Jan Jones

The Golden Apple Foundation Jan Jones Service Award is named in honor of the late Jan Jones, who served the Foundation from 1998 - 2013. Jan joined the Board of Directors in 2006 and served as Vice President of Awards and Recognition. When Jan passed away in July 2013, the Foundation renamed its educational service award in recognition of her service and commitment.

Jan was a tireless advocate for excellence in local education. After retiring from a successful teaching career, Jan inspired others by continuing to fight for and affect the education of our community’s children. She instructed future teachers as a Rockford University adjunct professor, mentored community educators and activists and participated in such education service organizations as Rockford Promise, Alignment Rockford and Golden Apple Foundation.

The 2020 Golden Apple Foundation Jan Jones Service Award will be presented to an individual, couple, organization, or business for demonstrating a deep commitment to Excellence in Education in Winnebago and/or Boone County through volunteerism. The nominees will be considered based on the following criteria:

•           Recipient will be considered for his/her volunteer work in fields relating to education or additional fields that serve teachers, students, and schools.

•           Recipient will have exhibited a deep commitment to excellence in education in Winnebago and/or Boone County.

Service nominations must be received by the Golden Apple Foundation office by 5:00 p.m. on February 27, 2020.

Recipients will be recognized at the 24th Annual Golden Apple Banquet on Friday, April 24 at Giovanni's. Click here for you nomination form or contact Jennifer Stark at 815-226-4180 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

Golden Apple Foundation inspires, celebrates and supports educational excellence in our community. 

Heather Geary

Heather Geary of Loves Park taught multiple subjects at Lincoln Middle School for nine years, but has been at Whitehead Elementary for the past six years, teaching first fifth grade, now fourth. Each day, Heather starts class with a morning meeting including sharing, activity and a message and closes it with a closing circle to reflect on the day and what was learned. She says, “I have made a commitment as an educator to help every student learn and succeed in my classroom and in life.” Heather endeavors to help her students feel secure, while also challenging them to set their own goals to achieve success. She lets them know that “it is okay to not know the answer; however, we take what we do know to figure out the unknown.” She encourages students in her classes to act as a community and have educational conversations with each other, as it “enhances all student learning.” She also encourages them to work hard and act responsibly to help “shape them into citizens that will benefit the greater good of society.” Since students vary in academic, emotional and economic levels, Heather uses differentiated instruction based on MAP data to meet their academic needs, makes accommodations for students based on IEPs, and uses the Responsive Classroom techniques including positive discipline and logical consequences. A student who nominated her said, “Mrs. Geary is the best math teacher. I think she should get the Golden Apple because people really get her math and understand her.” 

Nikki Gallentine

Nikki Gallentine of South Beloit, has taught fourth grade at Prairie Hill Elementary for five years. Her students’ academic abilities range from first grade through sixth. She previously taught Kindergarten for 10 years. Nikki decided on her perfect career in third grade. Her passions until then were ever-changing: artist, veterinarian, Miss America or President of the United States. But in third grade, she met the teacher who inspired her to be for future students what that teacher had been to her. “Since teaching didn’t run in my family, I did not realize the extent of what I would need to give of myself to be successful in this profession, and likewise, I couldn’t imagine the extent to which this job would fill my heart.” Celebrated educator, Rita Pierson, knew that children first need to feel valued and safe in order to learn. She gave them a saying which Nikki’s students recite daily: “I am somebody. I was somebody when I came. I’ll be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful and I am strong. I deserve the education that I get here.” Nikki knows that children with different backgrounds, strengths and challenges learn in different ways and considers it her job to make sure every child is learning. Her determination is accompanied by some very creative methods on her part. “It is not unusual to see me standing on a table and students standing on chairs. We are unapologetically loud at times, materials are not always meticulously organized, but some intense learning is happening in here … learning can be messy.” Principal Kevin Finnegan was initially hesitant to bring in a Kindergarten teacher to teach fourth grade, but Nikki’s spark caught his attention immediately. He no longer balks about applicants with Kindergarten experience! “Her creativity is only surpassed by her incredible instruction …. Ms. Gallentine shows daily in her fun, energetic, powerful, colorful, engaging, loving classroom that she has taken the lessons from her kindergarten days and made them perfectly fit an older age.” One day, she may provide detective props for students to use text evidence and inferencing skills to solve a mystery of who kidnapped the principal. Another day, she may transform the classroom into a restaurant for a “book tasting.” All students must listen, watch and participate; their involvement elevates their level of understanding. A lifelong learner, Nikki strives to bring best practices to her class, school and district. She’s completed courses about building student vocabulary, incorporating technology, addressing anxiety and understanding Autism, ADHD and Dyslexia. Her next endeavor is to obtain needed resources to use with Dyslexic learners. “This journey involves my sacrificing months of my time outside of school and a large amount of money in order to do what’s best for my students, but I firmly believe that when students don’t learn the way we teach, we need to teach the way they learn.” 

