Award Recipients

2019-2020 Golden Apple Teachers

Nikki Gallentine

Nikki Gallentine
Prairie Hill School, South Beloit
Fourth Grade
Bachelor's Elementary Ed. – ISU
Masters Reading & Literacy Instruction -Walden University

Nikki Gallentine of South Beloit taught Kindergarten for 10 years, moving to Prairie Hill Elementary to teach fourth grade five years ago. Her students’ academic abilities range from first grade through sixth. Principal Kevin Finnegan was initially hesitant to hire 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.” Nikki decided on her perfect career in third grade. Her passions until that time 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. Nikki’s students daily recite a quote from celebrated educator, Rita Pierson, who knew that children first need to feel valued and safe in order to learn: “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 children with different backgrounds, strengths and challenges learn in different ways and considers it her job to make sure every child is learning. An observer of her classroom said she is, “exactly what I’d want for my child: pushing her children to excel without being overbearing.” Nikki combines her determination with some very creative methods. “It’s not unusual to see me standing on a table and students standing on chairs. We’re unapologetically loud at times, materials are not always meticulously organized, but some intense learning is happening here … learning can be messy.” One day, she may provide 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 room into a restaurant for a “book tasting.” All students must participate; their involvement elevates their level of understanding. Nikki strives to bring best practices to her class, school and district. She’s completed courses about building vocabulary, incorporating technology, addressing anxiety and understanding Autism, ADHD and Dyslexia. Her next endeavor is to obtain resources needed for 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.”

"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." Nikki Gallentine


Heather Geary

Heather Geary
Whitehead Elementary School, Rockford
Fourth Grade
AA-Highland CC
BS Elementary Teaching - Rockford College
MAT Teaching & Leadership - St. Xavier

Heather Geary of Loves Park taught multiple subjects at Lincoln Middle School for nine years, but she’s been at Whitehead Elementary for the past six years, teaching first fifth grade, now fourth. Each day, Heather starts class with a morning meeting which includes sharing, an activity and a message. She ends class with a closing circle to reflect on the day and what was learned. 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.” A GAF classroom observer was impressed that, “she participated in, not led, a group discussion on how to arrive at the correct answer.” Heather encourages students in her classes to act as a community and have educational conversations with each other, as it “enhances all student learning.” A second classroom observer enjoyed seeing students applaud their classmates’ success. Heather encourages students 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, she uses differentiated instruction based on MAP data to meet academic needs, makes accommodations for students based on IEPs, and uses the Responsive Classroom techniques including positive discipline and logical consequences. Another observer shared, “The best managed classroom I have ever seen. Used yoga techniques to center students. I’d want to have my kids in her classroom.” Upon receiving her Golden Apple, Heather said that she strives to improve her skills every year and she participated in the GA process for her students and because of what they shared in their nominations. Here is one of those student nominations that demonstrated the admiration Heather’s students feel for her: “Mrs. Geary is the best math teacher. I think she should get the Golden Apple because people really get her math and understand her.”

"I have made a commitment as an educator to help every student learn and succeed in my classroom and in life." Heather Geary


Tui Harned

Tui Harned
Nashold Early Childhood Center, Rockford
Bachelor's - Biology- Augustana College
Master's Early Childhood Ed.-Northern Illinois University

Tui Harned of Rockford has taught Pre-K at Rockford’s Nashold Early Childhood Center for five years. She took the surprise presentation of her award in stride, as she’s very confident and knows she’s a good teacher. She was most excited for the validation that while early education may look like playtime, there’s a tremendous amount of learning happening. In fact, feedback from an observation of her classroom included this: “[students] were taught math facts and operations without knowing it”! The Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network’s motto for new families, “You’ve got this. We’ve got you,” inspires Tui. As mother to a child with Down syndrome and teacher to many others, she 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’m here to support them any way I can.” Students who have developmental delays, autism, cognitive or medical diagnoses learn alongside peers in Nashold’s inclusion model. In Tui’s morning class, a quarter of the students are special education eligible and more than half are English Language learners. Her afternoon students’ first language may be American Sign Language, Spanish, Laotian, Burmese, Karen, Hindi, Urdu, Tagalog, French, Turkish, Arabic or Korean. Tui handles challenges thrown her way with patience and understanding. Another classroom observer said Tui has “amazing control over such a diverse group of little ones. Truly a wonderful teacher.” Tui says, “trying to figure out the reason [for behavior issues] and meet needs when students are not quite verbal is the tough part.” Sometimes, it takes years to see progress, but Tui knows that with effort, patience, resourcefulness and persistence, each child can and will make gains. She works with families, colleagues and specialists to ensure it. She communicates daily with families at drop off/pick up time and weekly through Class DoJo, meetings and conferences. One day, a student’s mother reported her son’s complaining he was so “mad at Ms. Tui”! Instead of troubling Tui, this news excited her. He’d verbally expressed himself after years of her efforts, modeling language, consulting with resource teachers, social workers and speech therapists. “Mom and I laughed and high-fived. It had been a long time coming … but we supported each other so we could each support him any way we could.” Her students also support each other. Principal Erin Salberg describes Tui’s classroom as a community of trust and cooperation, in which students “are held to an extremely high standard of accepting others’ difference, acknowledging strengths and working together.” She added, “It is not often 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.’

"You’ve got this. I’ve got you." Tui Harned


Heidi Milner

Heidi Milner
Ledgewood School, Roscoe
Bachelor's-Elementary Ed.-Monmouth University
Master's Teaching & Learning-Concordia University Chicago

Heidi Milner of Rockton has taught Kindergarten at Ledgewood for 11 years. Out of concern for everyone’s wellbeing of there, she also serves on committees focused on nutrition, climate and safety. GA Academy member Katherine Koehler, who worked with Heidi, shared that in Heidi’s classroom, “you’ll see that each child not only matters but is loved and 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.” That family bond was clear when Heidi accepted her Golden Apple. Lifting it high, she addressed her class: “Boys and Girls, WE did it”! Each little face responded with expressions of pride and joy. One year, because of a desire to support a student with 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 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 strategies, writing students, collaborating with peers, working on school projects and collecting items for the classroom. She has even organized summer playground playdates for her prior year’s students to have fun and catch up with each other. Her expectations of students are ingrained early, facilitating lots of learning. A classroom observer noted, “Well-run class that allowed for a lot of fun, exploration and learning – very positive”! 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 teachers within or outside her school or district. This year, Heidi partnered with a second-grade teacher who brought students to her classroom to read with her students. Differences in culture, health and economic status are acknowledged, discussed and celebrated in her classroom. She uses projects such as puzzles with uniquely shaped, colored and sized pieces to help students build bonds as a diverse “class family.” Years ago, a student declared that Heidi is the children’s “school mom” because she loves them, keeps them safe and helps them grow. A great compliment! Heidi knows though how important it is for actual family members to support children’s educational success. In a 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.”

"It could be said that teaching is my career during the school day, and it is my favorite hobby during my ‘free time." Heidi Milner


Tiffany Russey

Tiffany Russey
Conklin Elementary, Rockford
Second grade
AS-Early Childhood Education-Rasmussen College
BS-Early Childhood Education-Kendall College
MSS.Ed.-Early Childhood Education-Capella University

Tiffany Russey of Rockford is in her second-year teaching second grade at Rockford’s Conklin Elementary. Seeing her principal, family and GA staff file into her classroom to present the Golden Apple award to her launched Tiffany into action: she shrieked, started crying and ran straight for her family’s outstretched arms. She somehow found her words though, telling everyone, “This is all I’ve wanted since I was a little girl – just to grow up and be a teacher. Nothing else”! Tiffany’s mother confirmed that she had wanted to be 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 knows first-hand that families come in all different forms and sizes. She also knows how important family support and diversity representation can be to a student’s confidence and success. The inability of family members to attend scheduled conferences doesn’t deter her from her goals. To encourage open communication about achievements and issues so families have the information needed to support their children, she uses ClassDojo and student portfolios or will find alternate times to meet them. She emphasizes “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 seeing 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 everyone’s voices would be represented. Tiffany wants students to feel seen and respected. The student who nominated her for the Golden Apple award clearly feels seen and respected. She wrote,” this teacher believes that we can do anything”!

"It’s not just about learning outcomes for me. I am in the business of creating lovers of learning." Tiffany Russey



2018-2019 Golden Apple Teachers

Candice Cortese

Candice Cortese
Hononegah Community High School, Rockton

Candice Cortese of DeKalb is in her 14th year of teaching at Hononegah Community High School. She is the first recipient at Hononegah since 2011, so she was the first and only GA teacher that retiring principal Eric Flohr was able to celebrate on Golden Apple Day! This year, Candice is teaching Algebra, Pre-Calculus and Trigonometry. While those subjects can be daunting for some students, the student who nominated her said, “She is really good at breaking down complicated subjects into steps.” Our volunteers who observed her classes noticed the same thing as they even learned a few things from her! Candice sees who struggles, validates difficulties and works through the issues alongside her students. Her organization skills and positive feedback of both correct and incorrect answers also helps keep her students encouraged to actively participate in class. Devoted to the success of her students, Candice has developed curriculum for the PLATO program, a credit recovery system for students who have fallen behind in math credits, and eagerly volunteers to help these students herself. Hononegah ranked in the top 50 of all Illinois high schools in SAT scores the past school year; Candice’s efforts most assuredly contributed to that achievement. She is a content team leader and Professional Learning Community committee member who was a finalist for the Those Who Excel Illinois Teacher of the Year in 2015-2016. Hononegah principal, Eric Flohr said in his recommendation letter, “Ms. Cortese is the kind of educator that every principal wants inspiring children and guiding staff to the next level.” Candice’s days are long and full. Even with her 45-mile drive to school, she’s always among the first teacher in the building, usually two hours before class time. When she returns home, she is a volunteer coach for her kids’ youth soccer, Little League baseball and girls softball programs. On a wall in Candice’s classroom is a bulletin board celebrating student success. It is labeled, “Cortese’s Champions.” Well, to us, Candice, you are one of our Champions. Congratulations!

"Too many of today’s students are technology-focused and isolated. Building peer relationships and communication skills is just as important as learning the quadratic formula. My commitment to my students is what drives me to do my best. As a result, my students are developing a passion and enthusiasm for learning that will last a lifetime." Candice Cortese


Jeremy Edwards

Jeremy Edwards
Belvidere High School
Freshman Accelerated Biology and Advanced Placement Biology
Bachelor's in Biology - U of I Champaign/Urbana
Bachelor's in Secondary Ed. - ISU
Master's in Ed.Leadership – UNLV

Jeremy Edwards of Woodstock teaches at Belvidere High School. He has 15 years of teaching experience in science education, the last five at BHS. He was the 2010 recipient of the Black and Gold Award for outstanding dedication and service to Clark HS and the 2014 Teacher of the Year Finalist at Sterling HS. But early in his tenure at BHS, Jeremy started to hate his job: presenting material, reviewing it, running a lab to reinforce learning, then testing students to see if they remembered it. He considered leaving the field. Then he discovered Certifications. This discovery turned his classes, his teaching and his attitude around. “My commitment is now to developing students with research, presentation and critical thinking skills to guide them as they progress throughout their academic career.” He now eagerly heads to work each day to celebrate his students’ accomplishments. Jeremy also helps students discover their learning patterns. With that knowledge, they are better able to successfully organize their research. Jeremy is committed to continuous improvement and leads beyond his classroom. He was selected by the district superintendent to showcase his student-centered model in a video sent to all district staff. He is the science department content leader, school improvement team member, advanced placement committee member and biology team curriculum representative. He leads the Biology Professional Learning Community. Jeremy has presented certifications at the district school improvement days, at the 2018 Raising Student Achievement Conference in Chicago and has submitted a proposal to present at the National Advanced Placement Conference this summer. Jeremy has joined other teachers in BUCS Abroad through which he travels the world with students. The trips help him grow his relationships with students, increase parental involvement and collaborate with teachers from other fields while students learn about different ethnicities, backgrounds and ecosystems. Oh, and he’s also the head boys golf coach. As one of his student nominators says, “Mr. Edwards helped us become super independent. He also made us realize that we can do things on our own and he is truly helping us. By teaching the way he does, we can tell that he is really passionate about his job and that he also cares about his students enough to carry a conversation.” Congratulations on your award, Jeremy!

