Kristie Donavan from Woodbridge High School in the Irvine Unified School District is among seven educators from California to earn what’s considered the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government for science, mathematics, engineering and computer science teaching in kindergarten through grade 12. Along with an invitation to a ceremony in Washington, D.C., each Presidential Award recipient receives $10,000 from the National Science Foundation.
“Let me offer my sincere congratulations to these educators, who we honor for their leadership and instructional practices and how they are inspiring a new generation with passion and talent for science, technology, engineering, and math,” State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said in a news release. “They model excellence in how we prepare California students for the challenges and advancements of the future.”
Enacted by Congress in 1983, the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching — or PAEMST for short — are administered by the National Science Foundation on behalf of The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Awards are presented in all 50 states, recognizing educators who demonstrate deep content knowledge and the ability to motivate and engage students.
Each year, the president can present up to 108 awards, and they alternate annually between primary and secondary teachers. (In 2022-23, teachers in grades seven through 12 were eligible.) To date, more than 5,200 teachers have been recognized.
A leader and mentor
A teacher for 15 years, Donavan currently leads enhanced math III honors, Advanced Placement (AP) calculus BC, and integrated math I courses. Previously, as a teacher on special assignment, she collaborated with secondary math teachers throughout the district and led district math teams in creating new classes, implementing integrated math courses and re-evaluating high school grading practices.
Along with developing guidelines for standards-based grading within her department, Donavan has provided mentorship to aspiring and early-career teachers. A National Board certified teacher, she has delivered presentations at various conferences, including the California Mathematics Council – South, the Orange County Mathematics Council and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Conference in Washington, D.C.
The other math finalists for 2022-23 are Cheyanne Freitas from Dixon High School in the Dixon Unified School District, Richard Kick from Newbury Park High School in the Conejo Valley Unified School District, and Jonathan Southam from New Technology High School in the Napa Valley Unified School District.
In the science category, the finalists are Maria Hernandez-Gonzales from Lorbeer Middle School in the Pomona Unified School District, Amber Lancaster from Raoul Wallenberg High School in the San Francisco Unified School District, and Samantha Stickley from San Marcos Middle School in the San Marcos Unified School District.
The California 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.
The lesson Donavan submitted was taught in her enhanced math III honors class, and it focused on helping students explore the relationship between Cartesian graphs and their corresponding polar graphs.