Karissa Dooley

Karissa Dooley of Machesney Park is a Kindergarten teacher at South Beloit's Clark Elementary, where she's taught her whole 20-year teaching career. Certainly, she’s seen many changes over those years. “When I was first starting in my classroom, I had two blackboards and two desktop computers. Now I'm teachimg 24 Kindergartners to log in with usernames and passwords to individual Chromebooks and using my Smart Board every day.” Karissa says she struggled all through school. Having been diagnosed with a learning disability in third grade, she didn’t learn why reading and writing were so challenging for her until she met a new resource teacher in high school. Once tested, she finally got the help she needed such as books on tape and untimed tests. “These accommodations helped me continue my education in college and understand learning in a whole new way. I now use that understanding of learning difficulties to help my Kindergarten students build the base for their entire educational careers.” Principal Matthew Roer notes that “her ability to identify and provide one on one instruction for her students if they are struggling is one of her greatest strengths as a teacher.” A Clark parent said, “She gives her students the opportunity to make choices in the classroom, whether it be where they sit, who they sit by or what center they complete; she allows them the freedom to choose. Both of my daughters left Kindergarten ready for the challenges that lay ahead of them academically in first grade. They also left with solid social skills, thanks to Mrs. Dooley’s efforts in teaching them more than just what was in the academic books.” Karissa’s dedication is not only to her students, but also to her fellow teachers and all the students in the school. She gives up her lunchtime to help Kindergartners in the cafeteria. She gives up prep time to ride the bus after school to make sure students behave appropriately and get home safely. She mentors new teachers. And she has written several grants which have provided books for the school. Karissa also volunteers in the community, delivering food baskets, reading and helping the food pantry. By being active in the community, she gets another view into the backgrounds and needs of students she teaches and they know how much she cares. She stresses to students that fair is not the same as equal, but is doing what someone needs to be successful, whether that refers to special supplies, seating or time.“During the year, we talk about the many different kinds of Social Emotional Learning, like how to be a good friend and student. In our classroom, we are a family that chooses to treat others the way we want to be treated, and a community that learns how to talk to each other.”

Lisa Istad 2019 2020

Lisa Istad of Rockford has six years of teaching experience and is in her fifth year of teaching fifth grade at Durand Elementary. Kurt Alberstett, Lisa’s past principal and current superintendent, calls her “an intelligent, caring, innovative teacher who is well liked and respected by students, parents and colleagues. She works effectively with students of all abilities.” Lisa struggled in elementary school. But, because of her fifth grade teacher who reached her through engaging lessons, contagious enthusiasm, praise and love, she knew she wanted to be a teacher like that. One who changes lives. You know the Maya Angelou quote, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”? Well, Lisa found that to be true when she attended the 8th grade graduation of a student who’d been in the first class she’d taught. The student’s mother told Lisa that her son had called his friends because he’d heard she was coming to graduation and that he still talks about her all the time: about class lessons and activities, but mostly about how she made him feel and how much he enjoyed school because of her. Lisa considers creating relationships with students a must. At the beginning of each school year, she learns about her students’ learning styles, areas of expertise and challenge, cultural backgrounds and personalities to adapt lessons to meet their academic needs, since each year she teaches new learners who learn differently. When Lisa went back to get her master’s degree, her students weren’t just aware of it; they thought it was “cool.” She says “they were more motivated to do well in my class, because they knew that I was being expected to do the same in my classes.” Lisa considers it her job to collaborate with everyone: peers, specialists and parents. She also works hard to meet student’s emotional needs. Each day, she greets students with their choice of a hug, high five, fist bump or thumbs up. Lisa’s classroom motto is “Choose Kindness.” To instill this mindset, she reads “Have You Filled a Bucket Today: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids” by Carol McCloud the first week of school. “The story discusses how everyone has an invisible bucket that follows you everywhere and you can either dip [by being rude or non-inclusive] or fill other people’s buckets [by being kind and doing nice things for them]. My students write Bucket Slips, compliments/notes of encouragement, to their classmates every Friday, which allows them to fill their classmates’ buckets.” She has even turned trips to the principal’s office into positive experiences by sending them, “with a written note from me that explains their positive behavior and how proud I am of them.”

