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These 5 teachers are Golden winners

Thursday, March 12, 2009  
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By Cathy Bayer
Posted Mar 12, 2009 @ 11:57 AM

ROCKFORD — When Megan Forsythe was getting ready for school Friday morning, the seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher put a small piece of paper in her pocket: a summary of the Golden Apple nominations from her students last year.

As an entourage of Golden Apple presenters, friends, family and media paraded into her classroom at Prairie Hill School, Forsythe pulled out the worn piece of paper and reached out to her students.

“And this is the reason why we do it,” Forsythe said.

Other Golden Apple-winning teachers described their work as a job well done, a career, and a reason to be excited for work every morning.

The Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching for 2009 was given Friday to five teachers in Boone and Winnebago counties.

“This is the best fruit in the world,” Forsythe said.

Forsythe is a seven-year teacher and received her bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Illinois and her master’s in curriculum and instruction from National-Louis University.

“Some people think I’m crazy for wanting to teach math to 13- and 14-year-olds,” she said. “But I think I couldn’t have picked a better career.”

Win the golden prize or not, Penny Spears of Belvidere Central Middle School received a green Golden Delicious apple from her colleagues who wrote “Golden Apple winner” on it.

That green apple was a little different from the Golden Apple award she was surprised with Friday.

“I feel so happy for her,” said 12-year-old Katie Ricl. “Ms. Spears is a teacher to look up to.”

She’s a teacher who tries everything and anything so a student will learn, she said. For example, sixth-graders learned angles Friday by playing Simon says, which had them making acute and obtuse with their arms.

“I just feel for the kids that aren’t getting it, and I want to know why,” Spears said. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”

She received her associate degree from Rock Valley College and her bachelor’s in elementary education from Rockford College. She received her master’s in education, teaching and leadership from St. Xavier College. She has been a teacher for six years.

Principal Harry Gries called Spears “outstanding.”

“If you had 20 teachers like Penny on your staff, you’d be 100 percent AYP,” he said, referring to the state’s standard of adequate yearly progress.

Jefferson High School English teacher Lynn Marie Graczyk has been nominated for a Golden Apple a few times. And this time, she decided to go through with the nomination process.

Her mother, Ann Marie Holliday, received a Golden Apple in 2002 and encouraged her daughter to go for it.

“You owe this to your students,” Holliday said.

And this year, Holliday was present to see Graczyk receive the award for teaching.

“This just validates what you’re doing every day,” Graczyk said.

Students were pleased with the presentation, too, and 16-year-old junior Cassie Hilton said it was “about time” Graczyk was recognized.

“She just pushes us to do our best, and it’s about time she got this,” Cassie said.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in English and journalism from Northern Illinois University, and her master’s in curriculum and instruction from National-Louis University. She has been a teacher for 12 years and has earned National Board Certification.

Trey Fisk received his Golden Apple Award Friday in front of the entire student body and all of the school’s staff at Rockford Lutheran Junior/Senior High School.

As the Golden Apple brigade paraded into the school’s cafeteria during chapel, students immediately rose to their feet and started applauding.

Fisk, a physics and algebra teacher, is the first Golden Apple recipient from Rockford Lutheran.

Fisk is a teacher who gives his lessons everything he’s got, Principal Don Kortze said.

“It’s great to see people who have a passion for education,” he said.

The award also is inspiring for other teachers, Kortze added.

“It’s an award for all of us,” he said.

He received his bachelor’s degree in physical science from Concordia University Chicago, and his master’s in educational astronomy from the University of Illinois-Springfield. He has been a teacher for 15 years.

“I love what I do,” he said, and he’s inspired by his dad, a retired teacher.

Friday morning, Jessica M. Lindvall-Powell, a math teacher at Roscoe Middle School, checked, and the Golden Apple Foundation’s Web site just in case. Little did she know she would be the day’s first Golden Apple recipient.

The seventh-grade teacher said the nomination alone means she’s doing her job.

“Once you’re nominated, you know a student appreciates you,” Lindvall-Powell said. “Get the Golden Apple or not, that means I got it.”

She received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and her master’s in education administration from Northern Illinois University.

She has been a teacher for eight years.

Her parents were there for the surprise, and her mom, Becky Lindvall, is a Golden Apple recipient. She presented Jessica with three roses because Jessica is a third-generation teacher.

“This is like a legacy,” Becky Lindvall said.

“You know what,” Lindvall-Powell said, “it can’t happen without great kids.”

Staff writer Cathy Bayer can be reached at or 815-987-1395.

About the Golden Apple
This is the 13th year for the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching.

What they are: The Golden Apples are 18-karat gold-plated, and they’re made by the same company that makes the Oscars for the Academy Awards.

What happens: Before awards are presented, principals are notified that the Golden Apple crowd will be coming. Family members often don’t find out until that morning so they don’t have to keep the secret for too long.

The process: In the fall, more than 1,000 nominations for the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching for 2009 were received for more than 400 teachers in Boone and Winnebago counties. Teachers must submit a self-reflective essay and gather letters of recommendation. A selection committee then reviews applications, and 20 teachers are chosen to continue the process. Community volunteers interview the 20 teachers and observe them in their classrooms.

What’s next: The recipients will be honored at the 13th annual Excellence in Education Banquet on April 24 at the Radisson Hotel.

The perks: The award-winning teachers will receive a cash award, professional development stipends, Rockford College scholarships, laptop computers, a classroom computer and an induction into the Golden Apple Teacher Academy.

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