Thomas Kress

Golden Apple Foundation is thrilled to announce that Thomas Kress has been elected the new Board president. Tom has been a Golden Apple volunteer for three years and also serves on boards for United Way, Alignment Rockford, The Rockford Symphony, Family Peace Center and the Discovery Center. He believes that the quality of a good community depends on education, which is why he supports Golden Apple’s development and recognition of teachers, who contribute to having a solid education system. 


Associated Bank believes in giving back to the community and team members receive eight hours paid time off annually to volunteer. Tom says volunteerism is a pillar of their organization and is deeply engrained within the culture of Associated Bank. Locally, the credit goes to colleagues who care enough to want to volunteer to help others. Associated Banks Rockford and Beloit colleagues annually volunteer over 2,500 hours in our community. Tom leads through example and volunteers in many capacities with golden Apple including teacher observations and at special events.


As one of our top tier sponsors, Tom presents a Golden Apple to a teacher in a surprise presentation in the classroom. He concedes that he completely underestimated how special this is for a teacher. He loves the surprise, the raw emotion and the response from the kids, family and fellow teachers. He went back to the office and talked about how there is nothing like that moment. Tom also wanted to note, that while he attends many rubber chicken dinners, he thoroughly enjoys our annual banquet focused on teachers and looks forward to it each year.


When asked about a teacher who made an impact in his life, Tom was quick to remember Mrs. Hershberger, his junior high school English teacher who had a reputation for being tough. Kids got their schedules and would be upset if she was their teacher. Mrs. Hershberger adored Tom’s older sister who was an excellent student, so the first thing she asked him was, “Are you Debbie Kress’ brother?” He was dreading her classroom because he didn’t feel like he was a good student and he thought she should lower her expectations. But, Mrs. Hershberger wouldn’t let him disappoint himself because she knew he was a better student than he realized. Tom got tired of being singled out, he put the time in and ended up getting a B in English. He was never more proud of a grade!



Tom has worked closely with the Golden Apple Executive Director and our volunteer chairs to update and enhance our programs during these extraordinary times. We are purposely shifting to help teachers both virtually and in the classroom. Golden Apple Foundation is grateful for Tom’s leadership and support!



The family of Don Zimmerman, a longtime Rockford educator and co-founder of the Golden Apple
Foundation, Rockford University and the Foundation, seeking another way to honor Don’s passion for
encouraging excellence in local education, united to offer the 2020 Don Zimmerman Golden Apple
Foundation scholarship for an area teacher to earn his/her first master’s degree in Rockford University’s
program. Each candidate was required to first gain acceptance into the program, then submit letters of
recommendation and an application, including an essay. A committee including Golden Apple Academy
members reviewed the documents, then virtually interviewed finalists before reaching their tough

On Friday, May 29, 2020, Golden Apple awarded its inaugural recipient. Don’s son, Brad Zimmerman; GA
board president, Michelle Gorham; and Rockford University president, Dr. Eric Fulcomer donned facial
masks and took flowers, wine and R.U. gifts to Meghan Baylor’s Rockford home along with media
partner, WTVO-17/Fox39, for a surprise presentation. Meghan has been teaching for eight years, the
last four as a French teacher at Boylan High School. Though she teaches language courses, Meghan is
also known in the Rockford arts community as a teaching artist with Rockford Area Arts Council and as
Rockford Dance Company faculty. She shared in her application that achieving her MAT from R.U. would
strengthen the power of knowledge “on both the giving and receiving end.” She is eager to pursue this
advanced degree which would most certainly “bolster the credentials, stability and expertise to secure
[her] career for decades to come.” Congratulations, Meghan Baylor!

Quixotic Bakery

Golden Apple Foundation is so excited to be partnering with Quixotic Bakery on a YUMMY cookie fundraiser on Friday, May 29. You simply go to the Quixotic Bakery website and purchase a cookie box for $10. Please consider purchasing additional boxes for friends, because Golden Apple will receive $5 from each box sold, any tips and 10% of any additional purchases that evening! The cookie box includes four warm cookies and two dipping sauces. You pick the time between 5:30-8 p.m. that you will pick up your order curbside at Quixotic Bakery located at 116 N. Madison in Rockford City Market. Golden Apple volunteers will be masked and will deliver them to your car. Please note, after you place your order online, you may receive an email to pick up your order now. Please ignore and wait until your selected time on May 29! (This is a glitch.)

