Chicago and La Grange Teachers Surprised with Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching

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Award recognizes outstanding instruction, passion and dedication in the classroom.

Golden Apple, a leading nonprofit committed to celebrating and developing great teachers, today surprised two local teachers with the prestigious 2017 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. The awards recognize and honor outstanding teachers for their role in building a stronger, better-educated society.

This year’s award recipients were selected from a pool of more than 600 nominations, and represent 4th-8th grade teachers throughout Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Recipients were nominated by their students, community members/parents and colleagues who have directly engaged with them and benefitted from their talent and passion.

Ms. Sarah Faller, sixth through eighth grade literacy and social science teacher
Jonathan Burr Elementary School, Chicago

Faller is a reading specialist and social sciences teacher who treats her students with respect, empathy and attention. She is known for getting to know every student in the school building. Literature selections in Faller’s classes emphasize kindness and compassion. She integrates educational messages with caring experiences that mirror topics in the books her classes are reading, and often encourages her students to participate in school-sponsored community activities such as food and clothing drives. Faller’s unique gift is her ability to lead students to self-assess personal strengths and weaknesses and work toward growth. Parents and students alike cite the profound impact of her teachings on their school and home life. In addition to her class responsibilities, Faller championed the school’s “choose kindness, embrace diversity” campaign. She also manages the 8th grade Washington, D.C., trip each year.

Ms. Cara Spitzner, fourth grade reading, language arts, math, science, and social studies teacher
Ogden Avenue School, La Grange

Spitzner has been at her school for 14 years and now teaches 4th grade. She emphasizes cultural diversity in all of her lessons to develop understanding of the world outside the community in which her students live. She uses real-world experiences in her teaching whenever possible. While teaching a unit on agriculture recently, she organized a field trip to the local farmer’s market and invited a local farmer to visit her classroom to talk about farming. Her classroom environment is warm and encouraging. Students are taught to treat one another with respect and empathy. Parents of her students say Spitzner inspires her students to be good people and to make positive change in the world. She is known for creating and maintaining strong relationships with students and their families. Spitzner has spearheaded multiple fundraisers for families of students and colleagues during times of need.

Additional information and photos of award recipients can be found on social media (#teachgolden):


As part of the awards selection process, distinguished teachers, college/university professors, administrators, and former Golden Apple Award recipients served on Golden Apple’s selection committee. Committee members applied research-based professional standards to identify teachers who exemplify the highest standards and practices of the teaching profession. The selection process included classroom observations of the finalists and interviews with colleagues, administrators, students, and parents.

“We continue to see conclusive evidence that being taught by an effective teacher has significant consequences on student achievement. Great teachers change students’ lives for the better,” said Dominic Belmonte, CEO of Golden Apple. “Our 2017 award recipients have distinguished themselves through their talents, creative approaches to powerful modern teaching and devotion to their students. We salute them for earning the honor of receiving the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching.”

For more than 30 years, Golden Apple has recognized outstanding teachers throughout Illinois each year. Created by founders Mike and Pat Koldyke, Golden Apple’s mission is to inspire, develop and support teacher and school leader excellence in Illinois, especially in schools-of-need. Each Golden Apple Award recipient receives a tuition-free, spring quarter sabbatical to study at Northwestern University. Each recipient also receives a $5,000 cash award. Perhaps most importantly, award recipients become Fellows of the Golden Apple Academy of Educators, giving them a stronger voice and a larger stage from which to make a difference in education within Illinois and nationally.

Golden Apple award recipients play a critical role in furthering the programs of Golden Apple, particularly as members of the faculty who help prepare the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois program’s aspiring teachers to serve in high-need schools. The Scholars program provides extensive preparation, advising and financial support to aspiring teachers in college and mentorship throughout their early years of teaching. Golden Apple recruits for the program from the same communities and schools-of-need where Scholars will teach. Eighty-two percent of Scholars who enter the profession remain full-time teachers beyond their program commitment of five years, despite the challenging environments in which they work. Golden Apple Fellows strengthen the ecosystem of excellent educators who are committed to advancing the field through mentoring, collaboration and inspiration of future teachers.

Golden Apple also soon will be awarding the recipient of the 2017 Stanley C. Golder Award, which honors an exceptional principal/head of school.

The 2017 Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching and Leadership recipients will be honored at an awards ceremony on May 20 at WTTW/Channel 11 Studios in Chicago. The dynamic program will highlight the incredible work of the recipients and all they do to transform teachers and teaching, enriching both students’ and teachers’ lives. The event will be live streamed, and include live interviews with former students and guests of the award recipients. WTTW will broadcast the awards in a one-hour television program following the event. Check for updated information on the broadcast dates.

About Golden Apple
2017 marks Golden Apple’s 32nd year of innovating teacher preparation and leadership to transform both the careers of teachers as well as the lives of students in Illinois. Many of our Golden Apple Award recipients give back by participating as instructors, academic coaches, and mentors in both our aspiring teachers program (i.e., “The Golden Apple Scholars”) and our professional development program (i.e., “The Golden Apple STEM Institute”).

Because the critical contributor to student achievement is the quality of the teacher in the classroom, Golden Apple provides exceptional teacher preparation for teachers at all stages of their careers. Our focus is on advancing educational excellence for Illinois’ most under-served students. Scholars are recruited from the communities in which they return to serve - with a passion for teaching and a drive to create positive change for young people in their communities. We enhance their college education with exemplary advanced teacher preparation, superior resources and lifelong support, and, they, in turn, stay in teaching at a school-of-need in Illinois for five or more years. Over 600 Scholars are currently preparing to become teachers in schools-of-need throughout Illinois.

Golden Apple is comprised of recognized superior educators, including Golden Apple Award recipients and finalists, leading a passionate team of devoted staff with technical and program expertise, as well as a connected and committed board of directors charged with overseeing our strategic vision. Visit for more information.

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Eileen Rochford
The Harbinger Group
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