"I teach to make an impact on people’s lives. I teach biology but the students are learning so much more. I made the commitment to get off the stage and put the spotlight on them. Now we celebrate together as we all work toward a mastery level of learning." Jeremy Edwards


Amanda McCallister

Amanda McCallister
Roosevelt CEC, Rockford
Math, Algebra 1, Geometry, Math, Computer Apps
BS Teaching of Math - U of I-Chicago
MA School Leadership - Concordia-Chicago
M.Ed. Curriculum & Instruction Math - Concordia-Portland

Amanda McCallister "changed my mindset to believe I can graduate." Great praise shared by one of the students who nominated Amanda for the Golden Apple! Amanda, of Rockford, has 11 years of teaching experiences, the last seven at Roosevelt CEC. Principal Morgan Gallagher says that Amanda has led her peers in adjusting instruction to individual student needs through assessments and data-driven improvement cycles. "As a result, in the last two years, the number of credits earned by students has increased more than 60-percent. In turn, the number of graduates has increased more than 40-percent." In fact, a student completed graduation requirements during a classroom observation! The pride and recognition of that accomplishment resulted in a first for a veteran GA volunteer: she was brought to tears during the observation. Jennifer Macek, Director of MTSS, Rockford Public Schools, said, "Amanda knows math, but more importantly, she knows how to teach math." Amanda feels that, "the purpose of math education is not about using formulas or following a specific pattern; it is about training the mind to think logically and justify your work." The students in Amanda’s classes often have failed multiple math classes; they need individual attention to boost their confidence and re-ignite their desire to achieve learning goals. These students need to know their teacher is trustworthy, despite whatever challenges they bring, before they are will listen and make an effort. By talking with students about relationship situations, job problems, anxiety and budgeting, and by providing consistent praise and support, Amanda shows them just how trustworthy and caring she is. Because she often sees students come to Roosevelt without bare essentials necessary to succeed, Amanda applies for grants to offer things like food, hygiene products, calculators and a charging station. She’s used prep time to mentor and tutor students; watched a student’s child while the student finished remaining credits needed to graduate; and created a personal finance workshop. She uses a system for students who need a distance learning option to eliminate yet another roadblock. And she constantly adds alternative learning methods which accommodate her students’ unique backgrounds, learning styles, skills and interests. Thank you for all you do, Amanda – congratulations on your award!

"Many teenagers do not want to go to a parent for advice. [They turn to] social media, friends and TV to help them figure it out. I make it known that I care about them as a whole person, not just their math skills." Amanda McCallister


Amanda Newmes

Amanda Newmes
Belvidere North High School
working on masters in curriculum and instruction from EIU

Amanda Newmes of Roscoe has taught in Belvidere high schools for 17 years, the past 10 at Belvidere North. Though she had initially planned to be a doctor, she came to the conclusion that medical school was not for her and set an appointment with an advisor to guide her to a different path. To her surprise, he told her he was glad her previous plan didn’t work out! But he went a step further by telling her, “You have a gift of communicating with people. You help others before you help yourself. Your talent would not be used in the medical field; you need to be a teacher.” David Carson, assistant superintendent of Belvidere Community Unit School District 100 says, “Amanda is a bold teacher who seeks to deeply transform each of her students as well as the system in which she teaches. I have seen her not only talk about desired changes in education with her colleagues, but live and model the changes we should make to provide a high quality education for all of our students.” Areas in which Amanda has been at the forefront of innovation in the district include flexible seating, blended learning classes and standards-based grading. She encourages student ownership, which results in more student engagement. In her biology class, she asks each student to write down something they’d always wanted to build, study or create. She meets with each student individually to guide them to the resources they need to accomplish the project they desire; they take it from there. She is more a facilitator than the focus in her classes. By design. “I do not want to grade 30 of the same project. But how powerful is it for students to see inspired, passion-filled projects that are student choice? Students do not want vanilla ice cream every day they come to class. That gets old and redundant. Instead, I try to provide the 31 flavors and let them choose the toppings to mix up learning so that it is exciting and students do not even notice that they are learning.“ A former student who nominated Amanda shared: “She instills the love of learning in each and every one of her students, and pushes them to achieve whatever goal they want in life. I now work professionally in the medical field and I know this would not be possible without her help.” Another student shared a three-page letter of recommendation for Amanda, full of examples of how she supports and encourages her students in and out of the classroom. “She is doing great things for the community, the school district and the life of her students. You can see that in her work, her projects, her achievements, and in her family. But mostly, you can see it in her students.” Amanda, you’ve bowled us over with your energy and enthusiasm for education. Congratulations on your award!

"It is my students who continuously provide me with passion, motivation, and energy to make each day an epic day! Every morning I pray that I can put my talents to the best use to reach out to the students that need me most." Amanda Newmes


Molly Priest

Molly Priest
Eisenhower Middle School, Rockford
Sixth grade general and environmental science
BA Psychology from the University of Iowa
Teacher Certification in Middle School Science/Language Arts – Ashland University
Master’s degree in STEM Education from Nova Southeastern University

Rockford native Molly Priest has been teaching for 14 years. For the past nine years, she’s been teaching at Eisenhower Middle School, a school she attended in her youth. A student nominator said, “Mrs. Priest is an amazing teacher. She makes learning fun. When you are in her classroom, you feel like you are cared for and safe. She always encourages her students to develop their learning. She is more than a teacher; Mrs. Priest is also a friend, a philosopher and a guide to the students.” Principal Jeff Carlson knows that many students consider her a favorite teacher. He says that it is not just because of her caring relationship with them, but also because of her creative lessons which engage each and every student. “It’s not uncommon to see her standing on a table to demonstrate a topic or to utilize any number of creative strategies to help students remember the objectives she wants them to obtain.” And those strategies get results. In 2017, she was recognized by both WZOK and WREX-13 with Teacher of the Week awards. In 2018, more than 70-percent of her students met or exceeded their fall to spring MAP goals and in one of her classes, 92-percent of her students met or exceeded their fall to spring MAP goals. Molly does let her students know that mistakes are OK. “My learners have also discovered that wrong answers often lead to great classroom discussions where students are allowed the opportunity to teach one another.” She’s also “honest with students about the mistakes I have made, and I try to model the process in which one can analyze and learn from their mishaps.” Molly encourages goal-setting and positive thinking. Her students reflect on their progress and she brainstorms with them to find ways to achieve their learning goals. They develop confidence and take pride in achievements. She enjoys working with progressive, supportive staff and administrators, as well as a diverse student body. “We celebrate and respect our differences, all the while finding ways to connect to one another, as we all have the same goal: to be academically, socially and emotionally prepared for the future.” Susie Lynch, an EMS parent and Booster Club President considers Molly, “a once in a lifetime teacher, the teacher you always dream of, hope your child will have for inspiration, for involvement and for instilling a love of learning.” One of Molly’s goals is for her students to love and value learning as much as she does.

"No matter where a student starts, they are capable of growth. I am hopeful that I am making a positive difference in the lives of my students and our Rockford community. My ultimate goal is for my students to be proud to say they grew up in Rockford too!" Molly Priest


2017-2018 Golden Apple Teachers


 Rachel Huetson
 Nelson Elementary, Rockford
 First Grade
 M. A., Reading Instruction, Aurora University
 B.A., Elementary Education, Rockford University

Mrs. Rachel Huetson of Rockford has seven years of teaching experience with grades K- 2. She’s been teaching first grade at Nelson Elementary the past two years. She’s on the district’s math curriculum and the school’s leadership teams. Rachel was nominated and endorsed by peers. Elise McNeff said, “I cannot think of a better teacher to guide new teachers in their profession and support them in what will likely be their most challenging years. Rachel is not concerned just with the success of her own students; she cares enough to be a teacher leader to improve student success within the building and the district level.” Amy Huftalin added that she “worked diligently to set up her classroom to be inviting yet challenging for students … she even removed her teacher desk to provide more space for the kids!”

 Rachel says her classroom is “focused more on the learning process than the product. I believe that I allow each student to learn above and even beyond his/her own potential.” She believes that “teachers need to promote democracy and self-discipline in the classroom by setting limits and using praise.”

Rachel has found that students tend to be more successful when their families support and share in the educational process, so she regularly shares lesson content and tips to help families work with their children at home. She has a special gift for empathizing with those facing educational challenges.

Rachel is committed to being a lifelong learner, seeking knowledge to bring best practices to her classroom. In fact, in 2012, though newly married, raising a child with special needs and expecting another child, she went back to school to work on her master’s degree. Seeing the rewards of Rachel’s efforts also inspired her husband, who has returned to school to get an education degree as well. Talk to Rachel a bit about her ideas for education and her devotion to the profession and you will be inspired too – during finalist interviews, she actually brought a veteran interviewer to tears!

“It is my job to allow my students to express their learning through a variety of multiple intelligences so that they become lifelong learners.”  – Rachel Huetson



Katherine Koehler
Ledgewood Elementary, Roscoe
First Grade
M.EDS, Administration & Leadership, National Louis University
B.A., Elementary Education, Rockford University

Miss Katherine Koehler of Loves Park is in her seventh year of teaching first grade at Roscoe’s Ledgewood Elementary. Katherine was homeschooled her whole K-12 education. No one in her family went to college, so lessons were often very frustrating for both teacher and student! Her family didn’t talk about, encourage or expect her to attend college, but she was undaunted. Katherine established early on that her path was to become an Elementary teacher so she made a plan and made it happen. When we presented Katherine with her Golden Apple in her classroom, her family beamed with pride, saying they knew from her first day of teaching that she would be an excellent teacher.

Katherine says teaching is not just her career but a fiber of her being. Others may disagree, but she is certain many students have affected her more than she’s affected them.  In her first year of teaching, Katherine realized just how much she had yet to learn. A student in her class had Asperger’s and daily taught her the about commitment. Not being well-versed on how to work with students with special needs, she felt like she was just trying to keep her head above water, but she was determined to do everything in her power to help this child have a successful year. He was not affectionate. He struggled to communicate. But the days he would walk up to her and say, “I like you, you make school better than it was last year, I don’t want to go home,” made her realize, “what these children needed was to know I cared for them, loved them and would do whatever it took to make first grade a memorable year.”