Tui Harned

Tui Harned of Rockford has 10 years of teaching experience. She has taught Pre-K at Rockford’s Nashold Early Childhood Center for the last 4-1/2. She finds inspiration in the motto, “You’ve got this. We’ve got you,” shared with new families becoming part of the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network. As a mother to a child with Down Syndrome and a teacher to many children, Tui embraces the motto, changing the “We” to “I” because she wants “students, parents and colleagues to realize the power and potential they have and I want them to know I am here to support them in any way I can.” Nashold implements the inclusion model, with students who have developmental delays, autism, cognitive or medical diagnoses learning alongside peers. Tui’s class contains 20 students, five of whom are special education eligible and more than half who are English Language learners. Her afternoon class includes students whose first language may be Spanish, Laotian, Burmese, Karen, Hindi, Urdu, Tagalog, French, Turkish, Arabic or Korean. Tui handles all challenges with patience and understanding. “I know they have it in them to succeed and I am here to support them along the way.” Tui says that, “trying to figure out the reason [for a behavior issue] and meet a need when students are not quite verbal is the tough part.” Sometimes, it takes years to see some students progress, but Tui knows that with effort, patience, resourcefulness and persistence, they can and will make gains. She works with families, colleagues and specialists to ensure that they do. She communicates with families daily at drop off/pick up time, as well as weekly through Class DoJo, meetings, intakes and conferences. One day, a student’s mother said that her son had been complaining that he was so “mad at Ms. Tui”! Instead of troubling Tui, this information excited her. He had verbally expressed himself after years of her working with him, modeling language, consulting with resource teachers, social workers and speech therapists. “Mom and I laughed and high-fived each other. It had been a long time coming … but we supported each other so we could each support him in any way we could.” In Tui’s classroom, the students also support each other. Nashold Principal Erin Salberg describes Tui’s classroom as a community of trust and cooperation, in which the students “are held to an extremely high standard of accepting others’ difference, acknowledging all strengths and working together.” She added that, “It is not often that one can walk into a classroom of 3- and 4-year-olds and listen to students tell a new student, ‘we don’t act like that in this classroom; we listen.’” 