Thank you for supporting our "contactless" fundraiser to support Golden Apple programming for teachers and students in the 2020 school year! Please reach out to Jennifer with questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  


#GivingTuesdayNow is May 5, 2020 and it is a global day of giving and unity!

"As a global community, we can mourn this moment of extreme crisis while also finding the opportunity to support one another. We each have the power to make an impact with acts of generosity, no matter how small, and to ensure the sustainability of organizations and services that are crucial to the care and support of our communities," said GivingTuesday CEO Asha Curran.

Please support Golden Apple Foundation's 2020-2021 programming efforts in our community by making a donation. Donations will be accepted on this link through May 31, 2020.

Don Zimmerman

The Don Zimmerman Golden Apple Teacher Scholarship honors the memory of the long time educator and Golden Apple co-founder. This new scholarship provides a teacher in Winnebago or Boone county the opportunity to earn his or her first master's degree beginning this fall at Rockford University.

Don began teaching locally in 1956 at Rockford West High School as an orchestra teacher. He later taught at Guilford High School and always inspired his students to excel to the best of their ability. Don was the founder of the Rockford Chamber Orchestra and Rockford Area Youth Symphony Orchestra (RAYSO) and spent ten summers teaching music at the Amherst Summer Music Camp in Maine with his family.

Don Zimmerman, and his dear friend, Dr. Richard Novak, took their passions for education and created a collective community effort to recognize excellence in teaching with the founding of Golden Apple Foundation in 1997. It began out of Don's garage, sorting apples and celebrating RPS 205 teachers, and has now grown to support all public and ISBE recognized private schools in Winnebago and Boone counties. The foundation continues its mission of inspiring, celebrating and supporting educational excellence in our community through awards and recognition, the Golden Apple Teacher Academy, classroom grants and teacher scholarships.

You must first apply to Rockford University, then submit your scholarship application to Golden Apple Foundation by May 15. Reach out to Jennifer Stark, Executive Director, with questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


TeeGolden Apple 2020 Yellow

Working from home has us wearing our comfy tees and leggings or jeans, how about you? Since we've had to postpone our banquet until August and our celebrity bartender events, we felt it a good time to roll out a t-shirt fundraiser to keep money coming in for our programming needs. The design, on a gray shirt,  comes to you with YOUR input and will be printed by a LOCAL printer. We hope you love it as much as we do and will wear it with pride. Order yours now. We are offering men's and women's cut, in sizes S-XL for $20 or $22 for sizes 2X or 3X. Free delivery in Boone or Winnebago counties; $4 for shipping outside those counties.

Update: The tee order was placed on May 12 and tees are no longer available for purchase. We expect to deliver all tees by May 31, 2020. If we receive interest in ordering additional tees, we will consider a second run. Feel free to email Jennifer at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.if you would like to be placed on the list of people we will contact for future tee sales.

 All on Stage

The 24th Annual Excellence in Education Banquet has been rescheduled to Friday, August 28, 2020 at Giovanni's for an amazing evening celebrating our local educators. Red Carpet begins at 5:30 with a cash bar cocktail hour. The program portion starts promptly at 6:28 p.m., followed by dinner. The deadline to register is August 13. To purchase your ticket or table, click HERE. (If it is after the deadline, check in at the office, we still may be able to accommodate your request.)

Golden Apple is proud to be celebrating our exceptional Top 20 teacher finalists, our 2020 Outstanding Principal, 2020 Jan Jones recipient, and  2020 grant recipients. 

To learn more about our Top 20 teacher finalists, see our news feed on this website which includes a bio released every few days on each of these exceptional educators.

Cocktail attire is recommended. For more information about the Banquet, call the office at 815-226-4180 or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

PHOTO: The Top 20 Finalists are recognized on stage at the 2019 banquet.

