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.” 

Kimberly Brace

Kimberly Brace’s student nominator shared this about why she is an outstanding teacher: “She is smart and she helped me write and I got way better at it and she helped me with way more stuff than any other teacher and she is just a really good teacher.” Kimberly Brace of Roscoe has been a teacher for 17 years, teaching multiple subjects to children in grades K through 3. She has taught at Whitehead Elementary for the past eight years, currently teaching second grade integrated literacy, writing and math. Kimberly aims to guide students as they advance their reading skills to the “best of their ability so that they can dream about their future.” After seeing a child nearly fall through the cracks because of a lack of testing and resources, her passion of teaching reading skills swelled. She got a second master’s degree as a reading specialist, invested in professional development and implemented systemic strategies to make sure students would have the tools necessary to be reading on grade level by the end of third grade. Kimberly collaborates with interventionists, reading coaches, other teachers and administration to find the best ways to meet students’ needs. When appropriate resources became available, Kimberly was able to reach the child who nearly failed reading and writing tasks in third grade, making the difference needed to help her learn more successfully. A Title 1 teacher at Whitehead shared that Kimberly “has mastered the art of differentiation and meets the needs of her struggling students, grade level learners and high achievers equally well. She currently has a student who is working at a Kindergarten level. This student is thriving in Kim’s room because of [her] ability to provide instruction that is challenging enough to move the student forward without causing frustration. This student has shown a positive change in her attitude toward school, her confidence and in her academic performance.” Kimberly also brings in students from other classes to work in her classroom. One child sometimes joins her for more than just academic help. He told Kimberly, “no one cares about me, not even my mom.” Heart melted, she invites him to her classroom for morning conversation and extra attention, “in hopes that he returns to his classroom ready to learn for the afternoon.” Kimberly is also not afraid to jump into new programs or to tweak them as needed. Pam Miner, principal at Whitehead, shared that after Kimberly and her grade level partner embraced a new phonics program, they didn’t see the results on MAP assessments that they had envisioned. Kimberly learned of an intensive literacy intervention being used and decided to use its Guided Reading Classroom version. “The results by the spring MAP were astounding. 81% of her students met or exceeded their growth goal”! Pam added that Kimberly “believes in her students and it shows.”



Golden Apple Foundation has partnered with the family of Sunil Puri to recognize exceptional principals each year with the Outstanding Principal Award. Primary and secondary school principals are eligible and parents, colleagues and community members are encouraged to nominate their prinicpal. The selected principal will be be surprised in their school and they will receive $1,500 to be used in their school and $250 in Volcano Falls gift certificates to reward excellent students. Click here for the 2020 nomination form and a list of past principal recipients.  Deadline to nominate is March 3, 2020.

Photo: Principal Eric Flohr of Hononegah Community High School receiving the 2019 Outstanding Princiapal Award from  Sunil Puri, CEO of First Midwest Group.

Heidi Milner

Heidi Milner of Rockton has been teaching Kindergarten at Ledgewood School for 11 years. To show her concern for the wellbeing of everyone at Ledgewood, Heidi serves on committees focused on nutrition, climate and safety. Golden Apple Academy member Katherine Koehler who worked with Heidi shared that in her classroom, “you will see that each child not only matters but is loved and a part of a family. She goes above and beyond to meet individual needs of students, provides accommodations for student needs, and creates an environment that is fun, loving and enriching.” Because of the desire to support a student who had alopecia, Heidi helped her class learn about the disease and how they could help; they raised 600 for the Children’s Alopecia Project and now do different class philanthropy projects every year. Heidi commits to her students, job and school 365 days a year: preparing lessons, grading papers, emailing parents, attending events; taking courses; researching teaching strategies, writing students, collaborating with others, working on school projects and collecting items for the classroom. She has even organized summer playdates at area playgrounds for her previous year’s students to have fun and catch up with each other. Heidi says, “It could be said that teaching is my career during the school day, and it is my favorite hobby during my ‘free time.’” Heidi finds collaboration essential because it “provides me with a wide range of perspectives and helps me explore ideas outside of my own personal experiences.” She collaborates with teachers she studied with, special education teachers and both teachers within and outside her school and district. This year, she is partnering with a second grade teacher who brings students to Heidi's classroom to read books with her students. All differences in culture, health, economic status and more are acknowledged, discussed and celebrated. Heidi uses projects in class such as puzzles that have uniquely shaped, colored and sized pieces to help students build bonds as a diverse “class family.” Several years ago, a student commented that Heidi is the children’s school “mom” because she loves them, keeps them safe and helps them grow. Heidi also knows how important it is to involve actual family members to support a child’s educational success. She keeps them informed and invites them to participate in lessons. In the nomination submitted for Heidi, a parent wrote, “She sends reminders to us of special activities the kids need to dress for or items that need to be brought in. She really helps keep us parents on the ball for our children’s success. She even posted a video to read the students a bedtime story. She has been a true gift to our children and us parents. She is kind, warm and a true example of what an AMAZING teacher is.”