 Tiffany Russey Headshot

Tiffany Russey of Rockford is in her second year of teaching second grade at Rockford’s Conklin Elementary. She has seven years of teaching experience, though according to her mother, she has wanted to become a teacher since she was three years old! She says her daughter “knows that education is freedom and it is her passion to pass that on to her students.” Tiffany says, “it’s not just about learning outcomes for me. I am in the business of creating lovers of learning.” Tiffany knows how important family support and diversity representation can be to a student’s confidence and success. She also knows first-hand that families come in all different forms and sizes, so sometimes family members can’t attend scheduled parent-teacher conferences. To accommodate them and encourage open communication about achievements and issues, she uses ClassDojo and student portfolios or will find alternate times to meet with them. By working together, parents and teachers can better boost positive learning outcomes. She emphasizes that “it isn’t just my job to teach learning outcomes, I am in the business of cultivating thinkers, motivators and innovators.” To be world changers, she tells students, “you have to know the world,” so she teaches them about the world and its many cultures and people. “When we incorporate a variety of perspectives into our own teaching and offer students new ways of looking at their discipline, we prepare our students for the diverse work force.” Tiffany cites the book, Bossypants by comedienne Tina Fey, as an inspiration. She uses the “Rules of Improv,” saying “yes” and “yes, and” as well as considering mistakes just opportunities. She adds, “I feel that these principles are relevant to teaching because as teachers, we are often handed a situation and asked to react to what develops, much like a sketch comic.” “Yes, and” is a way to answer student questions, but to go a step further, asking students to expand on their responses. She encourages questions, discussions and even challenges to history. After she shared a picture of the Founding Fathers during a lesson about the Constitution, a student asked why there weren’t any people who looked like her. A conversation ensued about what her classmates would do if re-writing the Constitution now to include different people so that everyone’s voices would be represented. Tiffany also wants students to feel seen and respected. The student who nominated her for the Golden Apple award clearly feels seen and respected. She wrote that this teacher “believes that we can do anything”!


Alli Schmidt

Allison Schmidt of Huntley has taught second or third grade dual language at Washington STEM Academy in Belvidere for nine years. A staunch supporter of the dual language program, she constantly challenges others in her school and district to think outside the box and to consider a multi-language lens to approach education. As a leader, she has attended and given presentations about achievement, integration in a dual language classroom, calm corners and project-based learning at school, district, state and national levels. She gets to know her students’ interests, backgrounds, and families, and how best to encourage them to achieve success. Though relationship-building, Alli assures students that in her class, they’re safe. They know she will do anything she can for them. She aims to make lessons meaningful and interesting for her students, which, to her, means including them in choosing what resources they need on the walls, how to form the classroom furniture for lessons and the guidelines to which the class should hold each other accountable. A former Washington principal said, “when spending time in Alli’s classroom, it is apparent that the classroom is the children’s classroom; not one created just by the teacher.” Alli says she “empowers students to take ownership of their learning and clearly discuss their academic and behavioral goals.” By doing so, she sees a dramatic increase in the students’ motivation, understanding and commitment to learning. She draws in peers and family members to support and celebrate goal achievement. Alli developed an alternative style of homework because, “teaching at a STEM school and serving a population with lower socioeconomic status, [I] realized that homework might need to look different in order to engage students and fit the needs of each family.” Each month, students receive hands-on, interactive tasks and activities for each STEAM category: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art/Literacy and Math. They can involve all members of the family. There are tasks that don't require buying materials and tasks for students who have support in the home and can complete tasks with an adult or those who may be the one in charge and need to entertain younger siblings. “The activities are engaging, spark curiosity and help students extend learning and problem solving skills from the classroom into their homes."

GAF Logo Whitespace

Golden Apple Foundation is pleased to announce the names of 20 teachers from Winnebago and Boone County who have been selected to move forward in the process for the 2020 Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching. These talented PreK - 5th grade teachers were chosen by a selection committee of community volunteers who had the difficult task of selecting only 20 teachers from a large group of worthy nominees.

Please join us in congratulating the following excellent teachers….

