By Stephen Seitz
LUDLOW — Ludlow Elementary School science teacher Lisa Marks returned home from Washington, D.C., last week as one of four Vermont teachers to have received an award for excellence in teaching from President Obama.
The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching is the nation’s highest honor for American math and science teachers for grades K-12. Marks said principal Karen Tromboli nominated her.
“I wasn’t going to do it,” Marks said. “It takes a lot of hours and a lot of work, but they encouraged me.” Marks said she prefers a hands-on approach to teaching. “It’s about relating science to the world around the students.”
Marks said the process entailed videotaping her class and answering a number of questions: how the teachers relate to their students, and how they prepare the students for the next generation of science standards.
“A lot of it concerns critical thinking, teaching philosophy, how I gauge the students,” she said. “That goes to a panel for the state, and they pick the finalists. The finalists get to go to Washington to face another panel,” this one selected by the National Science Foundation.
“I was fortunate to have Jenn Harper and Ann Thompson from Cavendish Elementary helping me,” Marks said. “They’re previous winners, and they mentored me through the process.”
From there, the waiting begins. Winnowing the candidates takes time, including President Barack Obama reading through some of the submissions.
Marks said she learned she was a state finalist last July, and in October, the FBI wanted to do a background check.
“I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone outside my family,” Marks said. “I had to wait for the press release.”
During the four-day trip to Washington, the teachers got to meet such dignitaries as the secretaries of Energy and Education, as well as visiting the museums.
“I saw it all,” Marks said. “The Holocaust Museum was the most powerful, and there’s nothing more breathtaking than the Lincoln Memorial.”
There was only one thing missing at the Sept. 8 ceremony: President Obama.
“He was supposed to attend, but he had to be in Asia,” she said. “But he did sign the awards.”
According to the state Department of Education, a total of 213 educators were awarded from all 50 states. Besides Marks, the other Vermont winners were Laura Botte-Fretz, a mathematics teacher at Edmunds Middle School in Burlington, also in the elementary division; Katherine McCann, a mathematics teacher at U-32 Middle High School; and Mary Louise McLaughlin, a science teacher at Barre Town Middle and Elementary School.
“These Vermont science educators have demonstrated exemplary accomplishments in their content learning, pedagogy, ongoing self-improvement, and leadership,” said Gail Hall, a science specialist at the Vt. Agency of Education. “We congratulate them on this well-deserved recognition.”
Lisa Marks (center) with two of her students, Josh Buckley (left) and Riley Paul (right).