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State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2016 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching
Posted 9/26/16

Congratulations Hayward Unified School District teacher's Mia Buljan and Nancy Wright, for being a finalist for the state's Presidential Award for Excellence


California Department of Education News Release 

Release: #16-61


SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated nine outstanding elementary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2016 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).


“I congratulate these remarkable teachers whose dedication and innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college,” said Torlakson. “These teachers are among the best of the best in their field and an inspiration to their students and colleagues.”


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—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher.


Each applicant must demonstrate a mastery of math or science, appropriate use of instructional methods and strategies, lifelong learning, and leadership in education outside the classroom. State finalists were selected by a panel of their peers who reviewed each candidate's content knowledge, teaching effectiveness, achievement results, and professional involvement.

Mathematics Finalists

Anamarie (Mia) Buljan is a second grade teacher at Glassbrook Elementary School in the Hayward Unified School District. She has been teaching for 18 years. She has been a district math coach as well as the Coordinator of Professional Development and the Director of Primary Education for the Silicon Valley Mathematics Initiative. Buljan has written the yearly Tool Kits for teachers for the second grade Mathematics Assessment Resource Service (MARS) assessments. Her teaching has been featured on the Inside Mathematics Web site at


Gabriela Cardenas is a first/second/multiage dual language demonstration teacher at the UCLA Lab School in Los Angeles and has been teaching for 11 years. At UCLA, she has presented on Cognitively Guided Instruction (an inquiry-based approach to teaching mathematics) in a Spanish dual language immersion classroom and has presented at the 2016 Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) meeting in Los Angeles. She has also mentored UCLA students interested in teaching.


Rebecca Jones is a fifth grade teacher at Ocean Air School in the Del Mar Union School District in San Diego and has been teaching for 15 years. She has been a Cognitive Guided Instruction math lead teacher and has led staff development throughout the district, county, and state. Jones served on the district’s math committee, and her school was selected as one of the National Blue Ribbon Schools.


Nancy Villalta is a fourth grade teacher at Moffett Elementary School in the Lennox School District in Los Angeles County. She is a member of the Instructional Leadership Corps, which is an initiative by Stanford University and the California Teachers Association to provide teachers professional development on implementing Common Core Standards. Villalta has been a Math Resource teacher and coach for the district and has been a master teacher for student teachers. She has also presented professional development for her own schools and at Santa Monica City College.


Science Finalists

Dr. Susan Barkdoll is a third grade teacher at North Verdemont Elementary School in the San Bernardino City Unified School District and has been teaching 29 years. At her school site, Dr. Barkdoll raised funds for technology, science, and professional training in science education. She incorporates science education through literature, art, social studies, and mathematics. She also engages with the Engineering Department at California Polytechnic University as a liaison with graduate students completing senior projects in aquaponics.


Saroda Chattopadhyay teaches grades one through six at Grimmer Elementary School in the Fremont Unified School District. She has been teaching for 10 years. Her students utilize Google Apps for Education and various other software to increase their technology skills through collaborative projects. Chattopadhyay holds a master’s of science in electronics and a master’s in telecommunication systems.


Scott MacMillan teaches grades kindergarten through sixth at Heron School in the Natomas Unified School District and has been teaching for 18 years. He plans, develops, and teaches science and engineering labs to students. This includes students with special needs, English language learners, and those in the Gifted and Talented Education program. MacMillan has been a workshop leader at various conferences. He was an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme Coordinator.


Julie McGough is a first/second grade combination teacher at Valley Oaks Elementary School in Clovis Unified School District. She has been teaching for 18 years. McGough is a Master Teacher for California State University, Fresno and Fresno Pacific University. She presented at the National Science Teachers Association Conference in 2016 and has multiple publications. McGough has written regarding the power of questioning and will have publications regarding the power of investigating and the power of assessing. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in philosophy in science education.


Nancy Wright teaches grades three through six at Lorin Eden Elementary School in the Hayward Unified School District and has been teaching for six years. She leads the implementation of the California Next Generation Science Standards for her district by founding and facilitating the district Science Advisory Panel. Wright creates coherence in science instruction district-wide by planning and delivering all science professional development for kindergarten through grade 12 science teachers.


The National Science Foundation administers PAEMST on behalf of The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. PAEMST was enacted by Congress in 1983 and authorizes the President each year to bestow up to 108 awards. PAEMST awards primary and secondary teachers in alternate years. 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, Department of Defense Schools, and the U.S. territories.

For more information, visit the CDE’s Presidential Awards for Math and Science Teaching Web page at, or the PAEMST Web site at


Contact: Dina Fong
Phone: 916-319-0818