Kimberly Brace
Whitehead Elementary - Rockford
2nd Grade

Laura Brooks
Whitman Post Elementary - Rockton
3rd Grade

Karissa Dooley
Clark Elementary School - South Beloit

Nikki Gallentine
Prairie Hill Elementary School - South Beloit
4th Grade

Heather Geary
Whitehead Elementary - Rockford
4th Grade

Lori Granite
Rockford Christian - Rockford

Laura Greier
Nashold Early Childhood Center - Rockford
Early Childhood

Tui Harned
Nashold Early Childhood Center - Rockford
Early Childhood

Beth Hubner
All Saints Catholic Academy - Rockford
4th Grade

Angela Hulsey
West View Elementary - Rockford
1st Grade

Lisa Istad
Durand Elementary School - Durand
5th Grade

Rebecca Kallstrom
Fairview Early Childhood Center - Rockford
Early Childhood

Patricia Magallanes
Washington STEM Academy - Belvidere
4th Grade Dual Language

Heidi Milner
Ledgewood School - Roscoe

Danielle Peterson
Prairie Hill Elementary - South Beloit
Blended Pre-K

Tiffany Russey
Conklin Elementary - Rockford
2nd Grade

Mallori Sage
Whitehead Elementary - Rockford
3rd Grade

Allison Schmidt
Washington STEM Academy - Belvidere
3rd Grade Dual Language

Miranda Thompson
Donald C. Parker Center - Machesney Park

Jackie Weerda
Ledgewood School - Roscoe

These teachers will be observed in their classrooms by trained community volunteers on three separate occasions between Jan. 21 and Feb. 18, 2020. The next step in the selection process after observations is an interview. The process culminates with the selection of five teachers who will receive the prestigious Golden Apple Award in surprise classroom presentations featured by WTVO/FOX 39 and the Rockford Register Star.

Each Golden Apple award winning teacher will receive a cash award; a professional development stipend; a Rockford University Scholarship and a computer compliments of Entré Computer Solutions. In addition, they will be inducted into the Golden Apple Teacher Academy where, as members, they will work to increase public awareness of educational excellence in our schools, promote the profession of education and provide professional development training and mentoring to new and veteran teachers.

Golden Apple Foundation is celebrating its 24th year of taking positive steps to achieve improved education in Winnebago and Boone counties. The Annual Golden Apple Banquet recognizing Excellence in Education and honoring the Golden Apple finalists will be held Friday, April 24, 2020, at Giovanni's, and presented by Bergstrom Inc. Charitable Foundation.

Golden Apple Foundation inspires, recognizes and supports excellence in education in our community. For more information, contact Jennifer Stark at 815-226-4180 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 Marquette Elementary


Golden Apple Foundation celebrated the 2020 Golden Apple teacher nominees at the Nominee Reception, presented by Rockford Univeristy, on Nov. 19, 2019. Teachers, administrators and their supporters enjoyed delicious appetizers and socializing with 250 teachers, administrators and Golden Apple supporters.

The evening started out with a welcome by Dr. Eric Fulcomer and then Suzette Muck, 2018 Golden Apple finalist, gave an inspiring speech about her own experience as a finalist. She talked about her own self-reflection and introspection writing the portfolio and encouraged nominees to honor their nomination by taking the next step in the process and submitting a teacher portfolio. The portfolios are due at 5 p.m. on December 3, 2019. Portfolios may be emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; faxed to 815-394-5014 or dropped off to the Golden Apple office located at Rockford University, Scarborough Hall, Room 9. (lower level) 

Teachers are encouraged to reach out to Golden Apple Foundation with any questions at 815-226-4180 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Special thanks to our presenting sponsor Rockford University, and to our booth sponsor, Meemic Insurance.

PHOTOS: Marquette Elementary Nominees celebrate! 

Congrats sign resized 129 83

During the past month, parents, students and community members submitted 1,261 nominations for 601 of their favorite primary level teachers who exemplify excellence in the classroom. Below are just a few of the comments about the PreK - 5th grade teachers in Winnebago and Boone counties nominated for the prestigious 2020 Golden Apple Teacher Awards:

"I think [she] should win because she taught us so much and made us way smarter than we already were. She taught us a lot of math patterns and I'm still learning a bunch." 

[She] is a true leader in our school with literacy instruction which is so critical for 1st grade students. She combines strong values and beliefs about what students need to learn with high expectations."

"[He] is a very nice teacher and cares about our grades a lot."

All nominees, regardless of eligibility, are encouraged to attend the Nominee Reception from 4:30-6 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 19, at Regents Hall in Burpee Center at Rockford University. Nominees will enjoy socializing, appetizers and celebrating with other teachers. Special thanks to our Nominee Reception Sponsor, Rockford University. 

Click here for a full list of nominees.

Golden Apple Foundation inspires, celebrates and supports educational excellence in our community. To learn more about the foundation, visit our website at www.goldenappleofrockford.com