Sac State alumnus wins national award, meets with President Obama


Sacramento State alum Andy Kotko teaches his first grade class. Kotko met President Obama on Sept. 8 after receiving a national award for teaching.

Joseph Daniels

A Sacramento State alumnus went to the White House to meet with President Barack Obama on Sept. 8 after being named one of the country’s best math teachers.

Andy Kotko, a first grade teacher at Mather Heights Elementary School, was awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in August — an award for which he has twice been a finalist.

Kotko, who graduated from Sac State with a bachelor’s degree in physics, said that at first, he was in disbelief after receiving the email notification that he had won the award.

“I remember staring at my desk, going, ‘is that really my name?” said Kotko, adding that it stills feel surreal to him. “Walking up to that building I always wanted to visit, walking in, then that’s when it’s going to be real. Like, ‘oh my god, this is really happening.’”

According to the awards website, “The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching are the nation’s highest honors for teachers of mathematics and science (including computer science). Awardees serve as models for their colleagues, inspiration to their communities, and leaders in the improvement of mathematics and science education.”

Said President Obama in a press release, “The recipients of this award are integral to ensuring our students are equipped with critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are vital to our Nation’s success.”

As the United States continues to lead the way in the innovation that is shaping our future, these excellent teachers are preparing students from all corners of the country with the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills that help keep us on the cutting-edge.”

Kotko will also receive $10,000 with the award.

Kotko was entered in the contest by a student’s parent. The nomination process required him to film 45 minutes of his classroom, receive letters of recommendations from his colleagues and write a 23-page paper that explained his lesson plan.

Richard Tapia, a principal who worked with the Folsom Cordova Unified School District where Kotko previously taught kindergarten and first grade, said that he was not surprised that Kotko won the presidential award, and that it confirmed something that he already knew.

Tapia said that the students in Kotko’s class were doing doing better than the fourth-grade students. Kotko’s lesson plan was later utilized by the higher grades.

“He’s an external thinker in the sense that he will come up with something and share that with other teachers,” Tapia said.

Erik Kennedy, the father of two of Kotko’s students, said that he had considered enrolling his daughters into another school before they took Kotko’s class. The class changed his mind.

“He doesn’t miss an opportunity to share an education or an experience with his class,” Kennedy said.  

Kotko said that he does not know what to expect  regarding his White House visit.
“I hope we get some time to mingle, because that would be awesome,” Kotko said. “But it could be one of those things where they would arrange us in one big group, take a picture, and then walk us out.”