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Six Tennessee Teachers Named State Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching

Thursday, May 27, 2021 | 09:20am


National Awards Recognize Top STEM Educators Across Nation

Nashville, TN—Today, the Tennessee Department of Education announced that six Tennessee teachers have been named state finalists for the prestigious Presidential Awards in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST), the highest honor for U.S. K-12 science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and/or computer science teachers.

Administered by the National Science Foundation (NSF) on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the PAEMST program recognizes awardees for their contributions to teaching and learning, along with their ability to help students make progress in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and/or computer science. In addition to honoring individual achievement, the goal of the awards program is to showcase the highest standards of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teaching.

“These finalists represent the most outstanding STEM teachers Tennessee has to offer and this recognition of their work and passion is a true inspiration to students and fellow teachers,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “We applaud and celebrate their hard work, their many sacrifices on behalf of their students and their commitment to STEM education.”

The 2021 Tennessee state finalists are:

  • Natalie Boyd, Math, Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Phillip Cutshaw, Math, South Greene High School, Greene County Schools 
  • Monica White, Math, Holloway High School, Rutherford County Schools 
  • Jesse Hillis, Science, Signal Mountain Middle High School, Hamilton County Schools
  • Chikezie Madu, Science, White Station High School, Shelby County Schools
  • Bethany Saunders, Science, Hardin Valley Middle School, Knox County Schools  

Each of the state finalists will now move on to the national selection committee, who will identify up to two teachers—one in mathematics and one in science—from each state.

Teachers who are selected as PAEMST awardees receive a trip to Washington, D.C., where they attend a series of recognition events and professional development opportunities. They also receive a $10,000 award from NSF, a Presidential certificate, and join an elite cohort of award-winning teachers who can influence state and national STEM teaching.

Former award recipients and state scoring committee members, along with elected officials, commented on this prestigious achievement for these educators, saying:

“I would like to congratulate Hardin Valley Middle School’s Bethany Saunders for this achievement for Knox County Schools,” said Lt. Gov. Randy McNally. “Our schools are increasingly some of the best in the nation and I am grateful we are recognizing those teachers who are inspiring our children to achieve – especially in the areas of math and science.”

“As any true teacher at heart, sharing our passion for learning as a way of life is our mission,” said Huguette Williams, Math Teacher at Sevier County Schools, 2019 National Awardee in Math, Member of the 2021 PAEMST Scoring Committee. “Being a recipient of the Presidential Award is the recognition of the value of my work and an encouragement to continue to grow but also inspire others. It is an award I owe to every student whose needs or curiosity challenge me to better myself, and to the excellent educators around me who inspire me. Receiving the award gave me the confidence I needed to step into a leadership position and opened the door to new opportunities. These finalists are the teachers every parent would want for their children.”

“These innovative Tennessee educators have demonstrated excellence in creating new opportunities for children to engage in STEM education and computer science,” said State Sen. Education Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey. “They are incredibly deserving of this recognition and represent the exceptional talent we have in our teachers in Tennessee.  A special word of congratulations to Chikezie Madu in my senatorial district at White Station High School who received the award.”

“Congratulations to all of these teachers for being recognized on the national stage as one of the very best educators in America,” said State Sen. Steve Southerland. “A special congratulations to Phillip Cutshaw from South Greene High School in my senatorial district. It is an honor to recognize his accomplishments in educational excellence for Greene County students.”

“As an educator for over 30 years, an advocate for STEM education, and a former PAEMST finalist, participating in the PAEMST program has been an inspiring and rewarding experience,” said Dr. Marcia Millet, Head of the Department of Teaching & Learning at Tennessee State University, Member of the 2021 PAEMST Scoring Committee. “This year’s nominees were exceptional which made reviewing their applications both exhilarating yet challenging. Their ability to teach effectively during a pandemic shows that the future of teaching is extremely bright.”

“Rutherford County is blessed with excellent schools and committed educators,” said State Sen. Dawn White. “Mrs. White’s selection as a state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching highlights the tremendous work happening in our schools. Congratulations to Monica on this recognition. It is certainly well deserved!”

“Jesse Hillis continues a tradition of academic and instructional excellence that is the standard at Signal Mountain Middle High School,” said State Sen. Bo Watson. “This is a well-deserved recognition.”

“I am tremendously proud of the hard work taking place at Signal Mountain Middle School,” said State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood. “Effective teachers like Jesse Hillis exemplify what it means to go above and beyond for their students. I congratulate everyone for their commitment to academic excellence.”

“Phillip Cutshaw is without a doubt the best of the best,” said State Rep. Jeremy Faison. “This is an incredible honor for an educator to receive, and we are proud that one of our own has been recognized for their contributions to our children and our community. I congratulate all the recipients on their outstanding achievements and thank Mr. Cutshaw for his continued commitment to shaping the next generation of Tennesseans.” 

“Dr. Chikezie Madu is one of Shelby County’s finest educators,” said State Rep. John Gillespie. “His talents and dedication to engaging and educating our students have not gone unnoticed. I congratulate Dr. Madu for being selected to receive this outstanding award and thank all of the recipients for making a difference in the lives of so many young Tennesseans.”

“I congratulate Monica White for receiving such a prestigious award as being named a state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching,” said State Rep. Tim Rudd. “It also says a lot about Rutherford County Schools and Holloway High for having one of the Nation’s best teachers on staff.”

Established by Congress in 1983, the PAEMST program authorizes the President of the United States to bestow up to 108 awards each year. Awardees serve as models for their colleagues, inspiration to their communities, and leaders in the improvement of mathematics and science education.

Principals, teachers, parents, students, or members of the general public may nominate exceptional mathematics and science (including computer science) teachers at Awards alternate each year between elementary and secondary teachers. In the 2021 award cycle, nominees are science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and/or computer science teachers working in grades 7-12.

Learn more about the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST), including eligibility requirements and how to nominate a teacher, here.

For Tennessee Department of Education media inquiries, contact