Irvine teacher a finalist in presidential awards program honoring STEM educators

A math teacher from Woodbridge High School in Irvine is in the running for what’s billed as the highest level of national recognition for science, technology, engineering and math educators.

Kristie Donavan, who has been teaching math courses for 13 years, is one of six California finalists in the 2021 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching program, or PAEMST.

Kristie Donavan
Kristie Donavan

Enacted by Congress in 1983, the program is administered by the National Science Foundation on behalf of The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy to recognize teachers who have both deep content knowledge and the ability to motivate and engage students.

The president can present up to 108 awards each year, alternating annually between primary and secondary teachers. Since the program started, more than 5,000 teachers have been recognized for their contributions in the classroom and to their profession.

Donavan, who is one of only three math finalists in the state, has taught math II, enhanced math II, enhanced math III, advanced placement calculus BC and math foundations.

According to a news release from the California Department of Education, she has worked as a teacher on special assignment, where she built relationships with secondary math teachers across the district and led district math teams in creating new math classes, implementing integrated math courses and re-examining high school grading practices. Donavan has also mentored teacher candidates and two early-career teachers.

The other two math finalists are Maria Garcia from Richard Henry Dana Middle School in the El Segundo-based Wiseburn School District and Stephanie Paris of Granada Hills Charter High School in Los Angeles Unified. The three state finalists for science are Garrett Lim of Walnut High School in the Walnut Valley Unified School District, Catherine Messenger of Los Gatos High School in the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District and Zachary Moore of Laguna Blanca School in the Santa Barbara-based Hope Elementary School District.

Presidential Awards for Excellent in Mathematics and Science Teaching logo

“This has been a year full of significant challenges for students — personal, economic and social,” State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said. “The teachers recognized today are giving their students the tools to help them tackle difficulties, find creative solutions, ask questions and be the problem-solvers we need for the challenges of tomorrow.”

“These incredible educational mentors,” he said, “are driving preparation in math, technology, engineering and science, including computer science, that connect students with the world around them and help them grow their skills to persevere in any endeavor.”

The state Department of Education partners with the California Mathematics Council and the California Association of Science Educators to select nominees for the PAEMST program.

Applicants must demonstrate subject mastery, appropriate use of instructional methods and strategies, evidence of lifelong learning and leadership in education outside the classroom. Each candidate is also required to submit a 30-minute video lesson in support of their application.

For more information, visit the CDE’s Presidential Awards for Math and Science Teaching webpage or