Eastside Prep teacher honored by president

Former Gunn math teacher receives Presidential Award

Marianne Chowning-Dray, a math teacher at Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alto, was one of 108 teachers in the country to receive this year's prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching from President Barack Obama.

The award is given annually to "outstanding" K-12 science and mathematics teachers who are selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians and educators following an initial selection process done at the state level, according to a White House press release.

Each year the award switches between educators teaching kindergarten through 6th grade and those teaching 7th through 12th grades. This year's awardees, named last week, teach 7th through 12th grades.

Chowning-Dray is a Palo Alto native and Gunn High School graduate who taught calculus at Gunn for nine years before joining the Eastside faculty in 2005. She said toward the end of her time at Gunn, she got to know the Eastside community through helping a teacher she knew get an Advanced Placement (AP) calculus program off the ground. Soon after, the school received funding to expand its math sequence to include BC calculus, the next level after AB calculus, and needed someone to help them develop the class.

"I had gotten to know the school and was just really moved and motivated by their mission," Chowning-Dray said Thursday. "It (the BC calculus class) fit my skill set and just felt like the right place for me at the time and it has been."

Eastside is an independent school that serves middle and high school students who have significant financial need and would be the first in their families to go to college. In a 2013 Palo Alto Weekly story on Eastside's efforts to close the achievement gap, Chowning-Dray described the school's culture: "It's assumed that everyone will participate, everyone can do this, that all students can achieve at a high level. We don't take no for an answer."

Chowning-Dray said she drew on her experience in the Gunn math department to create a BC calculus program that closely mirrors that of her former school. By her second year, a group of Eastside students were already taking the new, more advanced class. Now in her eighth year at Eastside, about one-third of the student population is in the class each year.

"With an AP pass rate of at least 80 percent over the last seven years, the program speaks to the fact that when students are immersed in high expectations and given the necessary supports, possibilities are boundless," reads a profile on Chowning-Dray on the Presidential Award website.

All students at Eastside are required to take five years of math, with a double load their freshman years, Chowning-Dray said.

"Every student at Eastside really has a very robust experience across disciplines, but I think they really have emphasized math and science and tried to develop their STEM preparation classes to help students move toward that in college if that's their interest.

"What we've noticed is that when they get to college, they already have that in their pocket so they're ready to progress in a STEM-related field if that's what they choose," she added. "That's really powerful."

Chowning-Dray also noted that this is the second year in a row an Eastside teacher has received the Presidential Award. Last year, sixth-grade math teacher Suney Park won.

Chowning-Dray was one of California's two winning teachers. On top of presidential bragging rights, the winners receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation to be used at their discretion. (She has not yet determined how she'll use it.) They also are invited to Washington, DC, for an awards ceremony later this summer, plus events and meetings with members of the Obama administration.

"These teachers are shaping America's success through their passion for math and science," President Obama said in the press release. "Their leadership and commitment empower our children to think critically and creatively about science, technology, engineering, and math. The work these teachers are doing in our classrooms today will help ensure that America stays on the cutting edge tomorrow."

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15 people like this
Posted by the truth
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 9, 2015 at 9:51 am

This is a great story about a person who loves to teach and is passionate about her job and kids!

On the flip side before people get on here and start saying or questioning how Eastside educates the less fortunate and is very successful at it and why does Paly and other schools fail in PAUSD the fact is Eastside has a very tough application process and CHOOSES their students very carefully. I know this for a fact because I tried to get a Jordan student from EPA in and he was refused because of his average grades and over-all work ethic throughout his three years at Jordan. Eastside only takes kids who really want to work hard and are willing to work harder and longer. In essence THESE KIDS WANT IT and the great staff at Eastside deliver. If a student does not deliver he or she will be asked to leave. Parent participation is also expected!

The kids want it and parents also want it for their kids.

