Three Maine teachers finalists for science, math awards

Correction: This press release has been corrected to note that Ken Vencile is currently a biology teacher at Camden Hills Regional High School and has been a teacher for 14 years, but not all of them at Camden Hills.

AUGUSTA – Two science teachers and one math teacher from Maine have been announced as finalists for the 2011 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. The National Science Foundation, which is known for its rigorous selection process, will select up to one mathematics and one science winner per state to be recognized next spring in Washington, D.C.

The three Maine teachers are: Diana Jacobe, a math teacher at Bonny Eagle High School in Standish; Bonnie Burne, a 7th grade teacher at Pemetic Elementary School in Southwest Harbor; and Ken Vencile, a biology teacher at Camden Hills Regional High School.

The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching is awarded annually to exemplary K-12 science and math teachers from across the country. The winners are selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians, and educators following an initial selection process carried out at the state level. Each year, the award alternates between elementary and secondary education, going either to science and math teachers in grades K through 6 (as it did for the 2011 finalists) or to those teaching in grades 7 through 12.

Winners of the Presidential Teaching Award receive $10,000 awards from the National Science Foundation to be used at their discretion. They also receive an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for a White House awards ceremony and several days of educational and celebratory events, including visits with members of Congress and science agency leaders.

Jacobe, who teaches Algebra II, Honors Algebra II, and Pre-Calculus at Bonny Eagle High School in Regional School Unit 6, has taught for 19 years and has been the Mathematics Department chair since 2006. She has been involved in work at her school district to improve K-12 mathematics education through implementation of a system of interventions to help under-achieving students and creating inter-disciplinary units.

“She integrates technology and literacy into the classroom to help deepen students’ understanding of mathematics in an engaging way,” said Michele Mailhot, mathematics specialist for the Maine Department of Education and a Presidential Award coordinator for Maine.

Burne, who teaches 7th grade science in Southwest Harbor, part of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, is a mentor teacher for College of the Atlantic students and a teacher leader for Youth as Citizen Scientists, a project to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning. She is a recipient of the Governor’s Award for Exemplary Service and Volunteerism, and received the Golden Apple Exemplary Educator Award from the Mount Desert Island Rotary Club.

Anita Bernhardt, science specialist for the Maine Department of Education and the other Presidential Award coordinator for Maine, said she was impressed by Burne’s use of “formative assessments.”

“She uses open-ended questions to understand students’ preconceptions of a topic, and then works with them to build customized experiments that will help them explore the concepts further,” Bernhardt said.

Ken Vencile has taught for 14 years. He currently teaches biology at Camden Hills Regional High School, part of the Five Towns Community School District. He is certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which also requires a rigorous process for selection. Vencile is involved in local student activities, including as the sophomore class advisor. He has worked in his district to improve literacy in science and to integrate technology, and has served as a student teacher mentor. He has co-authored three scientific journal articles on soft shell clams.

“He finds everyday examples and experiences that help students understand complex science concepts,” Bernhardt said.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said he was especially proud to have three teachers with such high qualifications as Maine candidates for this year’s awards.

“It’s clear that as a nation and a state we must focus more attention on the STEM areas,” Bowen said. “We are proud of the work these teachers are doing, and of the efforts we have been making as a state to bolster teaching and learning in these fields. My only regret is that the National Science Foundation can recognize only one finalist each in Mathematics and Science as winners.”

David Connerty-Marin | Maine Department of Education | 207-624-6880

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