SOUTH SHORE—For South Shore Fine Arts Academy preschool teacher Heather Duncan, the 2018 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching was more than an honor: it provided some much-needed representation.
“It’s a great thing because I’ve been following Golden Apple since I became a teacher and I don’t necessarily see schools like ours or teachers that look like me very much,” said Duncan. “I felt like it was important that people are able to take a look at a neighborhood school that maybe does not have a lot of resources or high powered families or anything like that.”
The National Board-certified teacher credits her success to her 21 years of experience working in a public school classroom and her time working with children since the age of 16 as a recreation leader with the Chicago Park District at Robichaux Park in Washington Heights.
Becoming a Golden Apple winner came as a literal surprise to Duncan. She said she was notified that she won by Chicago Public School CEO Dr. Janice Jackson, who surprised her with a visit to South Shore Fine Arts Academy on March 19. She said she has known Jackson for years and believes she is good for the future of CPS due to her multifaceted experience.
“This is amazing, something that I wanted my entire career, it’s been at the forefront of my mind all the time,” said Duncan. “It seems like there’s going to be a whole lot going on. I’m really excited about the opportunity to be with other teachers and support Golden Apple scholars.”
The impact of being a Golden Apple teacher goes beyond just a personal accomplishment for Duncan. She called the education team at South Shore Fine Arts Academy “drum tight” and “excellent” and said it was critical to have schools like hers represented.
Jackson congratulated Duncan on her personal Twitter account which included a photo of the two together along with several students holding signs with the slogan #TeachGolden.
Dr. Vicki Lee, South Shore Fine Arts Academy’s principal for the past three years, said she was thrilled to see the school in the spotlight.
“What people don’t know is that we have some highly qualified and dedicated teachers at our school including Ms. Duncan, so this award to me just puts us back on the map,” Lee said. “It lets people know that we are a school of choice and that we are a school dedicated to our students and also dedicated to our teachers as well. Hopefully, it will not only attract students but attract teachers to come to a high performing school.”
Dr. Lee said Duncan’s leadership is among her many contributions to the school.
“Duncan is always at the forefront of teacher leadership,” said Lee. “Everything that she’s learned she finds a way to bring it back and share it with us. Not just with our primary teachers but with our entire school as well.”
The Golden Apple has awarded teachers for excellence in teaching since 1986. This year, 10 teachers received the award. The award ceremony is scheduled for May 19.
Founded in 1985, the Golden Apple is a non-profit organization that strives to support excellence among teachers in Illinois.