15 people like this
Posted by mk
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 9, 2015 at 11:08 am

wow big congrat, what a wonderful story:)

11 people like this
Posted by Parent of two former Eastside graduates
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 9, 2015 at 11:39 am

Congratulations Marianne!
Eastside teachers rocks

11 people like this
Posted by John Jacobs, Eastside Volunteer
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 9, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Once again, another fabulous teacher from Eastside is recognized for her exceptional work and dedication to the students and their success.

Regarding "Truth's" comments above, they are an oversimplification of the Eastside admissions process. While it's true that Eastside does not accept as wide a range of academic and language abilities as is found in the typical public school, nor do they accept as many socially dysfunctional students, they do enroll many students who are achieving below grade level when they enter- students with varying degrees of motivation and self-confidence who often face difficult challenges at home, and whose journey through adolescence while at Eastside is anything but smooth. The great majority of the students are successful because the very talented staff is dedicated to providing a rich and motivating curriculum, as well as almost round-the-clock support, to help these students succeed both academically and socially. Yes, Eastside as a school is not scaleable, but many of its features are- and now there are hundreds of Eastside graduates over the past 15+ years whose life paths have been dramatically altered, with hundreds more in the pipeline. It truly is a terrific story.

10 people like this
Posted by Eastside tutor
a resident of Los Altos
on Jul 9, 2015 at 1:09 pm

the truth: Eastside is an independent school so there is an application process and in this way comparisons to public school systems are suspect. Agree!

However, I would like to add some depth to the picture of the school that you put forth. As a former tutor, I can attest to the fact that Eastside accepts students at a wide range of academic and emotional levels, some extremely low. My impression is that the staff meets them, wherever they are, and works with each student towards growth and improvement. The founders are bound to their mission of helping the kids who need it most and who they believe Eastside can successfully serve. But that does not equate to perfectly compliant and highly skilled students.

Also, students are rarely (never?) asked to leave when they 'don't deliver'. I believe students are required to repeat classes that they don't pass and even repeat a grade if they didn't pass a number of classes. The staff and founders go to great ends to support kids and keep them on the path to graduation and college. Even the students who choose to leave are encouraged to remain in contact and get continued support from the school.

This is what I know form my work there.

11 people like this
Posted by former student
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 9, 2015 at 1:35 pm

MARIANNE ROCKS! no one deserves this award more! she is absolutely one of a kind.

5 people like this
Posted by Enlightening
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 9, 2015 at 3:11 pm

Your assumption, 'truth', is that students from similar backgrounds in PAUSD don't "want it"?

7 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2015 at 3:58 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

How wonderful!

8 people like this
Posted by PAUSD teacher
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 10, 2015 at 1:23 pm

regarding "truth"'s comments:

I have gotten to know some kids and teachers from Eastside and what they offer is extremely special. They let in the kids who seem to need it most, the "cream of the crop" situation you seem to be implying is far from the truth. Yes, there will be kids who succeed more than others, and since it is a somewhat small private school they get more attention and assistance then a student would at a public school.

I also would like to point out that this argument could be made for any private school.. No one seems to be commenting on Castilleja or Menlo having a hard application process or "CHOOSING" their kids. Isn't that the factual difference between public and private? Just because it is a private school for minorities -- it all of a sudden seems to be a different scenario. Let's not take away the credit of a great teacher.

5 people like this
Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 10, 2015 at 2:26 pm

Congratulations Marianne! Well-deserved!It's always so great when someone really deserving receives an honor.

8 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 10, 2015 at 4:02 pm

It's disturbing that Truth's attempts to paint a portrait of Eastside is both wrong and detracts from this teacher's accomplishments. It's great to read comments correcting Truth's incorrect statements. Can we please not focus any longer on those comments and instead just appreciate what the teacher has done and that both cities have been lucky to have her?

Like this comment
Posted by Liz Gaither
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 16, 2015 at 7:23 am

Go Marianne! You are an awesome person, teacher and role model. Just awesome!

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