“Teaching has taught me how to love unconditionally, how to put others before myself, how to continually find new ways to get to know that student who is struggling in school, and how to lead by example. It is my hope that my students will remember their first grade teacher as someone who was committed, loving and a person who they could depend on. Teaching has brought me direction and purpose, and for that I am grateful.”  - Katherine Koehler



Gabriela Nunez-Reagan
Seth Whitman Elementary, Belvidere
First Grade Dual Language
Bachelor’s., Bilingual/Bicultural Education, Western Illinois UniversityMasters, Reading Specialist/Learning Disabilities, Northern Illinois University

Mrs. Gabriela Nunez-Reagan came to the U.S.  at age 15 not knowing any English. She’s now been teaching 19 years. She’s been at Belvidere’s Seth Whitman for 11 years, the last five as the First Grade Dual Language teacher.” Gabriela tells her story with students and says, “learning a second language is hard, but we need to take risks, be positive, and keep trying.” Gaby emphasizes that though everyone has different cultural and economic backgrounds, they can all learn from each other. “We work, learn, laugh and sometimes we cry happy tears together.” All her students are second language learners: 10 speak Spanish at home; 12 have English as their first language. At classroom observation time in our selection process, Gaby urged us to send Spanish-speaking observers so they could fully experience her class. We are grateful for her nudging; we now have a pool of Spanish-speaking volunteers!

Gabriela helped develop the district’s dual language framework. She organizes reading and multicultural nights, plus homework clubs to encourage parents to participate in their children’s academic success. She advises Seth Kids, a group of third-fifth graders who want to be school leaders and give back to the community. One of their service projects emerged after Gaby learned of a student’s struggling family. She created a themed-tree for which Seth Kids made decorations, organized a gift drive and even delivered the tree. Donating a Christmas tree and gifts to a needy family is now a school tradition.

Gaby’s passion for dual-language education, her students, and for the whole learning process is truly evident in all she says and does. She also brought a veteran interviewer to tears in the final step of our selection process (twice), impressing her with her message of love and hope

“As I reflect back on my 19 years as a bilingual and dual language educator, I can happily say that I chose the right path in my life.” – Gabriela Nunez-Reagan



Ashley Schwabero
Prairie Hill School, South Beloit
Fourth Grade
Masters; Instructional Strategies; Rockford College
Bachelors; Elementary Education; University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Mrs. Ashley Schwabero is in her ninth year of teaching. She taught Kindergarten at Walker and Ledgewood Schools. Two years ago, Principal Kevin Finnegan recruited her to Prairie Hill. In his letter about Ashley, he wrote, “Good teachers are great with students. Awesome teachers are great with students and parents. Truly transcendent teachers make an indelible impact with the students, their community and their building.”

Ashley works with therapists, special education teachers and students’ families to provide the best possible educational experience. She’s added to her team, building and district by revising assessment protocols, and creating student-centered classrooms and curriculum maps. Kerry Driscoll, District Curriculum Coordinator, says “Ashley’s rapport with teachers at all grade levels has made her a trusted voice in discussions about Math, English Language Arts, fluency, reporting, Response to Intervention and school-wide protocols. She has similarly established herself as a valued voice, district-wide.”

Once students feel safe, encouraged and trusted, Ashley says they can focus on learning. That trust also carries over to students’ families. One parent shared, “When you find a person you completely trust with the well-being of your child, you’ve found an outstanding human being! Our child is a better person and we are better parents because of her.”

Ashley encourages students to use critical thinking, asking, “Are we making good choices”? She visually demonstrated that different students require different methods to reach the same goal and “fair” doesn’t always mean “the same,” by having everyone reach for candy in a bucket tied to the ceiling. Only the taller ones could reach at first, but with additional chairs or steps, all were able to succeed.

Ledgewood Kindergarten teacher Mary Hartshorn also recommended Ashley, saying, “In my 24 years of teaching experience, I am aware that it is rare to find an individual with the influence, dedication and special qualities that Ashley Schwabero possesses as an educator.”

“The field of education is one in which a teacher’s job is ever-changing. I will never stop adjusting, growing, and learning along the way. I believe I could not have chosen to dedicate myself to a more significant and rewarding profession, as it is educators who help build the foundation for the impact that each child will make in our world.” – Ashley Schwabero


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Lance Tuula
Whitman Post Elementary, Rockton
Fifth Grade
Associates in Arts; Rock Valley College
M.A.; Secondary Education; University of Phoenix
B.A.; Business Management; Judson College (University) 

Mr. Lance Tuula of Rockton has been “edu-taining” fourth and fifth grades for 13 years, the last 11 at Whitman Post. “My classroom is not just a room; it’s an arena of performance, laughter, love and compassion. The teacher on that stage may be my regular self; it may be me in a set of wacky glasses holding Thor’s hammer, talking about what our society has taken from the Vikings. Learning is too much fun to just follow a straight line!” A former student told Principal Megan Forsythe that Lance “always comes up with awesome ways to teach us new things – it’s like he tricks us into learning.”

Fifth grade teacher Amy Meier says, “Lance wants the children in his care to learn, but he also wants them to grow up to be men and women of strong moral character who will make positive contributions to our world. He has an intuitive way of using laughter and fun to motivate, inspire and educate not only the students in his classes, but his peers as well.”

Known as the “go-to guy” for technology, Lance is a Smartboard trainer for the Rockton School District, sharing knowledge not just with students, but also with peers. He leads the school one-to-one initiative; all his students have a Chromebook as part of the learning culture. He also uses many non-traditional instructional tools and props. For example, every fall, Lance hands out blank puzzle pieces to students to personalize with their own skills, favorite things or sources of pride. They then put the pieces together to show how each is unique, but all have a place and are needed for the puzzle to be whole.  J. Scott Rollinson, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources, Harlem School District, says what separates Lance from other teachers isn’t his use of technology, his fun lesson delivery or the respect he’s earned as an educator. It’s his love for children. “Teaching children is what Lance Tuula was made to do.”

Every year, Forsythe places a student with behavioral concerns in Lance’s class. She knows he’ll find a way to connect and ensure that the student reaches success. But not one of our classroom observers spotted any behavioral issues. In fact, most documented such great engagement and respect that they wished to have been in his class, to have children in his class or to teach alongside him!

Lance says he wants all the students to know that, “no matter their performance level, the entire arena will always be cheering for them in the end. I try to stop at some point every day, take a breath, and realize that there’s no place I’d rather be than in our arena, on our stage.”


2016-2017 Golden Apple Teachers

Tom FreesmeierThomas Freesmeier

Harlem Middle School, Machesney Park

8th grade Social Studies

M. A., Teacher Leader, St. Xavier University

B.A., Political Science, Marquette University


Mr. Freesmeier was nominated by several students. One wrote, “By using humor, ridiculous scenarios, and funny stories, Mr. Freesmeier forges a bond few teachers can touch.” Another added, “So long as his students don’t give up or settle, he won’t either!”

With music, technology and an engaging presence, Tom keeps students laughing and learning. He shares personal examples demonstrating his role as a lifelong learner. His classroom observers said he makes history fun, bringing to life potentially dull content.

Mr. Freesmeier has taught for 11 years, nine at Harlem Middle School, and is the Social Studies department chair. He’s an instructional coach and new teacher mentor. Tom continually seeks professional development, is involved in the community and has received many professional honors. He and nine colleagues are now working together to pursue National Board Certification.

A valued GAF Twitter follower, Tom followed all our Golden Apple Day stops, texting his wife after each presentation that another deserving teacher had received an award, so he was sure he’d be empty-handed at the end of the day. Little did he know, she, along with their children, was hiding with volunteers, GAF staff and the WREX-13 crew waiting to surprise him!

Tom interacts with students and their families through Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. (Check out his “Constitution Rap” on our Facebook page!) And he always welcomes family or others who want to visit his classroom.

Teaching is rewarding beyond my imagination. Managing the excitement in my current students and seeing that excitement still in my former students makes all these challenges, hard work, and constant change worthwhile. I’m blessed to have been placed in a profession that suits me and is so fun – Tom Freesmeier

Linda Juilian

Linda Julian
Willowbrook Middle School, South Beloit
5-8 Choir; 7th grade Speech; General Music
M.Ed., Education, National Louis University
B.A. Music Education, Carthage College


Mrs. Julian has been teaching 39 years, 18 at Willowbrook; she’s the reigning champion of longevity for Golden Apple Teachers in public schools. She shares teaching time at Prairie Hill Elementary.  Students from both schools clapped their way into the music room for her Apple presentation.

Linda loves her job and teaching music. When diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, among her first concerns was the need for a plan to make sure the “students could continue learning, singing and performing with as little disruption as possible.” It was vital to demonstrate that not even cancer would derail her commitment.  She’s determined to give her all until retiring in the spring of 2019. It would be easy to “coast” to retirement, but Linda continues to grow. This year, administrators asked if she’d teach a speech class. Despite her initial concerns, she readily agreed. The class is now among her favorites!

While many schools have sports booster clubs, Linda has “music boosters.” These parents buy awards, equipment and music for participants, plus organize a talent show. To Linda, these supporters help validate the choir and band programs’ quality.

Linda participates in school food drives, fundraisers, Secret Santa for needy children and the Java Jam scholarship benefit. She takes students to sing at nursing homes. This year, she helped form a student-led music honor society.Its goal is to help students and organizations in the district, and to help provide music activities and awareness for children who may not have the opportunity to participate in music programs.

Linda’s classes explore and discuss diversity. Her choirs sing songs from such countries as Zambia, Mexico, Israel and England; they have sung in Latin, Swahili, German, Spanish and more. As she says, “Music has the power to unite us all.”

Sarah Schaefer

Sarah Schaefer

Roosevelt Community Education Center, Rockford

10-12 Enviro 1&2; Earth 1&2; Biology 1&2; Robotic Integrated Algebra-based Physics

B.S., Biology, Northern Illinois University

Type 09 Certification, NIU


Ms. Schaefer is in her sixth year teaching – her fourth at Roosevelt – so this is the first year she was eligible for the Golden Apple! Sarah is science department head, RPS 205 Science Curriculum Task Force member, Raising Student Achievement presenter, Art Integration project leader and head robotics coach. And she still finds time to participate in Alignment Rockford, Sharefest, other community activities and professional development events!

To see Sarah surprised in class with her Golden Apple, surrounded by her robotics team and students, you could mistake her as a student. Her size, style and exuberance blend with the youth. Sarah’s classes appear casual but students are engaged and focused. Each person is supportive to the others. Clearly, she’s head of the class. Students turn to her for knowledge and respect.

Despite having students of varying ages, cultures, socio-economical and educational backgrounds, Sarah provides classroom management and one-on-one instruction that works. She provides student-centered teaching, progressive leadership and dedication to some of Rockford’s most challenged students. Roosevelt principal, Morgan Gallagher says, “Sarah understands that traditional, whole group teaching methods have not always adequately served our students.” Assistant Principal, Jen Macek added, “Her passion and creativity is contagious. Through her leadership, the science department has developed rigorous and engaging classrooms, where students are asking higher level questions and teachers are using innovative practices.”

Sarah learns students’ stories, demonstrating her belief in their success. She stresses there are no mistakes, just learning opportunities. She demonstrates the importance of being a lifelong learner, using real situations to teach about science and how it affects them. Because Sarah has built relationships with students, they trust her. Her students strive to grow, knowing she will never give up on them.

My goal for every student is to identify their talents and introduce the tools they need and watch them grow.” – Sarah Schaefer


Julie ThomasJulie Thomas

Harlem High School, Machesney Park

9-12 Spanish

M.A.; Spanish; Northern Illinois University
B.A.; Spanish and Secondary Education; Marquette University

Mrs. Thomas has taught 12 years, 10 at Harlem HS. Julie is also Spanish Club advisor, Safe Haven Anti-Bullying Club founder and advisor, leader of international immersion trips, coordinator of host families for students from Spain, and former Track & Field coach.

