Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching & Leadership 2016

Airs Thursday, June 2 at 8:00 pm on WTTW HD. See the complete broadcast schedule.

The Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching & Leadership honors ten of the most dedicated, engaged, and effective teachers, and one exemplary principal, in the Chicagoland area. Hosted by WTTW’s Brandis Friedman, the 2016 Golden Apple Awards focuses on outstanding high school teachers and one elementary school principal who will receive the Stanley C. Golder Leadership Award.

The amount of support for these leaders in education was so great this year that we couldn’t fit the entire event into just one room. So, for the first time ever in the history of the show, we will hear from students and family members who will join the action from our tent outside the studio where the awards show will take place. Hosted by 2011 Golden Apple fellow Carla Stone, we will offer viewers personal insight into the lives of these special teachers by showcasing the different layers and facets of their personalities through their most ardent supporters. Throughout the show, we will display tweets and posts from students who took to social media to congratulate their beloved teachers. And from the tent, we will bring you fun and exciting science experiments… and introduce you to a toucan!

Golden Apple fellows were chosen from among hundreds of teachers nominated by colleagues and students. The final selection was made by a panel of education experts chosen by the Golden Apple Foundation.

Golden Apple Fellows: Bios

Mr. Jason Crean
Biology
Lyons Township High School
Western Springs, IL
Watch video
Watch web extra video

Students in Mr. Jason Crean’s class do not learn passively. Instead, he makes science “come alive” for them to practice it. For example, students track a group of lions in Africa using provided data and field notes, and analyze genotypes to determine relatedness between the lions, and build a pedigree. He inspires students and his colleagues to actively participate in the world of science. Crean urges students to research, inquire, and question things they come across, rather than just looking for the right answer.

Mr. Jason Crean

Mrs. Laila El-Amin
Foreign Language, Religious Studies
Aqsa School
Bridgeview, IL
Watch video
Watch web extra video

Mrs. Laila El-Amin has been described as a true role model for the students at the all-girls parochial school where she teaches perseverance, dedication, integrity, and the importance of striving for excellence. She pushes students to work hard and have a sense of pride in the outcome. As a teacher at Aqsa for nearly 30 years, El-Amin has played many roles and collaborated with teachers, board members, parents, etc. to serve students. She has a thirst for knowledge and is always looking to learn concepts that benefit her students.

Mrs. Laila El-Amin

Mr. Jeff Grant
Biology, Anatomy, Physiology
Downers Grove North High School
Downers Grove, IL
Watch video
Watch web extra video

Mr. Jeff Grant is always looking to push the boundaries on new methods for students to experience science. He is a curricular leader, and restarted the Anatomy and Physiology classes at the school, after an absence of 22 years. Reported as a defining moment in their high school science career, students visit a local hospital to view cadavers as part of Grant’s class. He is also a leader among his peers. Grant pushes his students beyond the classroom and textbook to learn about real science.

Mr. Jeff Grant

Mr. Danny Gray
Entrepreneurship
Thornwood High School
South Holland, IL
Watch video
Watch web extra video

Mr. Danny Gray works with many students with discipline and behavioral challenges, and uses empathy and reassurance to build relationships with them. During the last two years, he has led student teams as part of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship national competition in New York - one of which won the National Championship. He also leads a group called “A Few Good Men,” where he provides positive mentoring and guidance to young men who otherwise do not have any.

Mr. Danny Gray

Mr. Dennis Kass
Sociology
Infinity Math, Science & Technology High School
Chicago, IL
Watch video
Watch web extra video

Teaching in a high-poverty high school, Mr. Dennis Kass is known for using contemporarily relevant content and instruction to engage students in meaningful social studies curriculum. Equally as impressive is his work in the community. He appreciates the struggles of students and their families, and provides free legal service and helps families who experience homelessness and domestic violence. Without a doubt, Dennis Kass has transformed the way that his students approach academics, and life.

Mr. Dennis Kass

Mr. Todd Katz
Honors Biology, AP Environmental Science
Whitney M. Young Magnet High School
Chicago, IL
Watch video
Watch web extra video

Many describe Mr. Todd Katz as an inspiration for his devotion to the environment, biology, and his students and colleagues. He is known for always bringing new learning to his school, which, as one example, has come in the form of building the school greenhouse. He is focused on providing a quality learning experience for all students that is fun, engaging, and full of content-rich material – all in an effort to help students become involved and invested in their education.