Patricia Magallanes

Patricia Magallanes of Belvidere has spent seven of her 10 years of teaching at Washington STEM Academy in Belvidere, where she teaches 4th grade Bi-Lingual. “Teaching in a low income STEM school required me to increase my level of commitment to achieve goals I did not think I could meet.” Patricia completed a master’s program, participates in professional development training, encourages parent/student feedback and collaborates with other educators to move her teaching practices forward. With the knowledge and experience she’s gained, she mentors new teachers to help them be successful, particularly in personalized learning and integrating curriculum. While each student has individual skills and needs and they aren’t all necessarily at grade level, Patricia says that each of them “has the potential to make great gains that can be celebrated.” Patricia pushes students to set and achieve goals they may not have initially thought they could meet. She says “they are taught that mistakes and ‘getting stuck’ are just a part of the learning process and it does not define them or represent their capacity for learning.” She wants her students to see their “learning as a process and not as a ‘smart or not smart’ trait.” Dr. Megan Johnson, Patricia’s former principal and current asst. superintendent, recommends her as an expert in Project Based Learning. “Patti and her students look at the project/task at hand, determine the standards they are working on, and then develop a learning plan of how they are going to get there. When visiting Patti’s classroom, students take great pride in telling you what they are working on, why they are working on it, and how this will help in the future.” Daily morning meetings include discussion, problem solving and celebrations of achievements, large and small. The trust built through these meetings helps students feel secure to take risks to advance their learning. Patricia’s trust and encouraging words inspire her students to trust and encourage each other. When one child retreated to the Calm Corner, quietly crying in frustration about multiplication, she spotted a child who had previously been struggling, go assure her. Before long, the first student returned to try again. Patricia adds that, “as an educator, I carry the responsibility of academically preparing my students for the next grade level, but my philosophy in teaching is to prepare students to become good citizens in our community.”

Angela Hulsey

Angela Hulsey of Rockford has been teaching in Rockford for 11 years. She taught Kindergarten for nine years and is in her third year teaching West View Elementary first graders. There are many trends and jargon in today’s education field. Angela explains one: “Positive Growth Mindset is a catchy phrase, but the essential philosophy of staying positive and embracing failure as a gateway to success is the essence of why I teach and why I am the teacher I am today.” Christine Smith, who was principal when Angela taught at Beyer Elementary, recommended her because she is not just an effective teacher, she has “the gift of teaching – the ability to truly light up the classroom with inspiration.” Questioning herself and her choice of vocation while at her first school, Angela found the need to stop blaming others and reevaluate her own behavior and attitude. She decided that having a positive attitude was a choice, so she chose it! She sought out positive peers and mentors, professional development courses and a master’s degree. She adjusted her thinking, realizing that the more challenging students are the ones who most need love and attention. Angela credits Connected School Training with changing her classroom management style and even with saving her from leaving the field of education. She learned to make positive connections with colleagues, students and their families. Since she didn’t know about positive growth mindset until an adult, she concluded that many students – and adults – could use guidance to understand how to model positivity and form connections as well. After all, she has taught students who have experienced such trauma as an incarcerated parent, abandonment, foster care and even a murdered family member. Now when a student displays bad behavior, she considers it an opportunity to “teach them about better choices, calmer reactions, forgiveness, redemption and being a part of a positive community.” She disciplines privately or directs students to a calming corner as needed. Referrals to administrators have sharply declined. “I maintain my classroom authority without the drama.” Angela builds rapport with her students by establishing expectations early and by sharing her own likes and dislikes with them. She lets her students know that they can share anything with her and she will make the time to listen. Though her “job” is to teach students, Angela clearly also connects with others in the school. Another West View teacher wrote, “She teaches her students to strive for excellence, to love learning and to respect each other, and she teaches all of us (her peers) to give our best to our students, to wear a smile, to have faith and to remember that the storms of life can often produce beautiful rainbows and new growth.”

Miranda Thompson

Miranda Thompson of Machesney Park has 14 years of teaching experience, having taught classes from K through fifth grade in Illinois and Florida. She’s in her ninth year of teaching Kindergarten at Machesney Park’s Donald C. Parker Center. She says, “teaching is not something you can ‘turn off’ on the weekends. When I come home from school, I am thinking about whether a student remembered to bring snow boots home or whether a lost tooth made it home safely for the tooth fairy.” This kind of thoughtfulness is just one reason students in her classroom feel so safe and welcome with her. The positive relationships and environment Miranda builds allows her students to make more growth in all areas. Miranda uses her experience as a mother of three, input from peers and students’ families, as well as regular monitoring and data reviews to customize lessons for students working below grade level expectations and for those who are performing at higher levels. She makes sure each child knows she truly believes in them and their ability to achieve their goals. Miranda imparts that differences are what make each of us special. Diversity is both embraced and loved in her classroom. She says, “The students have shown such patience, kindness and warmth to one another, regardless of their socio-economic status or backgrounds. I have three students with autism who are a part of the classroom during special times each day, and when it is time for them to return to their homeroom, they are flooded with hugs and goodbyes.” Because her students learn in different ways, Miranda offers several options for learning: through technology such as smartboards and Chromebooks; through music; through writing, reading and art; and “through small groups which allow for differentiation among each group.” Classroom facilitator, Paige Yeoman who submitted a nomination for Miranda says, “She truly makes each child feel special and loved in her classroom. Her dedication shows.” Working with Miranda and seeing her love of teaching led Paige to change her major from nursing to education. Miranda writes that she loves what she does and cares about the success of all the students in the school, not just the ones in her classroom. She added, “The kids are the reason I have gained such a passion for this career. Each day is a new adventure, and I can’t wait to see what will happen next.”