Harlem’s Associate Principal says Julie is a tireless advocate for students. She is especially empathetic to those lacking financial resources or who have experienced any form of marginalization. She is a leader for equity, an advocate and ally for the LGBTQ community. A transgender student was specifically placed in her class by the administration because they knew Julie would provide a safe, welcoming environment, with no fear of judgment.

Julie’s classroom is as colorful and cheery as she is. Flags, posters, translation tools, and student work decorate her space. Students are seated in a u-shaped formation; no one can hide in the back of the class! She encourages participation as part of student grades, but without the pressure of singling anyone out. Observers noticed Julie using humor in positive, supportive ways that helped students remember their lesson; they smiled and laughed appropriately.

Julie is passionate about building developing cultural awareness and finding ways to connect with teenagers. She looks to meet both students’ personal and educational needs.

A former student wrote that Julie helped her out of her comfort zone by guiding her to and on a study abroad trip to Peru. “She helped me discover my passion for Spanish and education, drove me to become a more confident, outgoing person and inspired me to be the teacher I am today.”

I am definitely committed to making my students feel loved, important, and for them to discover what their unique and valuable contribution to this world is, like I have discovered mine.” – Julie Thomas

Jarod Young

Jared Young
Belvidere North High School, Belvidere
9-12 Business
M.A.; Secondary Education; University of Phoenix
B.A.; Business Management; Judson College (University)

Mr. Young is in his seventh year of teaching, all but two at Belvidere North. This is the first time a Golden Apple award was presented to a teacher at BNHS.

With a business background, Jared is keenly aware what skills business leaders want in the workplace. He encourages leadership qualities that correlate to any industry. Jared works closely with local business people, politicians and central office staff to coordinate mock interviews. His marketing lab students apply business knowledge by running the school store. They must defend business decisions with reasoning and analysis. Business professionals who observed Jared’s classes felt his lessons were truly on point, preparing the students well for college and “the real world.”

Through DECA and VEI, Jared and other volunteers worked with Aeropostale to collect clothing for homeless shelters, achieving “Top Drive” status in 2015. Because of his students’ business competition successes, Jared was invited to present information at the 2016 Illinois Business Educators Association conference. He was the only classroom instructor on Alignment Rockford’s Academy Expo planning team; he designed and implemented a scheduling matrix coordinating the drop-off, processing and return of 4,000+ students/staff/dignitaries.

Students seek out Jared’s classes, knowing they will learn more than just standard school requirements – they also learn valuable life lessons. He speaks to students in language they understand, while challenging them to think at a higher level. Jared encourages students by being excited with them and celebrating small victories, telling them, “let’s be successful.”

Everything can be turned into a learning opportunity to Jared, even the moment he was surprised in his classroom with the Golden Apple presentation. He had been discussing “dealing with change.” After accepting the award, he turned to his students and said, “Speaking of change – here’s one! I’m now a Golden Apple teacher. This is for you.”


2015-2016 Golden Apple Teachers

Tiffany Aurand

Tiffany Aurand

Windsor Elementary, Loves Park

2nd Grade Teacher

M.A.; Curriculum & Instruction; National Louis University

B.A.; Elementary Education; Northern Illinois University


“We all have strengths and weaknesses and can use our strengths to help one another grow and become better individuals.” This mindset is what stands out when you first meet Tiffany Aurand.

Tiffany teaches her students to not only respect each other for their differences and uniqueness but to see each other as family. Her students look out for one another, help one another achieve their goals, and care for one another’s feelings, because they are family. Tiffany creates a positive learning environment where students can take risks without feeling afraid of being judged. Mrs. Aurand’s experiences have shaped her into the teacher she is today, allowing her students to grow academically, emotionally, and socially.

Tiffany goes beyond just teaching her students how to grow academically; she serves on her school’s Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS) committee which collaborates to develop individualized interventions for students. To further support their development, Tiffany engages parents at home through the use of apps to share step-by-step pictures with parents on how to solve common core homework problems with their children. She recognizes that when parents feel more confident about their ability to help they will be more involved in their child’s advancement.

Believe it or not Tiffany didn’t see herself being a teacher or even attending college at an early age. It was not until her senior year of high school when she was asked to help teach Sunday school that she discovered her talent and desire to be a teacher. That initial interaction not only sparked her interest in teaching but catapulted her into a successful career of teaching, learning, and being an academic leader in the community. This chance given to her by someone who believed in her ability is one reason Tiffany isn’t just committed to helping her students grow academically, but helping them blossom into respectful, responsible, young people who celebrate their unique gifts.

“I meet my students where they are and take them to new heights”-Tiffany Aurand.


Tina Cuppini

Tina Cuppini

Ledgewood School, Roscoe

K-1st Grade Special Education Teacher

B.S.; Education with Learning Behavioral Specialist I, Special Education endorsement; Northern Illinois University


Most of us are blessed with all our senses—visual, auditory, touch, and smell—to process the world and help us learn. Now imagine one or more of your senses do not work effectively. Or conversely, overloads with too much information! The world does not connect with you as it does for others. You are unable to effectively communicate. You are bombarded with stimuli that you do not understand. Life is a chaotic, agitated whirl. Now throw in that you are five years old and trying to fit into kindergarten for the first time.

Frightening. Frustrating. Crushing. But then a person takes your hand and helps guide you back into a community of learners that cares for you and comforts you. This person listens to you, laughs with you, and finds a way for you to fit into this world.

Meet that person---Tina Cuppini. Tina teaches Special Education Kindergarten and First Grade at Ledgewood School. “Improving the lives of individuals around me is my passion!” Tina says as she begins to express her teaching philosophy. Her specialty is her expertise with Sensory Processing Disorders including such diagnoses as ADHD, Cerebral Palsy, and Autism. Tina’s day is filled with helping children with sensory deficits discover how to communicate their talents and absorb all the valuable lessons needed to lead productive lives. When she is not directly teaching students, she is helping her colleagues understand effective strategies to meet children’s needs. Tina also coordinates parent education to support her students. One more role is team teaching in a general education kindergarten. In this setting, Tina helps all class members learn compassion and understand why “different students need different tools to be the most successful.”

In a world filled with constant, and sometimes confusing stimuli, Tina helps her young students find meaning and joy!


Beth Limones

Beth Limones

Seth Whitman Elementary, Belvidere

2nd Grade Dual Language Teacher

M.A.T.; Elementary Education; Rockford University

B.A.; Communications; Northern Illinois University


“I don’t like teaching. I love teaching. Even as a young girl I enjoyed playing school and ‘teaching’ my cousins and friends when we played.”

 Yet, as Beth Limones grew up, teaching was not a profession she considered.  In college she majored in Communications and became proficient in graphic design. But even then, she found herself in a teaching role: leading software training courses for different companies. 

Time passed; Beth’s life moved on—marriage, three daughters. Then 14 year later, she found herself in the role of single mother and in need of a job.  Beth was drawn into teaching by a friend who suggested that she apply to be a bilingual teacher because of her fluency in Spanish. And this was the beginning of Beth’s new career.

In her 2nd grade classroom, Ms. Limones instructs her students through English in the morning and then focuses on Spanish in the afternoon. Her students feel free to share customs and traditions which leads to great discussions whether it is in Spanish or in English. As one observer commented, “I couldn’t tell which students were native English-speakers and which were native Spanish-speakers.”

One of the pioneers of the District 100’s Dual Language program, Beth Limones continues to play an active role in the development of the curriculum—a curriculum that focuses on biliteracy, bilingualism and biculturalism. She has also been involved with creating the first online program for Rockford University to use with teachers enrolled in ESL/Bilingual endorsement coursework. 

Today, Beth is committed to being the best teacher she can be. “I believe that if I can create a lifelong love of learning in my students, I will have made a positive impact on our community and world.”


Tom O’Brien

Tom O’Brien

Beyer Elementary, Rockford

5th Grade Teacher

M.A.T.; Rockford University

B.A.; Criminal Justice; Loras College


In his ten years of teaching experience, above all else, Tom shows a strong commitment to students. “The students know that despite the changes going on in the neighborhood, in their families, in their lives, that Mr. O’Brien will be teaching fifth grade at their local school next year.” He works hard with his students to help them meet high expectations. Abilities in Tom’s classroom range from students who excel to students who have virtually no math or reading literacy. He delivers interventions to small groups of students that are driven by data. He is an active part of a professional learning community in which they share successes, struggles, and strategies all in an effort to help each child meet his or her goal.

Tom works diligently to not only meet students where they are at academically, but also where they are at socially and emotionally. He focuses on teaching students about the history of Rockford and its neighborhoods. They discuss ethnic transitions in populations and customs in order to foster a sense of mutual respect and a feeling of community within the classroom. His classroom is structured based on wards where students are elected as aldermen to serve their ward for a one-month term. This transitions into students locating wards within Rockford neighborhoods and identifying their aldermen to increase communication and civic engagement and build pride in their city.

Tom has an open door policy with families. He works to teach parents, siblings, cousins, and uncles so that they may help students at home. Tom stays in contact with key members of the community so that he is informed about what is happening in the neighborhood. This allows him to connect with his students and create a safe learning environment. Tom is dedicated to teaching the whole student. He respects the journey each student has traveled and is committed to further their journey through love and compassion. His students respect him because, “He does fun things with us and lets us learn together and because he loves us.”


Laura Wanke

Laura Wanke

Pecatonica Elementary School

First Grade

M.A.T., Reading Education, Rockford University

B. A., Elementary Education, Rockford University


Laura Ladybug! Sherlock Holmes! Nancy Numeral! These are just a few of the characters you might find if you went looking for Laura Wanke in her Pecatonica Elementary School classroom. After a moment of surprise you would notice every student focused and engaged in learning with this amazing teacher! You won’t find Laura trying out for “The Voice” on TV, though. Her singing voice won’t win prizes, but it wins the attention and enthusiasm of her students as Laura enriches lessons with song and dance.

Laura’s life as a teacher is not contained in the hours of school. Sharing in the lives of her students is very important to Laura. “Educating my students goes beyond the classroom. I believe that students need to feel loved, valued and respected.” She puts those words into action. Laura regularly attends sporting events, music recitals, and community events in which her current and past students participate. There seem to be no limits to Laura’s commitment as she has even taken a pie in the face to promote the PTO Pie Sale---not once, but TWICE! That’s dedication!

That dedication runs deeply into Laura’s love of the teaching profession. Known as a leader in her district, Laura mentors new teachers in her building, using her experiences to strengthen the instruction at all grade levels. She inspires new educators with introductory programs she presents for Rockford University undergraduate and graduate reading students. Laura is also a freelance writer for Mailbox Magazine. Since 2006, she has had a variety of articles published in this resource for teachers.

From the classroom to the community; from professional presentations to instructional publications; Laura is pouring herself into making learning the best it can be for students. “It was my amazing teachers who kept my school experiences positive and inspired me,” Laura reports. She now continues that tradition, using her talents and time to make learning more meaningful for every student she reaches!


