Davis, Szatko receive Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Pamela Petersen, Alicia Davis, Rochelle Settles and Melissa Szatko
Pamela Petersen, Alicia Davis, Rochelle Settles and Melissa Szatko

Four Nebraska teachers won Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) in October 2019. This cohort of awardees represent two nomination years, one of teachers in kindergarten through 6th grade classrooms (2018) and the other in 7th through 12th grade classrooms (2017).

Both winners in mathematics have connections to our NebraskaMATH community, one through Primarily Math and the other through Nebraska Math and Science Summer Institutes and NebraskaNOYCE.

Noyce Master Teaching Fellow Alicia Davis, of Scott Middle School in Lincoln Public Schools, was a Nebraska winner for mathematics in Grades 7–12, and Primarily Math graduate Melissa Szatko, a first-grade teacher at Indian Hill Elementary in Omaha Public Schools, was a winner for Grades K–6.

The science winners for Nebraska were Rochelle Settles of Fredstrom Elementary School in Lincoln Public Schools for Grades K–6 in science and Pamela Petersen of York for Grades 7–12 in science.

When Davis began taking math courses from UNL in 2008, she was a middle-level math teacher in Hastings with a B.A. from Hastings College and an M.A. in educational administration from UNK. But, her love of math and learning didn’t stop there. After taking an NMSSI course in Hastings, she decided to earn her Master of Arts for Teachers degree (https://www.math.unl.edu/mat-degree) from UNL and graduated in 2013. All this led to her selection as a Noyce Master Teacher; earning National Board Certification; and selection as a Presidential Award winner.

Szatko was part of a Primarily Math cohort that focused on teachers at Indian Hill and Fontenelle elementary schools and was funded by the Sherwood and Lozier foundations, in the Omaha Public Schools Teacher Leader Academy.

“Participating in Primarily Math was a game-changer for my teaching,” Szatko said. “I absolutely loved the program and owe a lot of this award to the knowledge and experiences I gained through it. Along with Primarily Math, my math coach Matt Timm was a huge support for me as well. I feel extremely blessed to have had such great support.”

The awards ceremony was Oct. 17, 2019, in Washington, DC. PAEMST is the highest recognition that a kindergarten through 12th grade science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and/or computer science teacher may receive for outstanding teaching in the United States. Up to 108 teachers are recognized each year.

Alicia Davis (https://www.paemst.org/finalist_profile/4860) has taught eighth-grade mathematics at Scott Middle School since 2013. From 2002 to 2013, she taught mathematics at Hastings Middle School. She currently teaches Algebra, Pre-Algebra, and Mathematics Intervention. Alicia is known for her development of rich mathematical tasks, use of collaborative teams in the classroom, and ability to connect with and inspire all levels of learners. She encourages her students to understand mathematics at a conceptual level, to make connections to the real world and to view themselves as mathematicians. Alicia mentors many student teachers and leads professional development courses across the state. She is the secretary of the Nebraska Association of Teachers of Mathematics. She has presented on engaging all learners in meaningful mathematics tasks at several conferences and has published an article in Mathematics Teacher. Alicia earned a BA in mathematics and mathematics education from Hastings College, an MA in educational administration from the University of Nebraska at Kearney and a MAT with an emphasis in mathematics from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Alicia is a National Board Certified Teacher in early adolescent mathematics. She is certified in 7-12 mathematics.

"My participation in the Noyce Master Teacher Fellowship propelled me as a leader in my field," Davis said. "Dr. Jim Lewis and Dr. Wendy Smith fostered my passion for mathematics education, fueled my desire to refine my instruction to align with best practices, and encouraged me to seek leadership opportunities to expand my sphere of influence. My colleagues in the program are a network of distinguished educators who continue to encourage and support my growth as an educator years after our formal program has ended."

Melissa Szatko (https://www.paemst.org/finalist_profile/5011) has been an educator for 12 years. She has taught all subjects to first grade at Indian Hill Elementary School the past seven years, five of which included co-teaching. Her career started with teaching preschool at Brownell-Talbot School where she taught for five years. Melissa completed the Primarily Math program offered by Omaha Public Schools and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, which certified her as a K-3 Mathematics Specialist. It was during this program that she began transforming her mathematics instruction. She went from using traditional procedural techniques to providing her students the time to explore and develop mathematical strategies. Melissa uses high-cognitive, meaningful tasks along with discourse to help students develop a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts. Melissa’s leadership experiences have included being a first grade team leader and a new teacher mentor. She has also assisted in professional development training and teaching parent mathematics classes. Melissa earned a BS, cum laude, in elementary education from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She received an MA in teaching, learning, and teacher education from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She is a certified elementary teacher.

Presidential Awardees receive a certificate signed by the President of the United States; a trip to Washington, DC to attend a series of recognition events and professional development opportunities; and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation.

Awardees also join an active network of outstanding educators from throughout the nation. Since 1983, more than 5,000 teachers have been recognized for their contributions in the classroom and to their profession. Awardees reflect the expertise and dedication of the Nation’s teaching corps, and they demonstrate the positive impact of excellent teachers on student achievement.