Becky Kallstrom1

Rebecca Kallstrom of Belvidere had planned to be an international business attorney. She majored in political science and finance, with a Spanish minor. Both during college and after graduation, she worked as an accountant. It took just six more months for her to realize that it was not the right fit. She quit that job, became an early childhood paraprofessional and returned to school to become an educator. Rebecca now has 11 years of teaching experience in area Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms, the past three as an Early Childhood teacher at Rockford’s Fairview Early Childhood Center. Principal Darcy Dunn recommended Rebecca, stating that she “teaches our preschool students to read and write … and become kindergarten ready while also focusing on social emotional skills … creating a nurturing community of learners where all students can succeed and feel welcomed.” A student’s parent nominated Rebecca, writing that after “Miss Becky” focused on her son’s issue transitioning from drop-off to class time, his whole attitude changed. Now “he looks forward to going to school every day and he learns SO much! She makes learning fun and he doesn't even realize he's learning so much!” She aims for structure and consistency in her classroom and strives for 100% parent participation at conferences, accomplishing that goal in November. Rebecca uses several methods to gather data to create lessons to reach all students, to measure progress and to share. She studies the rubrics, developing instructions to help other Fairview teachers also improve their success rates. Rebecca considers diversity an ongoing topic. Her classroom features diverse books and toys. She finds multiple ways to use them, such as using blocks not just to stack, but to count, measure, or sort by size, shape and color. Each year, Rebecca asks families to provide information about their child: three words to describe him/her; two things they want her to know about the child; one wish they have for their child; and what holidays they do or do not celebrate. This year, Rebecca’s class includes a child who is a Jehovah’s Witness; that child doesn’t celebrate any holidays or birthdays. Rebecca was able to talk with his family about expectations and modifications she could make to ensure inclusivity. Rebecca constantly collaborates with parents, resource teachers, speech pathologists, social workers, therapists and other teachers to develop plans and gather resources to best serve each student. She enjoys participating in committees, leadership teams, phone calls and text messages. She says, “All children can learn. It is my job to find the magic formula to make sure all children grow. I heard a saying that popcorn pops at different times and we need to wait for the right moment for it to pop. Not all children learn the same; children will “pop” when they are ready to learn …. “Teaching is my passion and I believe strongly in educating our littlest learners.”

Beth Hubner

Beth Hubner of Clinton, Wis., has 20 years of experience teaching students in 4th through 8th grades at St. Peter School in South Beloit and St. James School in Rockford. She now teaches fourth grade at Rockford’s All Saints Academy. Having initially desired a show business career, Beth loves to find creative ways to bring lessons home to the class, such as with unique props or plays. “I am never satisfied until I know a lesson has sunk in and has become meaningful to all my students.” For example, a fellow teacher shared that after her class read The Lemonade War, Beth “launched a school-wide campaign to create and market the best lemonade stands imaginable. The whole school was invited to participate in and enjoy the results of the students’ creative efforts.” Another teacher at All Saint’s wrote that Beth’s students use Chromebooks daily to research and complete projects, but that she also takes them outside the class “to apply their lessons to real life situations as they problem solve together. Each year, she takes her class to Camp Atwood for three days and two nights.” Beth encourages students to celebrate diversity and to find it everywhere, not just in school. Each quarter, the class works at the Cornucopia Food Pantry for an entire morning where they can “practice respect for others who are different.” She also takes them to a nursing home to appreciate age diversity as they read poetry to the residents, attend Mass and share their musical talents with them. Other “outside the schoolroom” learning opportunities Beth provides include science fairs, field trips, Scholastic Bowl, Geography Bee and Homework Club. She created the homework club to provide extra assistance to those needing help with homework or just a more conducive study environment. Beth also knows the importance of family support to a child’s educational success. She creates relationships with students’ parents by attending events, sending weekly newsletters, responding quickly to emails and chatting when- and wherever possible. In her recommendation letter, one of Beth’s peers wrote, “The energy, creativity and commitment that Beth brings to all facets of the teaching profession place her in a league of her own. At the same time, she helps build a joyful sense of community in which all are working with, and for, one another. And she does it all with great humor and humility.” 