2014-2015 Golden Apple Teachers

Rohini Gupta 424x640

Rohini Gupta

Harlem High School, Machesney Park

Mathematics Teacher

M.Phil.; Mathematics; Punjabi University

M.S.; Mathematics; Panjab University

B.S.; Mathematics; Panjab University

B.Ed. with Mathematics and English certification; Maharshi Dayanand University


Rohini Gupta encourages the seniors in her math classes through a blend of high expectations with a differentiated approach to lessons customized to the skill level of each individual student.  She utilizes pre-testing to assess their prior knowledge.  Students are then expected to learn that course’s concepts through tiered levels of homework suited to their current abilities.  Gifted students enter into a contract that challenges them to learn higher order material.  Post-tests are administered to confirm student growth in addition to a daily monitoring of progress via “problem of the day” and “exit tickets.”  All students learn demanding math concepts regardless of the skill level they had upon entering her room; Ms. Gupta is sure of it.

Ms. Gupta challenges herself to maintain steady communication with the parents of her students.  The year begins with a parent-signed confirmation of that year’s expectations and informing them that they can see what is going on anytime via her class’s webpage. Ms. Gupta prepares progress reports every month so the parents always know how their child is progressing up to the end of their high school experience.

Teamwork and collaboration is the foundation to her relationship with co-workers.  She serves on math committees helping to align curriculum to common core, designing final exams, and conducting field testing of standardized tests.  During School Improvement Days she has presented to her peers on differentiated instruction.  Her collaboration reaches beyond her building when she works with middle school math teachers to help align their lessons to common core in a way that ensures their students’ success when they reach high school.  An administrator said, “Rohini’s relationship with students, parents and colleagues shows a great desire to be involved in all that comes with the profession.”


Laurie Mayer 409x640


Laurie Mayer

Willowbrook Middle School, South Beloit

6th grade Literature & 6th-8th grade Spanish

6 years of experience

M.A.; Curriculum and Instruction, Teaching and Learning Assessment; National Louis University

B.A.; Elementary Education; University of Illinois


“Teaching is not something I do; it is truly who I am.” That is quickly what you realize when you first meet Laurie Mayer. Watching Laurie guide her students is to experience a classroom where everyone feels they belong and this is the moment that was meant to be. Laurie may have only been a certified teacher for six years, but her development as an educator began early! Her childhood memories from daycare are filled with “teaching the younger children anything I could, from the alphabet to how to tie a shoe.”

Laurie’s current teaching assignment alternates her hours between the challenge of connecting sixth graders to literature, and then teaching middle school students the skills of Spanish. To expand their knowledge of Spanish culture, she founded the Spanish Club where seventy members meet regularly, making it the biggest club in the school. Then there are the individual students to whom she is always available to provide academic and social support. In one example, Laurie continues to provide weekly guidance to a student from two years ago. Laurie clearly demonstrates that the responsibilities of a teacher do not end with the closing bell.

Whether in or out of the classroom Laurie is committed to the students and staff of Willowbrook Middle School.  Through her classroom instruction, collegial leadership, and extracurricular activities, she is determined to make “a difference in the lives of young people.” One administrator noted in Laurie’s recommendation that “her solid judgment and pedagogical expertise belie her age.” But that should not be a surprise when, as we’ve learned, Laurie’s practice as a teacher began back in daycare! 


Amy Orvis 356x640

Amy Orvis

Montessori at Thurgood Marshall School, Rockford

Seventh and Eighth Grade Social Studies and Language Arts

M.A.; Curriculum and Instruction; National Louis University

B.A.; Elementary Education; Southern Illinois University


“My goal: foster readers who can read deeply; nurturing academic strength in all areas, success in school careers, increased consideration for positions in the working world, and carry the love of literature to their own children,” says Amy Orvis of her never-ending passion for teaching.  To this end she has amassed a classroom library of over 2,000 books with each child having their own personal subset of books selected—with guidance—from the class collection.  This effort even earned her the 2012 Barack Obama Literacy Award.


Ms. Orvis emphasizes respect, celebration of diversity, and high expectations for her students to be the best they can be as compassionate citizens as well as academically.  She says, “I am devoted to helping my students excel in all areas of communication, problem-solving/critical-thinking, and positive/productive relational skills with diverse people, in diverse situations.”  Her students respond by living up to her expectations behaviorally and academically.


Her passion for teaching drove her to enthusiastically take on the opportunity to add middle school to the Montessori program.  This involved a commitment to extensive training away from home and a selfless sacrifice of countless hours upon her return. The work has paid off with the blossoming middle school Montessori program housed at Thurgood Marshall School. As a former principal attested, “Her commitment to this challenge never wavered.”



Rebecca Downing Pelley 427x640


Rebecca Downing Pelley

Boylan Catholic High School, Rockford

9th-12th Grade Art

M.A.; Painting; Northern Illinois University

B.F.A.; Art Education; University of Illinois


Rebecca Pelley has been an art teacher for 44 years, 14 in the Rockford Public Schools and 30 at Boylan Catholic High School.  Among her many commendations and honors, she has received the Mayor’s Art Award for Excellence in Teaching and is a National Scholastic Art Awards Commended Teacher, in addition to receiving numerous awards for her own art and writing.

More importantly to Rebecca are the achievements of her students, many of whom have received local, state and national awards for their artwork.  Many have gone on to study at some of our nation’s most elite art schools.  Others have become art teachers themselves. This may be a direct result of her mantra, “Every student!  Every day!”, which describes her commitment to daily personal interaction with her students that fosters close, supportive relationships.

The student who wrote her nomination said, “Mrs. Pelley does more than teach.  She reveals to students another world out there, and I am so glad to say that I am aware of it.  My decision on a whim to take her class has changed my outlook on life and will be shaping my future career in anthropology and archeology.”

From Rebecca Pelley: “Exceptional teaching is marked by a teacher’s unquenchable fire and her fervent belief that she has the power to transform.  She knows that her work is not merely essential, but always and ever a sacred trust.”


James Schoepski 427x640


James Schoepski

Belvidere High School, Belvidere

9th-12th Grade Social Studies

M.S.Ed.; Liberal Arts; National Louis University

B.A.; Political Science; Northern Illinois University

A.A.; Liberal Arts; Rock Valley College


In James Schoepski’s own words, “My guiding value has been to make a positive change in the world.  It would not be through publishing a novel or through the political process.  It would be an incremental change—one student at a time.”

Year in and year out for the past 32 years, Jim has endeavored to change the world for the better, equipping his Social Studies students with background information,  analytical skills, conceptual understanding, and intellectual curiosity to become what Jefferson termed, “an informed citizen of the Republic.”

A letter of recommendation stated: “ In the classroom, Jim is a master at connecting historical events with current societal issues and their impact on today’s students.  He is so tuned in to this generation of young people—their fears, beliefs, strengths, shortcomings—that he is able to engage them in learning at higher levels.  Students have commented to me that his class is like playing chess; he is six moves ahead of everyone else, but he teaches us how to think deeper and further.”

Jim contributes unselfishly to the student and professional community at Belvidere High School.  His classroom is often used by administrators to showcase effective instructional techniques, and he has served as debate coach, student council advisor, and Social Studies department leader.

From a parent nominator: “Mr. Schoepski’s class is the only one my child talks about when he comes home from school.”  Jim’s “one student at a time” appears to be working.


2013-2014 Golden Apple Teachers

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Carolyn Schlie (Massier)
Rock Cut Elementary, Loves Park
2nd Grade

M.A., Arts, Teaching and Leadership, St. Xavier University
B.S., Elementary Education, Illinois State University


“Eye contact, a smile, ‘good morning”………this is how Carolyn Massier begins each day in the hallway of her school.  “For some children, their teacher is the first adult to interact with them that day,” Carolyn says.  “I don’t take this responsibility lightly.”


She consistently strives to better herself as an educator and seeks ways to be proactive with the constant changes within the educational system.  She demonstrates to her students that learning is a life-long process.


At Rock Cut, she is one of four teachers with an ESL endorsement and enthusiastically accepted the challenge of teaching the second grade cluster of ESL learners.  Of her twenty–three students, nine speak another language besides English, including Spanish, Hindi, Serbian, and Chinese. With growing diversity in the school, she has realized the importance of learning the skills necessary to teach all children.


Carolyn wanted to be a teacher “from the days when I was a little girl in the basement of my house writing on the chalkboard and teaching my stuffed animals.”  Today she has realized her dream, returning to the elementary school she attended as a child. 

         “Here I am, following in the footsteps of some of the great teachers who touched my life.  Their influences haven’t stopped for me.  Teaching is a part of me and helps define who I am.  And for that I am proud.”


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Sarah Meyers

Fairview Early Childhood Center, Rockford

Autism Pre-Kindergarten

M.S. Early Childhood Education, Northern Illinois University

B.S. Human Development and Family Studies, University of Wisconsin


"To those who know Sarah, she has affectionately earned the nickname of 'The Autism Whisperer, '" says one of her nominators. " She teaches children who are ages 3, 4, and 5 who have a diagnosis of autism. In the two years they are in her classroom, she helps to unlock their potential and create dramatic change within each child. "To Sarah, success is not measured by academics alone; it is measured in milestones that are taken for granted by many. In her classroom are individual children with unique talents and learning needs, which she addresses in a variety of creative methods: pictures, music, sign language, technology, social media, as well as family and the educational team involvement.

Sarah advocates, raises funds, and works tirelessly in support of autism research and community awareness. Grants she has received supplement the materials necessary to make her classroom exciting and appealing to these most challenging students. In the Rockford School District, she has been a trainer for new teachers who have students on the autism spectrum.

"Many people, upon hearing my job description, say 'You must have a lot of patience, or ask if I enjoy the student population that I teach,' Sarah says. "Truth be told, I believe that teaching children with autism is my purpose in life. I have learned ways to show children that even when they do not have a voice, they are heard and they matter."


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Joshua Rollins

Washington Renaissance Academy, Rockford

Fifth Grade Gifted

M.A., Curriculum and Instruction, Northern Illinois University

B.S., Math Concentration, University of Illinois


Joshua Rollins is a teacher who is committed to fostering relationships with fellow professionals, with parents, but most of all with his students.  He strongly believes that taking an interest in a student outside of school strengthens the student-teacher relationship, making it easier for him to have a positive impact on students in the classroom.  He regularly attends his students’ sporting events, religious fundraisers, and extra-curricular events.

Because of these relationships, Joshua finds it easier to motivate the students in his classroom to achieve the high standards that he sets. And they do.

One of his nominators remarked that “if you Googled ‘Qualities of a great teacher’ you would see a picture of Mr. Rollins and a long list of his attributes.”  In his classroom, he creates an environment that evokes a sense of wonder in his students about all kinds of topics and pursuits. Long before the Common Core was introduced, Joshua had already elevated his instructional content to that of a “thinking curriculum.”

“A teacher’s job is never ending and very challenging, but I enjoy the challenge.  I came into teaching thinking that if I make a difference in one student’s life, then I will be able to retire happily knowing that I made an impact.  Now, I strive for more.  I believe it is my, and every educator’s responsibility to make a difference in EVERY student’s life” 


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Erin Salberg

Rockton Grade School, Rockton

First Grade

M.S., Curriculum Instruction, National Louis

B.S., Elementary Education, Elmhurst College


“A classroom community thrives on appreciating difference, accepting each other, and having compassion for others. I use two different crayon boxes to teach about diversity.  I fill the first box with only blue crayons; the second box is left in its original condition.  We discuss which crayon box is more exciting and why.”

Erin demonstrates this classroom creativity every day according to one of her nominators, remarking how she has the ability to establish positive relationships with all of her students.  They know that Mrs. Salberg believes in them, cares for them, appreciates them, has high expectations for them, and will do whatever she can to support them.

