Golden Apple Award teaching finalists announced

Kathy Garneau

Golden Apple, the leading Illinois nonprofit committed to preparing, honoring and supporting great educators who advance educational opportunities for students, today announced the 2020 finalists for the prestigious Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching.

Following a highly competitive process, 30 educators were selected as finalists for the award — just 4 percent of a record-setting 732 nominations received from 64 counties in Illinois.

Those finalists are:

  • Art Fuerte

    Arturo Fuerte, Willard Elementary School, Evanston (fourth-fifth-grade; Music) — Created “The Hootenanny,” an annual concert in Evanston in which Arturo’s extracurricular Modern Bands perform. Last year, 108 students in 19 different bands performed — 62 percent of the school’s fourth- and fifth-graders — with participation among underrepresented populations particularly high.

  • Jeannine Butler, Triad Middle School, Saint Jacob (sixth grade; Interventionist in Reading, English and Math) — Teaching in a school with limited diversity, Jeannine consistently finds opportunities to expose students to different cultures and viewpoints to create global citizens.
  • Jeremy Bartunek, Greenbriar School, Northbrook (fourth-fifth-grade; Music) — With the support of the community and school leadership, Jeremy started a district-wide children’s choir, which is thriving
  • Renee Bartley

  • Kathy Garneau, Bannockburn School, Bannockburn (fourth-seventh-grade; Library & STEM) — Uses empathy as a lens for teaching and learning, helping students look at the world as a community they can impact with their actions. One class created orthotic devices for Beanie Babies, ultimately sending them to children with similar devices in the hospital.
  • Jeannine Butler

  • Kevin Atwood, Golf Middle School, Morton Grove (fifth-eighth-grade; Physical Education, Health) — With the many different cultures at the school, Kevin fosters respect and understanding among the students in his class.
  • Nichole Carder, Daniel Burnham Elementary School, Cicero (fourth grade) — With 56 percent of students in her district learning English, Nichole fosters a community atmosphere in her classroom and encourages projects centered around students’ heritage, families and cultures.
  • Renee Bartley, St. Patricia School, Hickory Hills (sixth-eighth-grade; Science, Reading and Religion) — Raises trout in her classroom with 7th-graders to teach environmental responsibility. Students raise the trout from eggs, which are ultimately released back into rivers once mature.
  • Tesha Castillo, LEARN 6 Charter School North Chicago/Great Lakes, Great Lakes (Eighth grade; English Language Arts) — Tesha gets to know her diverse students as people and tailors her instruction to better suit their needs.
  • Kevin Atwood

“Now more than ever, it is essential to shine the light on the transformational role outstanding teachers play in the future success of Illinois and our nation. Without exceptional teachers, we cannot prepare our students to thrive in the workforce of tomorrow,” said Alan Mather, president of Golden Apple.

“The positive impact these finalists for the Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching make on their students, schools, and communities is significant beyond measure, and we take great pride in recognizing their tremendous value.”

The Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching honors outstanding teachers for their roles in having lasting, positive effects on students’ lives and school communities. Teacher finalists demonstrate — in their teaching and results — significant, positive impact on their students’ growth and learning. Fellow educators, students, parents and community members nominate teachers for the awards. Teachers may not self-nominate.

Nichole Carder

“There are few individuals in the state who contribute more to the collective success of our communities than teachers,” said Golden Apple CEO Alicia Winckler. “With the growing shortage of educators in Illinois, it is critical that we elevate recognition of teachers like the finalists announced today and the importance of the teaching profession.

Each of these educators serves as a powerful example of the outsized impact one person can have when they are dedicated and committed to excellence. In raising awareness of their accomplishments, we seek to inspire others to follow in their footsteps.”

Award recipients are selected by master educators who understand and recognize instructional best practices and who utilize professional standards to evaluate exemplary teachers and school leaders.

Members of the selection committee viewed video evidence of instruction and will observe finalists’ teaching in-person in their classrooms — a comprehensive day which includes direct observation of in-classroom teaching accompanied by interviewing finalists’ colleagues, school leaders, students, parents, and community members.

Tesha Castillo

Award finalists will be honored on Saturday, Feb. 22 at the Golden Apple Celebration of Excellence in Teaching & Leadership at the Q Center in St. Charles. Event details and tickets are available at

The 2020 Golden Apple Award recipients will be notified in the spring with surprise visits at their schools. Northwestern University, Golden Apple’s partner for more than 30 years, generously provides a Spring Sabbatical to award recipients at no cost.

In addition, each Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching recipient receives a $5,000 cash award. Award recipients also become Fellows of the Golden Apple Academy of Educators, a community of educators who support current and future teachers and deepen the learning of students.

Fellows play an important role in preparing the next generation of teachers by providing instruction and mentorship to future teachers in the Golden Apple Scholars and Accelerators programs — programs dedicated to addressing the teacher shortage in Illinois.

Jeremy Bartunek

“In honoring and developing K-12 teachers, Northwestern University and the Golden Apple Foundation are committed to improving teaching, learning, and the lives of students across the state of Illinois,” said Timothy Dohrer, Ph.D., Director of the Master of Science in Education Program at Northwestern University’s School of Education & Social Policy.

Over the coming weeks, Golden Apple’s social media channels will feature each of the 30 finalists and the announcements of the final 10 award recipients.