Laura Brooks

Laura Brooks of Rockton has taught second or third grades for 14 years. She’s in her fifth year teaching third graders at Whitman Post Elementary. When being interviewed for the post, she was asked what message she would want to send students as their teacher. She responded, “You are important. You are the reason why I am here.” She is committed to figuring out what each child needs to succeed. “It is so important for teachers to be committed to reaching our students not only academically, but also emotionally.” She sets high expectations for herself and her students, yet is commended for being kind and fun as well. She received much praise in a recommendation letter from a student’s mother, who wrote, “Laura’s enthusiasm for learning kindles the desire of learning in her students … [she] goes above and beyond the traditional model of teaching by using technology to promote creativity and imagination in her students in new and fun ways. Laura has the ability to take dry subject matter and get the students excited about it through the use of technology. My daughter cannot wait to go to school every day to see what fun learning activity will be in store for her.” Principal Megan Forsythe shared that Laura is dedicated to the success of her students, her peers and the school. She has written and received several grants, resulting in her being able to implement new technologies and recreating the computer lab into a maker space “where all 500 of our students could engage in 21st century learning.” Megan once received an email from a parent asking her to clone Laura because of the impact she had on her daughter’s confidence and skills, including in STEM activities. In her recommendation letter, Laura’s student’s mother also noted the way Laura “models the concept of putting in the time to produce greatness – what a great role model to have for eight- and nine-year-old students who are learning how to be productive members of society!” Laura’s main lesson about diversity to her third graders is that they should respect everyone’s opinions and learn from others. When working on a lesson, she may pair students either by learning style or by personality, pushing them to listen and learn from each other. Laura relishes sharing struggles and celebrating successes with her fellow teachers. “Collaborating with others is a great way to enhance instruction and increase student achievement.” Recently, a co-worker shared this quote as it reminded her of Laura: “If a student leaves my classroom with new skills, I’ve done my job. If a child leaves my classroom knowing they are loved and accepted for who they are, I’ve reached my goal.”


Laura Greier of Loves Park has been an early childhood teacher for 11 years, the past three at Rockford’s full-inclusion preschool, Nashold Early Childhood Center. She chooses “not to be blind to the differences of others, but to see each student as a success.” She says, “Many of my students, when they walk into my classroom, come to me having experienced trauma, little to no social emotional regulation skills and very little educational background. For my students, getting their basic needs met, such as an unresolved conflict at home or eating a meal, this is their first priority. This becomes my first priority too.” Additionally, Laura feels that all teachers and all students have “strengths to build upon, interests to share, and experiences to honor.” Learning from the behaviors Laura models, her students become empathetic, mindful problem solvers who accept, respect, understand, support and encourage each other. By being responsible for their own problem solving, her students gain confidence and leadership skills and their desire to learn grows. Laura is respected not just by her students, but also by their parents and her peers, school and district. Last summer, she led instructional sessions during district-wide professional development days, reaching more than 80 teachers. She is Nashold’s building mentor, supporting and guiding new teachers. The parents of two of Laura’s students wrote about one son who was reading well above grade level. Laura created ways to help him become an even better student and nurtured his early love of reading. Her attention helped their other son overcome his shyness; he now has friends and a love for learning. Principal Erin Salberg shared another story about Laura’s desire to make positive differences and persistence in finding what works best for each student. A student was struggling with self-regulation and problem solving. Laura contacted his family to work with her to develop the skills. Though the family initially resisted, she continued to share praise and provide opportunities for them to share success stories with her. Realizing that this teacher truly cared and was not going to give up on their son, the family accepted her concern and offers of assistance. “The family and Ms. Laura became an unstoppable force. The student made so much growth in that year, that he went from being referred for special education the year before, to maybe needing a 504 plan, to going to Kindergarten with very few supports.” Laura says her mission is to “include all and empower those around me to become the best versions of themselves. Today I lead my school. Tomorrow my students will lead the world.”