In her school and her district, Erin has taken on numerous responsibilities, including service on the district Finance and Planning Committee, district Strategic Plan Committee, district/school level Evaluation Committee and is the SMART Technology/SMARTboard district wide trainer.

“Teaching is my passion,” Erin says. “I know I was put on this earth to give every child a chance to find out who they are inside, to help parents to see the importance of education, to be the connection between school and home, and to lead my colleagues in discovering new ways to help students love learning and school.” 


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Amanda Schiesher

Washington Academy, Belvidere

Third and Fifth Grade Engineering Technology

M.A. Instructional Technology, Northern Illinois University

B.S., Elementary Education, Northern Illinois University


As one of the few elementary engineering technology teachers in Illinois, Amanda, along with two other teachers, was chosen to create the only STEM elementary engineering program in the state. She designs authentic learning projects that emanate from the students’ interests and motivations.  Every unit of study has a real-world connection that provides students with 21st century skills.

Two examples of her creativity: she is piloting a program called Student Tech Support which allows students who are particularly skilled at a process to assist others in the class who need guidance. Secondly, she has set up an on-line behavioral management system in which student avatars are projected onto the SmartBoard, and by using her PC, tablet, or Smartphone from anywhere in the classroom, Amanda can award students points for good behavior or deduct points for poor choices.

As stated by one of her nominators, “Amanda is forward thinking and always willing to accept a challenge or try something new.  Hers is not your average technology class!”

“I have the pleasure of coming into work each day,” Amanda says, “to a combination of my favorite things in the world: children and technology.  My hope is that my students can be transported into a world of technology, science, and engineering that awakens a spark inside of them, a spark that drives them to want to explore and learn.”


2012-2013 Golden Apple Teachers

East1Kathryn Linden
East High School, Rockford
9th Grade Honors English

M.A., Education, Curriculum & Instruction-Northern Illinois University
B.A., Elementary Education, Illinois State University

“I was young, but I remember feeling like a teacher. I didn't really have students. Stuffed animals didn't sit up too well, and oftentimes my dolls would lay back and their eyes would close. But I remember knowing exactly what kind of teacher I wanted to be...I wanted to be a teacher whose room was occupied with eager learners.”

Golden Apple teacher Kathryn Linden lives her childhood wish each day, and the students she once only imagined now fill the desks in her Honors English classes.

Considered a mentor to her colleagues, Katy is often solicited for her presentations on classroom management techniques, differentiated reading strategies and district writing expectations programs to teams of teachers during In-Service and Institute days. In her classroom, she utilizes contemporary offerings from her library of books, newspapers and magazines for both genders, and for a variety of ages and comprehension levels, to complement her teaching style.

Katy believes that “behind great students are great parents” and often invites them into the classroom to share the results of particular assignments. Her conviction is that a partnership among parents, teachers and administrators, which shares the same value for student achievement, will lead to academic success.

“My students inspire me to continuously educate myself,” says Ms. Linden, “so that I can not only provide challenging instruction, but also build rigorous lessons promoting their success. In return, student achievement is mastered. These moments are no longer in my dreams. They are now feats that I cherish and embrace.”

Guilf4Michael A. Lantz
Guilford High School, Rockford
World Geography/World History/Economics/Government

M.A., Secondary Education, Grand Canyon University
B.S., History, Illinois State University
Special Education Certification, Northern Illinois University

To help teach his World Geography students about poverty and lack of educational opportunities faced by many young people in other countries, Golden Apple teacher Michael Lantz once removed all the desks from his classroom and had students spend the entire period on the floor.

“They were uncomfortable, they were distracted, and they struggled to keep focused. They learned a great lesson.”

Exploring, recognizing, understanding and appreciating diversity in our world are major focuses of Mike's World Geography class. He likens his classroom to the world – full of people coming from different backgrounds, income and ability levels, and home situations, noting that “diversity is a fact of life and must be addressed, understood and celebrated when possible.” In the classroom, his teaching style varies from lectures to activities and service learning, and he heartily encourages students to take lessons home and involve their parents/guardians in shared special experiences, such as trying new foods and listening to the music of other cultures in our world.

Mike is recognized by colleagues and students alike for his extracurricular involvement, including the school's annual talent show which raises funds for additional student activities and learning experiences. Too, he's just completed his third year as head coach of the Viking's freshman football team.

Of his teaching style, Mr. Lantz says, “I make special efforts to be creative, foster an atmosphere in which learning together is fun, and remain firm in my commitment to ensure that students learn about themselves as well as how the world works around them.”

0-Luth3Bethany Pitman
Rockford Lutheran Jr/Sr High School-Rockford
8th & 10th grade English
B.A. Education—Concordia University, Nebraska

Comparing Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 to football and having a “spa day” to do a paper “makeover” are exemplary of daily studies in Bethany’s class. A simulation game on an island presenting team struggles is part of the Lord of the Flies study. While reading The Hunger Games, Pitman’s students experienced survival techniques, and then attended the opening midnight show together. In mythology study, Bethany teaches collaboratively with science teachers. Such is the stuff of Bethany’s English classes, based on her extensive study of Nancy Atwell’s interactive Reading/Writing Workshop and Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion.

According to her principal, “Mrs. Pitman . . . shares her contagious passion for reading and writing. . .by developing students’ academic knowledge and changing their lives through the gift of language. Through her student-lead one-on-one methods, Pitman engages the hearts of the students while shaping their character. . .with strong self-discipline and engaged critical thinking.” A parent writes, “My daughter learned to voice her opinion. . . in a classroom where the pace is fast, reading is abundant, and participation is mandatory.”

Selected Rotary Teacher of the Year in 2011, Bethany also heads the English department, mentoring new and experienced teachers alike. She schedules weekend writing workshops for seniors, coaches volleyball, tutors at-risk children for Upward Bound, and established Poetry Café for students and their parents.

reintsJilian Reints
Belvidere High School & Belvidere North High School-Belvidere

M.S. Art Education—Northern Illinois University
B.S. Art Education—Northern Illinois University
A.A. Art Education—Joliet Junior College

Art relates to everything in life, and Jilian guides her students to experience awareness through drawing, painting, photography, and computer art, all life skills. Her classroom is “an inviting climate made beautiful by displays of student work and murals in the hallways” where students of all talent levels feel at home in her classroom. Jilian instructs a range of students from those who are experiencing art for the first time to those establishing a competitive portfolio. She exhibits deep compassion for her students, and uses art for therapy when a student is grieving. She embodies a “talent that is always growing, giving, and creating”. She stays current with artists, trends, sub-cultures, and styles, on which her students base their life stories told in an art medium.

“I lead my students to understand that the things we see are designed to achieve a special effect, . . .that they can be moved by art. . . to take a stand, get angry, or get involved.” Student projects are deeply seeded in thought process, and student-lead critiques are a regular exercise. Ms. Reints plans collaborative teaching, merging art with other disciplines likegeometry, weaving math concepts into the structure for subjective interpretation. Jilian’s students are active in global causes, one of which is to restore photographs for families who felt the loss during Hurricane Sandy.
A frequent speaker at professional conferences, Jilian also exhibited at the Art Institute of Schaumberg Educator Art Show, Brick Gallery, and Rockford Art Museum’s Midwest Art Show, to name a few.


winebrennerMichael D. Winebrenner
North Boone Middle School, Poplar Grove
8th Grade Social Studies

M.A., Curriculum, National-Louis University
B.S., History, Northern Illinois University

“I begin each day with the same goals: To be an effective teacher and have a positive impact on those around me that particular day, including teachers, administrators, parents...and especially my students.”

Whether it's in his Social Studies classes or on the track field, Golden Apple teacher Michael Winebrenner credits organization through thoughtful, well-planned lessons and activities for increasing the potential for student learning and more enjoyable teaching. His designs for student-oriented and differentiated lessons, cooperative learning techniques and a classroom environment that encourages risk-taking, all challenge his students to reach high standards and expectations.

“My students need to know that I'm not just there to teach facts. I desire to be a mentor, a source of support, to teach them life skills and to teach them the meaning of integrity.”

Family involvement in all aspects of his students' education is important to Mike. Invitations are often extended to parents/guardians to join in on school field trips and special classroom activities, and to participate in other family-friendly community events where Mike is a frequent volunteer.

Electronic technology is embraced by Mike who encourages its use by his students, and offers presentations to staff on its capabilities as well. He is a life-long learner and continues to take advantage of information opportunities to improve his teaching methods.

“I am committed to be an advocate for young adults,” say Mr. Winebrenner, “because I believe there is no other time in a person's life when it is so vital to receive love, support, recognition and discipline.”

2011-2012 Golden Apple Teachers

Sonia Belmontes6Sonia O. Belmontes

2nd Grade, Spanish – Barbour Language Academy 

M.A., Arts Education – Aurora University
B.A., Education – Rockford College

When Sonia arrived from Mexico at age 10, speaking only Spanish, her sixth grade teacher became the glue in her new life in America. Because her teacher had high expectations and believed in her, Sonia has spent her professional teaching life repeating that same commitment, and she does so daily with great fluency in both English and Spanish. At an early age, she learned from her social worker mother to be empathetic, helpful, and nonjudgmental. Sonia’s infectious energy, respect, humor, and positive style encourage former students to volunteer their free time to help in the classroom. She writes, “Making genuine connections with my students opens the door to good communication, trust, and ultimately learning” and lifetime friendships as well.

Whether her students are singing a song to remember math or donning gloves, goggles, smocks, and stethoscopes to become scientists and hear each others’ heartbeats,

Sonia constantly engages her students to problem solve and be critical thinkers. She teaches the “whole” child, and they are excited to learn. With two dozen diverse learners, Sonia subtly teaches independent and collaborative learning, cooperation to the highest degree, and peer helping. Her students write their autobiographies from home interviews, publish their works in hardback, and include their families in Readers’ Theater, Scary Story Time, and celebrations.

Sonia is a strong advocate and constantly continues to build a community with her class, parents, colleagues, and former students, inspiring others to love learning for a lifetime.

Bev Cicolello4Bev Cicolello

Early Childhood- Fairview Early Education Center
M.A. Speech-Language Pathology-University of Illinois
B.A. Speech-Language Pathology-Adelphi University
A.A. Liberal Arts-Nassau Community College

Professional colleagues write, “Pioneer in her field” and “cherished educator” in remarks about Bev. She inspires others to do their very best. She smiles all the time. Her face lights up, as does anyone else in response to her, including all her parents lured into her wise influence. As her days are spent inspiring pre-schoolers, thirty percent of whom are special education eligibles, Bev lights up young lives with her attentiveness and care.

As music, art, drama, and movement amend all learning processes, children in Bev’s classroom take in information on all levels. This is their first experience with a group in a cooperative atmosphere. Bev plays guitar and sings, and her students sing, drum rhythms, clap, dance, and learn words, numbers, shapes and colors. She is a storyteller, using child experiences to help her little Shakespeares relive stories with heroes and heroines, teaching about courage, strength, love and doing what is right. Even the most timid become brave. Bev is an artist, as her photography is evidenced in her classroom with student faces on walls, accompanied by student art. Bev is a naturalist, celebrating beauty while hatching chicks in her room, unfolding butterflies from cocoons, caring for the courtyard flowers, and watching red maple leaves and gentle snows.

