Point Boro High's John McAllen Wins Presidential Award for Teaching Excellence
The United States Census Bureau has projected an estimated 3.2 million high school diplomas will be awarded at commencement ceremonies taking place this time of year at schools across the country. While the individual ceremonies will undoubtedly differ, reflecting diverse cultural and geographical customs, the universal element, uniting the various ceremonies, is the underlying theme communicated in the commencement speeches - the challenge for graduates to make the world a better place.
Variations of this message are articulated in thousands of different ways and supported by an equal number of meaningful quotes, in graduation speeches across the globe. The theme’s persistence reflects the desire to affect positive change in the world, a quality shared by all effective educators. But what prevents the message from being reduced to mere platitudes, are relatable examples of those who put the concept into action, often culled from history, literature or popular culture. Rarely are students presented with a reference to whom they are personally familiar. Point Pleasant Borough High School’s Class of 2012 is one noteworthy exception.
On Wednesday, June 13th as Point Pleasant Borough High School Principal Linda Rocco wrapped up her commencement address, she applauded the positive legacy the Class of 2012 leaves the school, telling the graduates, “Take pride in the fact that Point Pleasant Borough High School is a much better place because you were here.”
After extending her final congratulations to the grads, Principal Rocco concluded her speech with a special announcement regarding one of the school’s most influential teachers.
“I have some very exciting news to share about one of our teachers, who has touched the lives of so many here today,” she said. “I am so proud to announce that Mr. John McAllen has been named recipient of The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching! Mr. McAllen was selected to represent New Jersey and is one of only 46 mathematics teachers in the nation to the receive this honor. He will travel to the White House later this month to receive his award from President Obama.”
As the audience registered the news that one of Point Pleasant Borough High School’s most beloved teachers was receiving The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching, the highest honor the nation can bestow on math teachers, the guests, understandably, erupted into thunderous applause. The audience response, however, was subdued in comparison to the reaction from the students, who simultaneously jumped to their feet in ovation for the teacher responsible for reinvigorating the high school’s calculus program and inspiring legions of Point Borough graduates to pursue futures in engineering.
“I generally avoid making such gradiose statements, but I can say, without pretense, that the world is a better place because of John McAllen,” said Principal Rocco. “While there may be some dissent over specifically which of his many contributions to the world have had a greater impact, I believe we can all agree with the empirical statement, that Mr. McAllen has positively changed the world.”
But considering the diversity of his accomplishments, there may be strong opinions on which were more influential.
The recipients of any of the five different biomedical innovations, designed and patented by John McAllen, would likely indicate the healing benefits of the absorbable devices, in which he specialized, as the most important of his contributions.
His students from his 13 years teaching at Point Pleasant Borough High School, the participants on the math team he advises, or those he tutors during lunch and after school, might say Mr. McAllen’s biggest influence is in the way he communicates complex mathematical concepts in a relatable fashion and connects classroom lessons to practical, real world applications.
McAllen’s peers may cite his willingness to collaborate with others and to support those in need, while his administrators would extol his leadership skills and engaging teaching manner as having the biggest affect on the school’s learning dynamic.
“Of all of his many impressive accomplishments thus far, I believe John McAllen’s greatest achievement has yet to be come, revealed by the futures of his students,” added Ms. Rocco.
“Political leaders and education officials agree that a strong educational foundation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, fields of study, are key to our nation’s future competitiveness in the global marketplace,” said Superintendent of Point Pleasant Borough Schools Vincent S. Smith. “Our nation is in the midst of unprecedented changes to our public education system, reflecting the need to enhance STEM education opportunities. National initiatives to support this goal include, increased funding and grant opportunities for educational efforts targeting STEM subjects as well as national and state recognition programs for outstanding educators of STEM subjects. The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching is one such award.”
According to the Superintendent, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) is presented annually to the best pre-college-level science and mathematics teachers in the country, as determined by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians, and educators, following an initial state level selection process.
“After a lengthy nomination and application process, spanning more than a year, Mr. McAllen was notified earlier this week that he was named New Jersey’s PAEMST recipient for math, besting a pool of nominees comprised of some of the state’s most distinguished mathematics teachers,” said Superintendent Smith.
The process began, he said, with an initial nomination letter submitted by the District’s Mathematics Supervisor, Barbara Hanna.
“John McAllen is a superior educator,” Ms. Hanna wrote in the initial nomination letter. “He exudes an unswerving passion for mathematics and learning as well as an energy level that establishes a dynamic classroom atmosphere with consistently high expectations. John’s expertise allows him to choose appropriate goals to pursue with his students.”
The nomination letter also detailed McAllen’s role in making Point Pleasant Borough High School a local leader in Advanced Placement Calculus achievement.
“John McAllen is personally responsible for developing our Advanced Placement Calculus program,” read the letter. “School enrollment in AP Calculus has more than quadrupled since John started teaching the class. Although our total student population is small compared to other high schools, we have the largest percentage of students taking the AP Calculus exam.”
His achievements outlined in the nomination letter and later Mr. McAllen’s personal application, narrative and video demonstrated his content knowledge and exemplary pedagogical skills, catching the attention of decision makers on the State and then the national level.
“In December 2011, I was notified of my State finalist standing,” said John McAllen, 41, Point Pleasant. “Myself, along with the other State finalists, attended a State Board of Education meeting for recognition where we were each presented with a plaque. I hadn’t heard anything since December until Tuesday when I was driving home.”
On Tuesday, June 11th, McAllen was notified of his selection as New Jersey’s math teacher recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, joining 96 elite educators from across the nation as the winners of the 2011 PAEMST.
Later this month, all 97 PAEMST recipients will travel to Washington DC for a two-day event that will include educational and celebratory events, visits with members of Congress and the Obama administration, as well as the presentation of their awards, including a $10,000 cash prize from the National Science Foundation, to be used at the awardees’ discretion.
The award is a well-deserved affirmation for an engineer-turned-educator, a process that facilitated by a chance encounter with former Point Pleasant High School Principal John Staryak.
“In the spring of 2000, I was working in biomedical engineering and my wife Regina was a teacher, here in the district,” said Mr. McAllen. “My parents were teachers, my wife is a teacher and I had always had a profound respect for teachers, which was what influenced me to pursue alternate route teaching certification while working as an engineer. A casual discussion with Principal Staryak turned into plans for a formal interview and I began teaching in September 2000.”
And by all accounts, it has been a remarkable 12 years, during which time Mr. McAllen increased both enrollment and achievement in Calculus, while expanding the District’s Calculus course offerings. As advisor of the Math Club, he has recruited more students than any other high school in the county. Last year, he was named the recipient of the Governor’s Teacher of the Year Award, and now, with the PAEMST, he has solidified his standing as one of the nation.
“The students of Point Pleasant Borough Schools continue to achieve at extraordinarily high levels, a tribute to the dedication and commitment of our teaching staff,” said Superintendent Smith. “Point Pleasant Borough teachers have been the recipients of a multitude of local, state and national awards in recognition of their teaching excellence. It was only a matter of time before the leader of the free world, President of the United States of America, President Obama, took notice.”
Since 1983, more than 4,100 teachers have been recognized for their contributions in the classroom and to their profession. Awardees serve as models for their colleagues, inspiration to their communities, and leaders in the improvement of mathematics and science education.
Each year, the award alternates between teachers teaching kindergarten through 6th grade and those teaching 7th through 12th grades.