HENDERSON — Sara Lilley of Clarke Elementary School is bringing her passion to the state level as she is one of the teachers being named as the 2020 North Carolina finalists for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

“With a passion for teaching and building relationships with her students, Sara Lilley makes us all Vance County Schools Proud! We are excited she has been named a finalist and wishing her the best on this journey,” the school district said in a statement via email.

The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) are the highest honors bestowed by the U.S. government specifically for K-12 science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and/or computer science teaching.

Recipients “serve as models for their colleagues, inspiration to their communities, and leaders in the improvement of STEM education.” Since 1983, more than 4,800 teachers have been recognized for their contributions to STEM education. Up to 108 teachers are recognized each year.

The state recognition means much to the school system and Lilley alike.

Lilley, a third-grade math teacher, said in an email that being named a state finalist “is a special honor,” adding that she is “very excited” to represent Vance County Schools at the state level.

Lilley, a mathematics finalist, was nominated for this award by Pam Perry, a former teacher at Clarke Elementary School. “After being nominated, I completed the PAEMST application, which requires a 30-minute videotaped lesson, five essays, and three letters of recommendation,” Lilley said in an email.

Lilley was named one of the 2020 North Carolina finalists for the PAEMST in December.

At the state level, finalists are invited to attend a meeting of the State Board of Education, a luncheon with the state superintendent is held afterward, and each finalist is recognized at the annual NCCTM Math Science conference, Lilley said.

If she is selected as a state winner, she will be invited to a recognition ceremony at the White House.

Each state is permitted to send three finalists to the National Science Foundation’s national selection committee for review, Lilley said. The committee includes 140 people who review the applications and watch the video submissions. The committee selects one winner per state, Lilley said. The White House will announce the results of the national selection process and the “timing of the announcement depends largely on the White House schedule.”

Lilley, who has worked at Clarke Elementary School for the past 11 years, said she thinks she was named a state finalist for the PAEMST because she’s “passionate” about quality math instruction. “I incorporate real-world applications into my teaching so that my students are able to see that their learning is relevant to life outside of the classroom,” Lilley said.

Lilley said she enjoys working at Clarke because the entire staff works together to achieve what she referred to as “the best possible outcomes for our students.”

“I strongly believe that each student who comes into my classroom already has the innate ability and the tools to be successful in order to achieve their goals,” Lilley said. “It is my job as their teacher to help them learn how to use those tools.”