In the bigger picture, Bev is a highly skilled speech/language pathologist and a staunch advocate for the pre-school child. Recently, she was key in saving the Rockford Early childhood Program by educating the community and politicians in Springfield about the importance of continuing to award the $8.8K grant for young children of Rockford . Her principal writes, “Without her passion for saving the preschool program, our community would have suffered.”

Jennifer Egen1Jennifer Egan

2nd Grade – Rockford Lutheran Academy
B.A., Elementary Education, Concordia University - Wisconsin

As a little girl, Jennifer played teacher with her sister in their basement. It made her happy then, and it still does. Whether she dresses as Mrs. Frizzle from The Magic Bus Series in her homemade solar system sweater or writes her weekly “What’s New in Grade Two” to parents, Jennifer has become a master teacher among colleagues. She anticipates every need and moment in the classroom, avoiding wasted time getting out materials or finding websites. To do this, Jennifer is tireless, spending countless extra hours, weekends and summers making manipulatives, setting up science projects, rebuilding entire subjects, creating self-instruction math centers and studying endless new techniques for differential reading and math. In her classroom, all transitions from Antarctica to subtraction to writing letters or melting Skittles to demonstrate erosion weave seamlessly throughout the day. She has a “passion and drive for educational excellence”, writes her principal.

Whether her students dress as Civil War characters in their traveling Wax Museum, participate in the Ancient Olympics or attend school in Ancient Egypt, Jennifer’s classes are engaged on all levels – to touch, to hear, to see, to present, to critique, to record, and sometimes to act a part. She constantly encourages critical thinking and mastery of concept. That must be why Jennifer was asked to chair the School Improvement Plan – responding also to the school’s initiative to the nationwide problem of bullying, supporting RLA’s philosophy of mutual respect for educational diversity.

Another colleague writes that “clarity is her biggest strength” adding that Jennifer’s “less is more” orderliness in her uncluttered classroom and quiet, positive teaching style reinforce student focus and constant engagement. Jennifer’s childhood dream of being an influential teacher has been nurtured in future generations, as former students are now entering college and the field of education.

Deb LecuyerDebbie Lecuyer

4th grade – Kinnikinnick Elementary School
B.S. Elementary Education – Illinois State University

“I believe that success breeds success,” writes Debbie. Her classroom is a home away from home, and she constantly strives to push students beyond their comfort zone while noticing every little change that needs complimenting, from new glasses to haircuts. As a child, Debbie says, she loved school and always wanted to be a teacher. Now a veteran of thirty-three years, she teaches children of former students at their request.

Students in her classroom become history detectives, silhouette bodies for digestive system mapping, book characters, and proficient in Hands on Equations at the sixth grade level. Furthering her collaborative techniques, Debbie successfully follows her latest goal of partnering with special education teachers and some of their students into her classroom, combining students in a science project that asks descriptions of a mixture from one group, then classification of that description from the other group. Concrete and abstract ideas are melted together. Debbie builds rapport with parents and community by inviting guest visitors to speak on space, circulatory system, and nature. Her fourth graders collected bur oak acorns for reforesting and won a trip to Nygren Wetlands in Rockton.

One colleague calls Debbie a “star educator”, affecting her young students as well as potential teachers. Among her many mentored student teachers, one was voted Rockford College ’s Student Teacher of the Year. Her Superintendent writes that Debbie is “something special” as she encourages creative and independent thinking, “seeks to understand, asks critical questions, and strives to find solutions that will help her be the best she can be for her students”.

“Retirement, when it comes, will be a challenge for me” says Debbie. “I am a Teacher – it is what I do and who I am.”

Gina Tuula1Gina Marie Tulla

5th Grade – Whitman Post
M.A. Administration and Supervision – St. Xavier University
M.A. Teaching and Leadership – St. Xavier University
B.S. Elementary Education (Minor: Psychology) – Rockford College

“Gina is the kind of teacher and human being that raises the bar for all of us in a way that constantly brings to mind how much difference one person can make,” says her principal.

She is a “peacemaker” with the skills of a foreign ambassador, a role model for fellow teachers and students. As a trained mentor, Gina was asked by the Rockton Induction Committee to mentor new teachers, because of her expertise in the teaching process and “amazing” personal characteristics.

The Quantum Teaching Approach is Gina’s constant mantra. She follows those tenets faithfully, particularly three that dictate that all moments are purposeful teaching moments, leaving no room for wasted “fillers”, providing enrichment and re-teaching; every student effort deserves recognition, and a wrong answer is important; and “if it’s worth learning, it’s worth celebrating”, which means her students dance, stand in awe of their accomplishments, or celebrate with “Elvis” (hunka, hunka love) or “Cheese Grater”. Celebrating learning is positive reinforcement and encourages more seeking of knowledge, a personal tenet for Gina. “My passion is that my students will become lifelong learners,” she says. Each of her fifth graders is a mentor and “book buddy” to a third grader in Gina’s co-teaching/collaboration efforts.

Collaboration with parents is also crucial. Gina creates a weekly newsletter, a website with parent portal, online resources, and a Twitter widget link to communicate reminders. She implements after-school reading andn math programs, is the District's math coordinator, supervises the Forensics, organizes the environmental overnight trip to Timber-lee, oversees the newspaper, presents an Assembly on Character Education, and extends her time in numerous community activities. "Each child leaves a lasting impact on me," says Gina. "This is why I teach."

2010-2011 Golden Apple Teachers

Carol Davies1Carol L. Davies

Boylan Catholic High School-Rockford
AP Literature; Debate; Senior Comp
M.S. Ed. Psych-Northern Illinois University
B.A. English Education-University of Illinois

Ernest Hemingway once said, “Write the truest sentence that you know.” Carol Davies’ truest sentence is “I am thrilled to share my love of learning and my passion for language and literature with others.” Carol’s ability to illuminate literature for High School students is just the tip of the iceberg when describing her 40 years of teaching. Her love of learning and inquisitive nature enhances her classroom effectiveness. She has a way of creating learners who become their own advocates who think beyond the written words on the page.

To learn from Carol Davies is to master the basic skills and to be challenged to not just read for information or comprehension, but for understanding and for appreciation of the richness and power of the written word. “Mrs. Davies encompasses all the characteristics that make up an impactful teacher. Her intelligence captivates a classroom and her knowledge is intriguing.” says current student and nominator, Lucy Dieckhaus.

“To teach with Carol Davies is to be inspired.” says colleague and former student of Carol’s, Jessica Olsen. “After 40 years of teaching, her energy, enthusiasm, and desire for improvement have never waned.” Carol began a school wide poetry competition twelve years ago to convince students that writing poetry can be fun and rewarding. Today the entire English Department is involved in organizing and promoting the event. Carol has also been instrumental in coordinating an annual National Day of Writing celebration to raise awareness of the importance of writing in our lives. Student’s work is showcased in the National Writers’ Gallery. She started a debate club two years ago at the request of some students and has since created a Debate Class.

Carol’s mission has always been to provide classroom instruction and activities that prepare students to be educated citizens and life-long learners. Through the study of literature and language, she enriches the lives of young adults and promotes an awareness of what it is to be truly human.

It can be said that whatever Carol Davies touches, will most definitely turn to gold!

Carl HobbsCarl Hobbs

Business, Marketing Teacher
Belvidere High School
MS Business Ed – University of Wisconsin, Whitewater
Type 75 – Aurora University
BS Speech Communications – Eastern Illinois University

A “Super Star Teacher” is what his administrative team calls him, consistently demonstrating excellence inside and outside of the classroom, with students, and among his colleagues. From Belvidere High School, Carl Hobbs is touted as being an effective, hands-on, minds-on, progressive educator with extremely high standards for himself and his students, providing exemplary connections to and opportunities for all kinds of students and abilities.

His open-door classroom, structured business/finance classes, and student-centered lesson plans pave the path for a freedom to learn and apply knowledge in an ever-changing work environment. Carl’s passion as an educator ignited the desire for the DECA chapter to become a flagship program that students flock to join, now with over 100 members, who spend countless hours on business-related projects. DECA is an acronym for Distributive Education Clubs of America, a sixty-year old nonprofit that prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in the fields of marketing, finance, hospitality, and management. Under Carl’s guidance, Belvidere holds five DECA state championships, has instigated 25 community service projects, provided numerous college scholarships, and raised almost $20,000 for charities.

Supporting his hands-on learning mission, Carl led the charge to build a school store, providing a means for students to take on all aspects of a realistic business. Income from the student store has funded technology, an embroidery machine, and hundreds of new apparel items. In partnership with Alpine Bank, Carl’s accounting students have summer jobs, and one later became a branch manager. As a student who almost “slipped through the cracks”, Carl responds to at-risk students in need of a success story by providing activities and group assignments, like on The Apprentice, that involve failure lessons, that to “fail forward” is one of the keys to success, and keys to a fuller life.

Carl has been awarded the Jack Wolf Teaching Excellence Award and invests numerous volunteer time in mentoring, SharePoint Pilot Program, Salvation Army, Haiti, the Rescue Mission, Belvideropoly, BucStock fundraiser, literacy project, March of Dimes, as a keynote speaker, and others.

Ann Reynolds1Dr. Ann E. Reynolds

Hononegah Community High School-Rockton


Ed.D Teacher Leadership-Walden University

M.S. P.E.-Northern Illinois University

B.S. P.E.-Rockford College

Dedicated to improving the quality of life of her students, Dr. Ann Reynolds’ students and parents frequently refer to her “Health” class as the “Life” class. With that same dedication, Ann has made a few simple commitments in her career: not to judge her students, to create a comfortable and interesting environment, and to convey useable and effective techniques to be employed by her students for their entire lives. She greets her students daily with enthusiasm towards her subject matter, teaching techniques to relieve the stress levels and improving their lives. The ambience of her classroom is stimulating and promotes positive reinforcement.

Dr. Ann Reynolds is one of the best in her field. She has been professionally recognized and has received many honors. In 2009, she was a finalist for the Golden Apple Award. In 2008, she received the Award of Merit from the Illinois State Board of education. In 2007, she was recognized as Hononegah’s Teacher of the Year. The American Alliance for Health and Physical Education Recreation and Dance and it’s Illinois contingent recognized her as the Health Teacher of the Year in 2004 and 2005. Students and staff nominated her to Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers from 2002 to present. In 2004, she received the Ecolab and Vision Award.

Also committed to the community around her, Ann has volunteered for the Red Cross for the past 25 years as the CPR and First Aid Instructor. She is an instructor at Rock Valley College in Continuing Education. Ann facilitates presentations on topics such as: alternative medicine, stress camp, migraine camp, food and fitness camp, etc., and has offered her expertise at Northern Illinois University, Beloit College, Stout University, Menominee, WI. and others.

As a parent of one of her students expressed, Ann is “more than an accumulation of degrees, awards, nominations and projects. She represents the best in education. From her excellent communication skills to her model for classroom technique and management, Dr. Reynolds excels. She has enthusiasm that is contagious to the students, staff, parents and community.”

IMG 0030Rissa Spangler

Eisenhower Middle School-Rockford

Special Education

M.A.T.-Rockford College

B.S. Psychology-Rockford College

Rissa Spangler knows about the “feeling of victory in the classroom and in life”. For her students’ parents, Rissa bridges the mystery gap of special children by providing a safe place for them as well as frequent communications through calls and weekly newsletters. She believes in her students and tells them so daily as she celebrates their gifts, which she helps them find and share. Her students “have cognitive and physical delays that they must learn to look past to help each other gain self-confidence,” she says. “They believe they are smart. . . Everyone has value and brings a different perspective to each assignment.” She watches her students come out of their shells to set and meet goals, learn to read, be verbal and interact with each other. She adds innovation to her teaching through humor, empowerment, and inspiration.

