This month, four CPS educators received the surprise of a lifetime from the Golden Apple Foundation. Though given their reputations in the classroom, the visits should not have been a surprise.

The group presented three CPS high school  teachers with the coveted Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching, and one District principal with the prestigious Golder Award, which recognizes outstanding leadership skills and proven dedication to an entire school community.

This year’s Golder Award winner was Ruiz Elementary principal Dana Butler, whose success is an instructional leader is matched only by the vision he’s created for his school, and the buy-in of his staff and families to carry out that vision. Principal Butler maintains a culture of warmth within his school community – an environment that has seen generation after generation of families send their children to Ruiz, and former Ruiz students return to give back as teachers and volunteers.

Dennis Kass, a Sociology teacher at Infinity Math, Science and Technology High School, was one of three CPS teachers to receive the Golden Apple Award this year. Though many of his students have not traveled beyond their neighborhoods, Mr. Kass has managed to bring the larger world to them, sharing his own travel experiences and encouraging his students in programs like Model UN. In addition to broadening their worldview, he uses subjects relevant to their lives – issues like poverty, inequality and advocacy – to help them connect personally with the subject of Sociology.

Mr. Todd Katz, a teacher at Whitney Young Magnet High School, is a champion for the environment. He has spearheaded projects like a school greenhouse, and continually teaches his students about ecology and environmental protection. Through his work, Mr. Katz is helping to create a generation of young adults who will be invested in conservation and the need to conserve our natural resources.

Mr. Leo Park, a music teacher at Northside College Prep, is exactly what CPS is striving for in our commitment to Arts Education. In his classroom, Mr. Park introduces students to the beauty of instruments and the power of a dynamic performance. He inspires student musicians to set the bar higher, and to commit to their craft until they’ve achieved their full potential, both as individual performers and as part of a cohesive, highly-skilled orchestra.

These CPS educators are powerful role models for their students, an example to their colleagues, and an inspiration to the entire CPS community. The Golden Apple Award is a well-earned acknowledgement of their talents – a sure sign that their passion and skills are making a significant difference in the lives of Chicago’s children.