Presidential Award in Mathematics Teaching


Today instead of driving ten minutes to school, I am driving three hours south to Clinton, Mississippi to attend an awards ceremony for the Presidential Award for Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST) .  As part of the awards ceremony, I was asked to invite as many people as I want (I will have only three guests besides me — everyone I know is working or in school or too far away) and I was asked to submit a bio.  I had about a day’s lead time to write the bio, and it shows (below).  I also felt a little like I was writing my obituary, which although creepy, actually isn’t a bad idea.  In any case, here is the bio.  I will write about the awards ceremony in a few days.    


Virge Cornelius grew up in the 1960s in Manhattan, the first of Jim and Amanda Cornelius’ three children. The number one priority in their family was learning, and sacrifices were always made in order to pay for academic pursuits such as music lessons, books, and tuition. Virge did fairly well in school, particularly in math and French and so upon graduating from high school, Virge imagined herself working in the financial sector of NYC, putting her skills to use. However, after a summer as a camp counselor at age 20, Virge realized that working with teenagers would be her path.

Virge earned her undergraduate degree in mathematics and art from Smith College, and, later her Masters in Education from Harvard University. She taught for 10 years in Massachusetts before moving to Oxford, Mississippi with her husband, Brian Fisher, in 2000. They have been in Oxford ever since.
Virge teaches math at Lafayette High School, primarily Algebra I and Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus. In addition, Virge has served as a reader, table leader, and currently serves as a question leader for the AP Calculus national exam. Virge also teaches every opportunity she gets whether it is summer school in New Hampshire, teacher training in Alabama, tutoring college students, or taking on University of Mississippi’s student teachers.

This year marks Virge’s 26th year teaching. But, with a 12-year-old and a 7-year-old at home, and plenty more energy and passion for the classroom, there will be easily another decade or two of teaching yet to come. Her students rarely make her mad or frustrated, rather, they entertain and encourage her daily. Virge has had unbelievable administrators who have stayed out of her way and let her teach, and partnerships with professors and other high school teachers both locally and nationally who make her examine her methods to always improve student understanding.

Appreciating math, assiduously working every class period, success beyond high school — these are the hallmarks of Virge’s expectations for her students. But a new challenge looms on the horizon. How can she make more high school math teachers who share her same depth of knowledge, passion for mathematics, and commitment to their students above all else?  The recruitment process has begun. Several of Virge’s former students ARE high school math teachers. In fact, she teaches in the same department with two of them.

Awards: STAR Teacher 5 times, Siemens AP Excellence Award 2009

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