Mr. Todd Katz

Mr. Leo Park
Beginning, Intermediate, Concert & Chamber Strings
Northside College Preparatory High School
Chicago, IL
Watch video
Watch web extra video

In Mr. Leo Park’s work as a teacher and conductor, he makes magic happen. He works with students who have no prior musical training and cultivates a mindset that results in world-class performances. Alternatively, he also works with students who have substantial training and teaches them the power of orchestra collaboration, how to listen and respond to peers, and how to practice to achieve higher levels of achievement. Park's work with all students has profoundly influenced the Northside school community.

Mr. Leo Park

Ms. Sherri Rukes
AP Chemistry
Libertyville High School
Libertyville, IL
Watch video
Watch web extra video

Ms. Sherri Rukes takes an adage to heart, “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” With this in mind, she makes it a priority to get to know her students by attending their extracurricular activities. She fosters a classroom environment where students not only learn about chemistry, but also feel comfortable talking about what is important to them. She attends and presents at local and national conferences. As a result, her students see her as not only a teacher but also as a model of learning.

Ms. Sherri Rukes

Mr. Pankaj Sharma
US History, Government, Civics, Modern African and Latin American History
Niles North High School
Skokie, IL
Watch video
Watch web extra video

Understanding that history can feel distant and predictable, Mr. Pankaj Sharma uses primary sources and discussion to imagine what the people during those times would have felt as events unfolded. He has a genuine enthusiasm for history and an authentic concern for his students, which is apparent in his classroom. Students engage in passionate discussions, with reflection and analysis of historical and contemporary topics.

Mr. Pankaj Sharma

Mrs. Debra Thomas
Special Education: Math, Science, Consumer Economics
Rich East High School
Park Forest, IL
Watch video
Watch web extra video

Mrs. Debra Thomas is an exceptional advocate for her special education students, and works diligently to make sure that social and education silos do not exist for them. She integrates students in general population classes, as well as after school clubs like chess, pom poms, art, and computer technology. Thomas makes it clear to her students that she has great expectations for them to be productive members of society upon graduation. She rewards students for asking questions and sharing insights during class.

Mrs. Debra Thomas

Stanley C. Golder Award Recipient

Mr. Dana Butler
Principal
Irma C. Ruiz Elementary School
Chicago, IL
Watch video
Watch web extra video

Mr. Dana Butler is known as a principal who “rolls up his sleeves” and gets involved in the classroom, on the playground, and in the community. More than 92 percent of his students are considered low-income, and nearly 30 percent are learning to speak English. He holds high standards for all students, exhorts them to never give up, and identifies what they need to succeed. Parents comment on how approachable Butler is, and compliment his ability to find solutions to problems. He always challenges teachers to improve, while serving as their strongest supporter. Butler is a true education leader.

Mr. Dana Butler

Award Emcees: Bios

Brandis Friedman

Brandis Friedman is a Correspondent for Chicago Tonight, on Chicago’s PBS affiliate, WTTW Channel 11. Her work on education and criminal justice issues has appeared on PBS’ NewsHour. Before joining Chicago Tonight, Brandis worked as a reporter and anchor for WBBM Newsradio 780, and as a producer/reporter for WJLA-TV/ABC-7 in Washington, DC where she earned three regional Emmy Awards. Originally from Mississippi, her work has taken her to numerous cities including Kansas City, Missouri, Little Rock, Arkansas and Wichita Falls, Texas. She currently serves on the board of the Chicago Headline Club, which is the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and is a member of the Education Writers Association. Brandis is a graduate of Dillard University in New Orleans, where she earned a degree in Mass Communications, and Columbia University in New York City, where she earned her Master’s Degree in Journalism. Brandis is now happy to call Chicago her home. She lives in Evanston with her husband, Jason, their toddler, Blake, and their Boston Terrier, Rocky.

Brandis Friedman

Carla Stone

Carla Stone is an active member of the National Science Teachers Association and enjoys teaching 6th grade Science and Social Studies at Martin Luther King Literary and Fine Arts in Evanston, Illinois. She has recently completed her second year of National Board Certification and is working with her district to improve STEM education for all District 65 students. In 2011, Ms. Stone won the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. As a Fellow, she has participated in the awards selection committee, CORE, and Scholars selection/interviews. She has also been a Reflective Leader for Summer Institutes, participated at MSI for the STEM Summer Institute, and is a member of the Golden Apple Academy Educators. This summer, she will be a Reflective Leader for the 4th Summer Institute at North Central College. Her interests are technology education for all students (specifically students of color and girls), supporting her school’s PBIS program, coaching Senior Women's basketball for the Senior Olympics, practicing yoga, Reiki healing, Ayurveda medicine, listening to live music and writing.

Carla Stone