Triad CUSD 2 teacher surprised with Golden Apple award

By Bob Pieper for Chronicle Media

A Madison County teacher is being honored for her work in the growing field of response to instructional intervention (RTI).

She now looks forward to joining an effort that organizers believe will save underperforming schools across Illinois.

Triad Community Unit School District 2 Instructional Interventionist and Instructional Coach Dr. Jeannine Butler received a 2020 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching, from the Chicago-based Golden Apple Foundation, during a surprise May 19 ceremony in St. Jacob — complete with a parade through the town in her honor.

Triad School District teacher Dr. Jeannine Butler is a recipient of a 2020 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. (Photo courtesy of Golden Apple Foundation)

RTI refers to the providing of specialized education for students deemed at a risk for underachievement in specific school subjects — such as math, reading or writing —  before they require traditional learning disabilities (LD) or special education courses.

Many students who fall behind their classmates can be brought to grade-level competency with intensive support,  Butler explains.

That can be as simple as regularly taking a few extra minutes with the students, on an individual based. However, RTI takes the process a step further.

RTI learning programs are highly tailored to individual students, subject specific, research-based, and designed to make student progress trackable.  Programs may last from a few weeks to a few months.

Students are categorized in four tiers depending on their requirements for individualized instruction. Much of RTI is based on determining if students are visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners.

RTI was officially introduced to America with the 2004 reauthorization of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and is increasingly practiced in schools around the world.

Butler, a sixth-grade reading and writing teacher at Triad Middle School in St. Jacob, brought RTI to CUSD 2 in August 2018, when she began offering personal, in-class tutoring for some of her students “who seemed to have some problems,” she recalls.

Personalized instruction is provided using the Fountas & Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention System (LLI) a packaged small-group, supplementary intervention system for reading and writing — which Butler purchased with a $5,000 grant.

Triad School District teacher Dr. Jeannine Butler (center) and friends celebrate her winning a 2020 Golden Apple award.  The educator was surprised with the news at her home on May 19.  (Photo courtesy of Golden Apple Foundation)

Helping Butler provide the individual instruction are some other Triad teachers and teaching aide she has recruited from her alma mater, McKendree University.

Based on successful results among Dr. Butler’s sixth graders, the Triad RTI program was expanded to include seventh graders during the just-ended school year. It will be available for eighth-graders when classes resume this fall.

Meanwhile, Butler realized that some students could benefit from RTI provided in an afterschool setting.

The result is the Learning Café, a designated area with a coffee house motif, where students can gather after school on the Triad Middle campus for personalized instruction.

The Café is open Tuesdays and Thursdays for 40 minutes sessions, with individuals — or groups of no-more than four-to-six students — receiving personalized instruction from Butler, other Triad teachers or aides.

The facility can offer a learning environment away from the distractions of life at home, Butler notes.

About 12 to 16 students take part in each after-school session.

In addition to personalized instruction, snacks and even soda fountain treats are available.

Costs for the Learning Café are being covered by the Troy-St. Jacob-Marine-Maryville Chamber of Commerce, which named Butler its Triad School District Teacher of the Month in November.

In addition to teaching her Triad students,. Butler, as an instructional coach, provides various forms of assistance to other teachers at the school.

Still a relatively new concept in education, instructional coaches offer personalized professional development, job coaching, and assistance to support teachers, according to the education website,

“They are teacher leaders who serve to work alongside the classroom teacher, but not in an administrative or supervisory position,” the website explains.

Triad School District students enjoy the Learning Café, an afterschool program begun by educator Dr. Jeannine Butler.  (Photo courtesy of Dr. Jeannine Butler)

Meanwhile, Butler teaches and develops RTI-related courses as part of McKendree’s special education instruction master’s degree program — including her “Strategies and Interventions to Assist Struggling Readers” course; and “Adapting the Curriculum for Students with Special Needs,” which she co-developed with McKendree professor Dr. Karee Nasser.

Butler received a 2020 McKendree Associate Faculty Awards for Excellence in Teaching in April.

The Golden Apple Foundation is a nonprofit teacher recognition and development program, established to address a chronic statewide teacher shortage in Illinois, as well as academic underperformance in public school districts across the state.

Golden Apple Award winners each receive a $5,000 cash prize and are automatically enrolled in the foundation’s fellowship program – which the nonprofit describes as a group of “master educators” who will prepare a new generation of Illinois teachers.

Fellows provide instruction and mentorship to teachers and education students as part of the foundation’s Golden Apple Scholars and Accelerators programs.

Particularly targeted by Golden Apple are “schools-of-need,” defined by the founding using data gathered by the Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE) Illinois Report Card program.

Districts that repeatedly fail to meet state  goals will ultimately face state intervention, with school management consultants or representatives of high performing districts brought in to help improve performance.

The Golden Apple Foundation already has partnership agreements with several such school management firms.

A map, prepared by the foundation, shows dozens schools-of-need scattered around the state, including Southwestern Illinois.

Neighbors, friends and colleagues gave a parade through St. Jacob honoring Triad School District teacher Dr. Jeannine Butler. (Photo courtesy of Golden Apple Foundation)

While the turnaround of underperforming schools across the state may seem a daunting task,  Butler relishes opportunity.

“I am an Illinois girl through and through. I went to Illinois schools. My parents were teachers. I want to help rural school districts provide the great education they can provide – and do provide,” Dr. Bulter told the Chronicle.

Butler is among 10 educators receiving Golden Apples this year. She was selected from among more than 700 nominees.

“I don’t know who nominated me,” Dr. Butler said. “I wish they would come forward so I can thank them.”

For additional information on the Golden Apple Foundation, see