Rissa steps out to be a voice and an advocate for her students, writing her own curriculum, creating an IEP for each student, and with her open door policy, welcomes anyone to visit her classroom to help dispel myths about disabilities. She challenges others to compare her curriculum with the general education curriculum, emphasizing her high expectations, encouragement, and care for each other as constants in her self-contained classroom, where she teaches all the core classes.

Every year, Rissa’s students celebrate global diversity in their study of “Traditions of the World” by researching a country and its customs. The school body is invited to visit and learn from this project and its goal of understanding differences.

Not to limit her involvement to her teaching field, Rissa shares her warmth and leadership by running the school store, heading the Renaissance program spearheading fundraisers, volunteers to coach 7th grade girls’ basketball, chaperones Friday Friendzies, as well as community efforts at her church, soup kitchen, homeless shelter, and Easter Seals. At home, Rissa is a foster care parent. Her mission of “victory over differences” shines through in her tremendous impact on students, their parents, and the whole school community and beyond.

Bradd Stott1Bradley C. Stott

Keith Country Day School-Rockford

History; U.S. Government; World Religions

M.A. Education-Benedictine University

B.A. History-University of Utah

In graduate school, Brad Stott began building a website that he continues to use every day to enhance the educational experience of his students. Dr. Ronald C. Lee, Jr., Head of Middle and Upper School at Keith Country Day School, praises Brad’s outstanding qualities and accomplishments as a teacher. “A key to Brad’s success in the classroom has been his embrace of a view of education that emphasizes the creative use of technology to promote student learning”, says Lee. Brad has modeled best practices in the use of technology, including a teacher-driven website – www. – that contains PowerPoint lectures, review games, and other class-related materials. Finding fun and creative ways to use Smart Board and Windows Movie Maker technologies in the classroom over the years has brought about the expansion of his website to 200 separate web pages and 600 separate files.

Amending his technology focus, Brad heads Keith’s Technology Committee and helps the Technology Oversight Team. He serves as Chair of the History department, is Head Golf Coach, and supervises the Table Tennis Club and middle school Golf Club. He serves on the faculty Grant Oversight Committee, teaches a before-school study skills course to 9th graders and advises the year-long 10th grade and senior projects at Keith. In the community, he has coached twice for Indian Trails Conference Golf Champions.

Brad’s dedication to his profession has earned him recognition over the years. The Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA) presented him with the Teacher Recognition Award, and he received the Teacher Website Excellence Award. Brad has been given the Rockford Rotary Teacher Certificate of Appreciation Award, has been nominated to Golden Apple several times, and twice was awarded the Keith Senior Class Recognition Award.

Believing that best teachers make a commitment to the future and to others, Brad left the business world to play a key role in living out his mission to teach that solving the most vexing world problems is based solely in education. He hopes his teaching legacy follows the Abraham Lincoln quotation, “I want it said of me by those who knew me best that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow”.

2009-2010-Golden Apple Teachers

Shannon Anderson

Kindergarten, Prairie Hill School, Prairie Hill School District 133, South Beloit, IL

B.S. Elementary Education-Rockford College
M. Ed.Curriculum & Instruction-National-Louis University

Taking scared, anxious, five-year-old children in August and giving them the gift of reading and writing . . . can only be done by a singer,” writes Michael Michowski, Principal at Prairie Hill School. “Shannon Anderson is the voice of unlimited patience.” She teaches “the beginning song of life [and] is the ideal shepherd for these children to cross the bridge onto first grade and beyond.”

Shannon didn't have life-long dreams of being a professional teacher. She spent eighteen years teaching her own four children and as a lead therapist for the Wisconsin Early Autism Project (WEAP) before she was hooked. “The sheer joy [the children] experienced when they were successful became my addiction,” she says. So at age 31, Shannon went to college, graduating Summa Cum Laude, then on to earn her M.Ed. After being hired fulltime, she relentlessly continued additional instruction including American Sign Language.

A combination of auditory, visual, and kinesthetic modes is the foundation for Shannon’s teaching concepts. Her Master’s thesis on the benefits of classroom amplification systems to students with auditory processing deficits led to a school-wide purchase of amplification systems. To increase readiness of new kindergarteners, she created the Kindergarten Summer Intervention Program, KSIP. She often requests students with special needs. “Children generally live up to what is expected of them,” says Shannon about her classroom climate of nurturing, low risk, and high expectations.

Including the whole family and pets in her web communications, Shannon touts “it takes a village to raise a child”. Parents are encouraged to visit any time, to take ownership of their child’s learning, and to learn some songs that help the process. Superintendent Ted Rehl writes, “Quite simply, she is pure magic.”

“Teaching is the air I breathe, . . .the sun that guides me, . . the water that carries me to places I’ve dreamed possible, . . . the fire that keeps me warm, lights [my] way and burns brighter every year.” Shannon Anderson

cms-ErikkaColettaErikka Coletta

3rd Grade, Ledgewood School, Kinnikinnick School District 131, Roscoe, IL
A.S. Rock Valley College

B.S. Child Development-Rockford College

M.A.T. Instructional Strategies-Rockford College

Donning scarf, glasses, and a British accent, Erikka transforms into Martha the Math Wizard for her third graders, who also enjoy a “hunk-a, hunk-a fun” Elvis-voiced Dr. Science who leads them through exciting experiments. Role-playing is part of Social Studies too, as Erikka hones her acting skills and encourages participation from her students.

Recently, her class at Ledgewood Elementary School in Roscoe learned the importance of “setting” in a narrative story by creating an almost life-sized boxcar, complete with mural and supplies needed to create scenes from the book The Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Erikka encourages language fluency with her students through repeated readings and partner poems. As master creator of special events, she contacted Starbucks to sponsor her “Poetry Slam” where the school library becomes a coffee shop and students become beatnik poets, memorizing and presenting poetry for the day. “If students have a reason to engage in learning, they will jump at the opportunity,” writes Erikka.

Lured by her love for children and the energy of a classroom she visited, Erikka left her high-paying business career to engage in the journey of positive experiences for the success of children. She returned to graduate school, and now on top of mothering young triplets, she engages her days with “all of her children”. She asks the “Supply Fairy” to deliver necessary items to some of her needier students, knowing that there are bigger issues than tests and curriculum. “Our students ARE our curriculum,” she says.

“There is no greater responsibility than molding a child into whom they are going to be.”

cms-AmyConklin2Amy Conklin

2ndGrade, Windsor Elementary School, Harlem School District 122, Loves Park, IL

B.S.-Mass Communications-Illinois State University
B.S.-Elementary Education-Illinois State University
M.S.Ed.-University of Colorado and Northern Illinois University

Amy Conklin always knew she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. She was deeply inspired by many teachers she had as a child and that instilled a deep sense of the type of teacher she wanted to be one day. Amy’s passion for teaching rests on four tenets; use humor, make each child feel special, be creative, and set the bar high for students.

Amy was teaching in the same school district as Columbine High School when tragedy occurred and it changed the way she taught. She recognizes that she may be the one adult who spends the most time with a student in a day. She takes that responsibility seriously and recognizes that she serves as a role model. She believes that she must provide not only the best academic instruction, but she must also teach respect, responsibility, character, and create an environment that is fun and structured.

Amy has created a stimulating yet organized classroom that challenges each student to excel. She goes out of her way to differentiate materials and instruction to meet each student’s individual academic needs. Amy encourages her students to think outside the box and she intentionally makes connections between what is learned in the classroom and the real world. She has initiated Classroom Service Learning Projects such as “Stencil-a-Drain” to raise awareness about the hazards of polluting the Rock River, and recycling aluminum cans to raise money for a charity chosen by her students.

Amy is a dedicated teacher to her students, an educational leader and mentor to the new teachers. “As a mentor, she helps mentees perfect the craft of creating the state-aligned lessons in addition to understanding how to strike the balance between producing high quality lessons in the classroom and working on making solid family connections.” says, Veronica Vazquez, Principal at Windsor Elementary School

CindyAdami1Cindy Adami

2nd Grade, Brookview Elementary School-Rockford School District 205

B.S. Elementary Education/Reading-Illinois State University
M.Ed. Elementary Education-National Louis University

Cindy Adami is ceaseless in her energy. In her thirty years of teaching middle and elementary students, Cindy has exhibited her passion for wanting “to make a difference in a child’s life” for a long-lasting impact. Parents, volunteers, student teachers, former students and other staff members get involved with her students and their school. During reading time, five or six volunteers can be seen one-on-one with her students. And that’s why Cindy is active with the PTO. You can find her serving hamburgers at a fundraiser and putting in time at Turkey Bingo, Fun Fair, and Monster Mash. And that’s why each student receives a “memory book” of personal photos at the end of the school year.

Armed with her degree in reading, Cindy raises money to support the Family Literacy Night – to encourage families to read together, to dialog and learn together. Her students participate in literature circles and book clubs. Expanding the curriculum requirements, Cindy charges each lesson with a spark that ignites curiosity in her students. Her second graders study ocean animals, listening to whale echoes, performing in plays, writing a book, singing ocean songs, and determining what floats and sinks. And they learn 100 new words a week!

Always seeking more opportunities, Cindy helped revise Rockford District’s Math pacing guide, wrote grants to fund cutting edge classroom technology, chaired the Volunteer Appreciation Night, mentors rookie teachers, travels to study other school programs, and volunteers for numerous community initiatives.

A colleague says that Cindy has a tireless spirit, never giving up on an underachiever. Cindy stays “focused on the prize - instilling a love for life-long learning in her students and loving the ‘work.’” Her legacy lives on with her daughter just entering the teaching world, now continuing three generations of family teachers.

cms-PattyCrowPatty Crow

Pre-K-Kindergarten-Maria Montessori School, Rockford School District 205

B.S. Elementary Education – Northern Illinois University
M.S. Ed. Early Childhood Education-Northern Illinois University

“Patty truly believes that all children can learn and have the right to be educated in an environment that is psychologically and physically safe as well as cognitively challenging,” says Susan Haney-Bauer, the Principal at Maria Montessori School. Patty Crow focuses on teaching the ‘whole’ child, meeting the emotional, physical, cognitive and social needs of each student. She does not believe in the concept of “one size fits all”, instead, she caters a child’s work to their own individual learning level.

Her focus is to make her students lifelong learners through exploration and experimentation. She encourages them to ask questions and find their own answers, showing them how to learn throughout their lives. She rewards students who master an activity by providing them with the privilege of learning a new one. Learning new and more in-depth material is an intrinsic incentive for her students.

Patty feels that it is imperative to involve the families of her students in order to facilitate the education of the ‘whole child’. Getting parents involved at the entry level of Montessori education helps keep them involved throughout their child’s tenure at the school. Michelle Marcomb, the parent of one of her students is amazed by the love Patty Crow shows for her students and is excited to be involved in her child’s education.

Patty’s passion is improving the quality of life for children through their success in school. Her most recent contribution to the “whole student” is her commitment to implementing the “Food is Elementary Program”, teaching the importance of incorporating healthier and freshly grown food into the student’s diets. Patty Crow is an educator who for 32 years has been willing to go above and beyond for each child she encounters.

Tina Cuppini]