2013-08-08 / Schools

WHS instructor brought AP physics back from the dead

For his efforts, teacher nominated for national award
By Darleen Principe


Scott Holloway Scott Holloway When teacher Scott Holloway arrived at Westlake High School in 2007, only 13 students—out of more than 2,000—were enrolled in AP physics.

The figures were so bad that school district officials considered eliminating the course. But this past school year, roughly 150 students registered for Holloway’s physics program, and they had a pass rate of 98 percent on the rigorous AP exam.

“(Holloway) came to that high school when, basically, physics was a dead-end course,” said Jim Miller, consultant for the California Department of Education’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) office. “He came and reinvigorated the program.

It’s no surprise then that Holloway has been nominated as a state finalist for the 2013 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching—one of the most prestigious teaching awards in the country, according to Conejo Valley Unified Superintendent Jeff Baarstad.

Baarstad said Holloway, who was not available for an interview this week, has a reputation for being a caring mentor and a highly effective instructor of one of the most challenging subjects in secondary school.

“Scott is able to teach physics in a very, very active and hands-on way that really resonates with his students,” the superintendent said. “Each year, when the National Merit finalist students from Westlake . . . are introduced to the Board of Education, part of their introduction includes listing their favorite teachers. Scott Holloway is listed by nearly every one of them.”

Top teachers in the nation

Holloway is one of five California nominees for this year’s national awards program, which recognizes teachers in both mathematics and science.

The National Science Foundation administers the awards on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which will announce the final 108 winners in Washington, D.C., sometime next year. One math and one science teacher from each of the 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C.; Puerto Rico; Department of Defense Education schools; and the U.S. territories, are awarded.

State finalists were chosen by a review panel of their peers. Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, announced the California finalists July 22.

“These remarkable teachers and their colleagues around the state play a central role in preparing students for college or career,” Torlakson said in a statement. “Science and math education is crucial not only to our students’ futures but also to California’s future as a leader in innovation and opportunity.”

Holloway and Amanda Alonzo, a biology teacher at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, are the two science finalists.

They were chosen from a pool of 185 science teacher nominees, 35 of whom completed the required application, according to Miller.

As part of their applications, candidates were required to submit a 45-minute video lesson.

“Scott’s video showed him presenting a lesson to his class using a variety of visuals and also using a variety of mathematical formulas,” Miller said, adding that the lesson was about objects in motion.

“It was a very clear, concise, effective and engaging lesson . . . showing a variety of motions and motion patterns.”

Before joining the faculty at WHS, Holloway taught chemistry in Los Angeles Unified School District for nine years.

Holloway’s physics students regularly participate in the American Association of Physics Teachers’ Physics Olympiad and the regional Physics Bowl.

Besides teaching classes, the award nominee also advises the campus Robotics Club, which has won numerous awards in regional competitions.

“He’s involved with different academic competitions and clubs in school,” Baarstad said. “It’s another way he engages with students and builds relationships with them. Those relationships help make teaching more effective.”

Winners of the 2013 presidential awards will receive $10,000 and be honored at the White House.

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