D65 Golden Apple Finalists
Evanston/Skokie School District 65 is home to 5 out of 30 Golden Apple Finalists
Evanston/Skokie School District 65 educators make up 5 of the 30 finalists announced last week by the Golden Apple Foundation for their prestigious statewide recognition program, the Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching.
Over 570 nominations were submitted this year in recognition of 4th-8th grade educators from across the State of Illinois. A number of District 65 educators have been named both finalists and recipients in previous years but this is a record-breaking number of nominations in one year for the district.
Aubrey Chang (Chute Middle School), Sherri Kushner (Chute), Anthony Laera (Orrington Elementary), Michael Likhite (Orrington), and Tawana Stiff (Nichols Middle school) together have more than 60 years of service in District 65. These educators were recognized for having lasting impacts on their students and school communities.
“To have so many finalists come from D65 is just phenomenal,” said Superintendent Dr. Devon Horton. “Although it’s not overly surprising. District 65 is home to the most remarkable group of educators who pour their heart and soul into their craft every single day. These individuals represent the best of the best and their passion for their students is what ultimately makes them so successful. We are fortunate that they choose to make D65 their professional home.”
Ten recipients will be surprised later this spring with their awards, which includes a spring sabbatical, $5,000 cash, and membership in the Golden Apple Academy of Educators.
Get to know the five D65 educators who were named finalists:
Aubrey Chang, science teacher at Chute Middle School, leads an energetic, student-centered classroom that focuses on inquiry-based learning. She proudly identifies as an Asian American Latina and is passionate about trauma-informed teaching and social-emotional health.
- Years teaching in D65 (total years teaching): 3 years (13 years total)
- D65 involvement: Chute social committee, Chute Climate Team, Asian American Pacific Islander Club, helped with last year’s launch of Student Council
- What being a finalist means to her: “Being a Golden Apple Finalist means being recognized for my relationship building and teaching of the whole child through social emotional learning and inquiry, all while being rooted in the science standards. Being honored for my hard work and the relationships I build means the world to me!”
Sherri Kushner, media arts teacher at Chute Middle School, empowers students to advocate for social justice using digital media and collaboration. She is passionate about technology, innovation and creative problem-solving.
- Years teaching in D65 (total years teaching): 15 years (22 years total)
- D65 involvement: District 65 Art Department (co-chair), Chute Yearbook, Chute Minecraft Club, and Chute website manager. She and her students also create custom apparel and spiritwear for many clubs and activities at Chute.
- What being a finalist means to her: “It is a great honor. I am proud to be recognized for my hard work and dedication to teaching and innovation in my field. I am grateful to my students, families, and colleagues for their support and collaboration.”
Anthony Laera, special education co-teacher and administrative support staff member at Orrington Elementary School, cares deeply about culturally relevant pedagogy that emphasizes multisensory strategies. Within Orrington and the broader community, he is a strong advocate for fitness, wellness and nutritional well-being.
- Years teaching in D65 (total years teaching): 13 years (17 years total)
- D65 involvement: Orrington Leadership Team, facilitator of a culturally relevant teaching-centered book club for staff and community members, staff mentor, winner of the Schoolwide Fun Run
- What being a finalist means to him: “It is an honor and privilege to be nominated as a finalist for the Gold Apple Award for excellence in teaching. My dedication, commitment to teaching and cultivating life-learning skills are being recognized as an MVP in Education.”
Michael Likhite, 5th grade teacher at Orrington Elementary School, views every student and every school year as an opportunity that allows for growth, wisdom and humility. His passion shines through in his commitment to the Orrington school community and his willingness to continually grow in the profession.
- Years teaching in D65 (total years teaching): 25 years (25 years total)
- D65 involvement: Coaching, representing Orrington on District-level committees
- What being a finalist means to him: “I love what I do. It truly is my passion. On one hand, I can count the times it's actually felt like ‘work’. My advice to my 5th graders when they leave is exactly this — live your passion, for it rewards you every day. Being a finalist for the Golden Apple is exciting, but humbling. To be included, at any level, in this amazing organization initially makes me proud. Proud of what I've accomplished, and proud of who I've become.”
Tawana Stiff, algebra teacher at Nichols Middle School, emphasizes student voice and self-directed learning in her teaching. Using open-ended tasks that remove assumptions of what every student “should” already know, she builds up students’ learning style preferences, strengths and critical thinking skills.
Years teaching in D65 (total years teaching): 8 years (18 years total)
- D65 involvement: District Equity Leadership Team, Nichols Culture and Climate Team, Algebra for All Committee, Co-creator of past affinity space for Nichols 8th Grade female students of color, BlatinX, Curriculum Advisory Council, Desmos Fellow, Co-authored IL ASCD Article: “Reimagining Math Acceleration”
- What being a finalist means to her: “To know that in a pool of so many impactful educators, someone thought the caliber of my instruction was worth them taking the time to nominate me as a Golden Apple recipient truly leaves me with a heightened sense of gratefulness. I feel seen. I feel valued. And more importantly, I am reminded that my behind the scene efforts have been meaningful for my students and their families.”
Evanston/Skokie School District 65
Situated on the shores of Lake Michigan and just north of Chicago, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 is a pre-K through 8th grade public school district serving approximately 6,500 students from the City of Evanston and a small neighboring section of the Village of Skokie. The district represents a wide range of ethnic, economic, racial, and cultural backgrounds. District 65 is fortunate to serve a community that not only supports but truly embraces public education. Throughout the course of the school year and during the summer months, the district partners with dozens of organizations throughout the community to enhance both the educational experience and the lives of students and their families.