schools.jpgTwo Bay Area teachers have been named as state finalists for the 2011-2012 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, according to the California Department of Education.

Kentaro Iwasaki, a math teacher at Mission High School in San Francisco, and Juliana E. Jones, an algebra teacher at Longfellow Magnet Middle School in Berkeley, are among the six California finalists announced by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson on Friday.

The California Department of Education partnered with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the national awards.

Applicants had to display a mastery of math or science, employ life-long learning and show leadership in education outside the classroom, department officials said.
Candidates were also required to submit a 45-minute video lesson in support of their application.

Iwasaki teaches math, while serving as the chair of the mathematics department at Mission High School, a high poverty school with 38 percent of its students learning English, department officials said.

He not only teaches struggling students, but he also excels at teaching honors and advanced placement classes, according to the department. Iwasaki explains the most complex math topics so that students can understand, and then become math teachers themselves, officials said.

Jones has taught algebra at Longfellow Magnet Middle School since 2008. Previously, she was a teacher in the Oakland Unified School District, where she was named Alameda County Teacher of the Year in 2007 and Oakland Teacher of the Year.

A graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles, Jones earned both a bachelor’s degree in math and a master’s degree in education. She was also named the 2005 Mathematics Teacher of the Year for Alameda-Contra Costa counties. Her video focused on factoring, using an area model to determine length and width, officials said.

William Conrad Thill, a statistics and calculus teacher at the Harvard-Westlake School in North Hollywood, was also nominated in the math category.

The science nominees are Dean Andrew Baird, a physics teacher at Rio Americano High School in Sacramento, Ericka Senegar-Mitchell, a biotechnology teacher at Junipero Serra High School in San Diego, and Ziba Mayar, a biology teacher at Temecula Valley High School in Temecula.

The six finalists’ applications will be sent to the National Science Foundation and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for additional consideration for the national awards, which will be determined next year.

The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching are the highest recognition that a kindergarten through twelfth grade math or science teacher can receive for outstanding teaching in the U.S. It awards primary and secondary teachers in alternate years.

Congress enacted the program in 1983 and it authorizes the President to bestow up to 108 awards to math and science teachers in every state and the four U.S. jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, the Department of Defense schools, and the U.S. territories.

Since the program’s inception, 82 California teachers have been named award recipients. More information about the awards can be found at the California Department of Education’s website at

Rachel Purdy, Bay City News

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