Idaho math teachers named finalists for Presidential Award

Three Idaho educators have been named finalists for the country’s highest award for math and science teachers.

Derting, Jay
Jay Derting

On Thursday, the State Department of Education announced state finalists for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching: Genesee’s Jay Derting, Sandpoint Middle School’s Kathy Prummer and Mary Towler from Compass Academy in Idaho Falls.

Each of the three finalists “are outstanding teachers who create environments where students feel safe to take risks mathematically and have fun,” said Christine Avila, director of the State Department of Education’s mathematics program.

“It honors highly skilled and highly talented education professionals,” Avila said. “They’re all spectacular.”

A National Science Foundation panel will select Idaho’s award recipient.

About the finalists

Jay Derting. Avila credited Derting with being “an inspiration to the community,” one award criteria. The Derting family, who live in Clarkston, Wash., have helped start an education center serving more than 250 homeless children in Madagascar. The family has helped 37 foster children, adopting four of them.

Prummer, Kathy
Kathy Prummer

Inside his Genesee classroom, Derting believes in taking a holistic approach to math, rather than forcing student to simply memorize formulas. Often, his students work collaboratively on complex math problems with real-world applications.

“I often get asked by my students, ‘Are you a real math teacher?’” Derting said in a statement released by the SDE. “But I have a lot of freedom in my school. The administration trusts me.”

Kathy Prummer. Prummer teaches seventh grade at Sandpoint Middle School, where she also focuses on inspiring students with real-world applications for math. She believes that professional development is essential to helping teachers succeed under the Idaho Core Standards in math.

“Prior to Idaho Core, we cut apart math concepts and spoon-fed students little pieces of math that really had no real-world application of any value, nor did it prepare them to truly solve problems,” Prummer said in statement. “In order to effectively implement this higher level of expectation, teachers need appropriate training. And that requires funding.”

Mary Towler. Towler is a fourth-generation math teacher who has amassed 25 years of teaching experience in the Idaho Falls area — first at Clair E. Gale Junior High School and then at Compass Academy, joining the school when it opened in 2012. She holds a master’s of science degree from the University of Iowa and believes challenging material can inspire students success.

Towler, Mary
Mary Towler

“Most kids say they don’t like math and dread having to take a math course,” Towler said in a statement. “I think students will rise to the challenge if given the chance. Given the right level of challenge, along with the right amount of support, students can have success in math.”