Lincoln Fundamental (Alternative) Elementary School, Corona Norco Unified School District, Corona. Smith has been teaching for 11 years and currently teaches fifth grade at a public magnet school. She has served as a district professional development co-presenter and allows other teachers to observe her classroom. She serves as an exemplar for district professional development and also produces PowerPoints of instructional materials for the district math resource site.

Robyn Stankiewicz-Van Der Zanden, La Verne Science and Technology Charter, Pomona Unified School District, Pomona. Stankiewicz-Van Der Zanden currently teaches kindergarten at a district-dependent charter school that has a focus on science and technology and has been teaching for 19 years. She is co-authoring a book chapter on the cycle of “Mathematical Modeling in the Kindergarten Classroom.” She recently presented at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ INNOV8 Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, and has worked with the Cotsen Foundation for the Art of Teaching.

Stacy Zagurski, Merlinda Elementary School, West Covina Unified School District, West Covina. Zagurski has been teaching for 36 years and currently teaches kindergarten, but has taught grades K–5. She has presented at math conferences throughout the state, as well as at the Southern California Kindergarten Conference. She co-authored an article titled “Flipping the Hundreds Chart” for the California Mathematics Council journal, The Communicator. She is a life-long learner and continues to pursue math professional development opportunities.

Science Finalists

Anna Gaiter, Plainview Academic Charter Academy, Los Angeles Unified School District, Tujunga. Gaiter has been teaching for 24 years and currently teaches fourth grade. She equips her students with resources that inspire their curiosity by bringing scientists into her classroom, coordinating field trips, providing space for outdoor learning, securing grants, and passing her knowledge and enthusiasm on to her peers. Gaiter represented her peers on state-level committees, such as the California’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Task Force and the Science Instruction Materials Review Panel.

Elizabeth Henderson, California School for the Deaf, Riverside, State Special School, Riverside. Henderson has been teaching for five years and supports her peers by collaboratively developing lessons. She develops student-friendly Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) posters for the deaf and also works with the Rochester Institute of Technology to develop sign language for science terms. She wrote the article titled, “Common Core in the Sciences,” for the California Speech-Language-Hearing Association magazine.

Claudine Phillips, Roscomare Road Elementary School, Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles. Phillips is a second grade teacher and has been teaching for 21 years.  She is a National Board Certified Teacher and is a peer support provider for the Instructional Leadership Core. She is also a Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment consulting teacher.

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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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