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Get to Know Our 20 Finalists!
Michael Manke has been teaching at Rockford Christian Schools nearly 11 years. He teaches 7th grade Physical Science. Michael says, “the more we learn about children and their culture, the unique motivations of their hearts, and the functions of their brains as they learn, the more challenging and rewarding the task of teaching them becomes.” He continually seeks to “best help my students use and apply what they learn in the ever changing and expanding field of science.” He has been “amazed at the innovation that takes place when you provide students with opportunities and they walk through the gate of opportunity” as a result of adding extracurricular activities and competition opportunities for the students. Michael says “[his] constant goal is to move students to marvel at the wonders of the natural world and see how they relate to it.” The parent of one of his former students shared that in her essay on her college applications, his daughter wrote of Mr. Manke that he “shaped me from a nature-loving seedling, into a full grown tree who understands the scientific complexities of nature and wants to continue learning…without Mr. Manke, I wouldn’t have known this love for science that has shaped who I am today and who I want to become.”

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(Photo: Kevin Finnegan 2016 Outstanding Principal Recipient and Sunil Puri, President, First Midwest Group)

All Winnebago and Boone County teachers, administrators, parents and students are encouraged to nominate a Secondary School Principal they consider worthy of this prestigious award by February 3, 2017.CLICK HERE for nomination form and info about the program including eligibility requirements. The principal selected for the 2017 Puri Family Outstanding Principal Award will receive, compliments of the Puri Family, $1,500 cash to be used in his/her school and $500 in Volcano Falls gift certificates to reward excellent students. He/she will be surprised in his/her school with the award and recognized at the 21st Annual Golden Apple Banquet on Friday, April 28, 2017 at the Radisson Hotel, presenting sponsor First Midwest Group, Inc.

Susan Schroepfer TN


Susan Schroepfer has been teaching at Harlem High School for 14 years. She teaches 10th-12th grade special education –cross categorical-math. Her nominator told us, “Sue is exceptionally dedicated not only to her job in general but her students in particular. She meets students where they are and stretches them to learn. She also volunteers her time working in many ways for the Harlem community. She is always searching for new ways to teach and learn.” Susan says, “Teaching is something that comes from my soul. I began considering teaching when I was in high school. We were allowed to tutor at the elementary school. I selected to work with the students with special needs. It was so much fun, exciting and challenging. I then asked to tutor a second semester and although it was a totally different experience, I believe this is what hooked me into becoming a teacher of students with special needs.” While challenging those students with special needs is complicated, Susan feels, “All students deserve to have every opportunity to learn. I believe that every child can learn. There are different strategies to use with different types of disabilities. So I must be very creative….””It is my mission to empower them to realize that they can learn and be successful.”

Joseph Meersman Boylan reduced website


Joe Meersman is in his sixth year teaching at Boylan. He teaches Accounting 1, 2 and 3; Information Processing 1 and 2; Marketing; and Business Law. Joe spent the first five years after college in the business world, but realized he “needed more out of life” and started taking night classes while still working a full time job. Joe was nominated by one of his students, who wrote, “He has great enthusiasm every day and really tries to make a connection with his students. Not only is he a great role model, but a great teacher. He pushes us every day to be our best and to strive for the best. His devotion to the school really is inspirational.” Joe says he wants “the students to know they are the reason I teach. I do not see teaching as just my job. I see it as my calling and want to provide students extra help whether that be before or after school. I also want them to know that I support them in everything they do.” Further, he says, “…I have the awesome opportunity to inspire these students. I do not take that lightly, not only do I try to challenge them every day, I also try to challenge myself to be the best I can every day. As much as I try to inspire these students, I realize they also inspire me to be better every day. I made a commitment to help prepare the future of America and I wake up ready and excited for that challenge every single day.”



Linda Julian Photo

Linda Julian has been teaching at Willowbrook Middle School for 18 years. She teaches 6th -8th grade choirs, 7th grade Speech, 5th grade chorus and ¾ General Music. Linda wrote, “I constantly look for new ways to involve, encourage and challenge my students. Because the majority of my classes are performance-based, you will always find every student engaged and participating in class. While not every student may show the energy and enthusiasm I request, I continue to encourage them to work harder. I often remind them that I am a greedy person, and therefore, I will always want more from them.” Linda seizes the opportunity to explore and discuss diversity by choosing “well-written works that will encourage questions or discussions about race, culture and individual beliefs. This music serves as a guide for the students to understand that music is a common denominator that can bring many people together through the enjoyment of listening to, learning about, and performing many different kinds of music.”

Rick Elston Guilford HS

Rick Elston, who teaches Ninth Grade Honors World History and 9th-12th grade AP World History, has been teaching at Guilford High School for 17 years. Rick says, “As much as you learn in college education courses and the hours of observation and finally the student teaching experience, nothing prepares you for teaching your own classes.” “I tell my students that success in school and life starts with showing up and working every day.” “The number one goal of all teachers is to have all students reach high standards and expectations. That starts with the teacher. If the teacher has high standards and expectations for themselves, the students will follow their example. I really try to set the bar high, and then I have to work with each student to not only reach the standard for class, but to then set their own bar a little higher.“ Rick stresses, “it is great to understand and appreciate the differences of others but [I] also focus on what we all share in common. Social studies courses allow … opportunity to discuss issues like race, class and gender in different times and places. This provides a springboard and context to discuss these issues as they affect society, and our students, today. Some of these discussions are uncomfortable, but we always follow the rule that it is OK to disagree without being disagreeable. I try to provide a safe space for students to develop, share and expand their ideas about each other and themselves.”


Kimber Perala is in her ninth year at South Beloit, She teaches AP Psychology, Sociology, World Cultures, Government and Consumer Education. Kimber is a second-career educator who has worked as a legal secretary, then worked in the public sector at the Winnebago County public defender’s office, then went into private practice doing criminal, civil and municipal law. Her time showed her how a lack of education impacts a young person’s life and at 40, she got her teaching certificate and master’s degree. “I believed that if I could be instrumental in keeping one at-risk kid in school, I had made a good decision. I can proudly say that I have kept that promise to myself” … “Every day is a challenge when a teacher is competing with outside forces like crime, gangs and family issues. I believe I present an open atmosphere where students feel safe to be themselves and learn how successful they can be on their own” … “I have had multiple emails from prior students who want to discuss the issues in this election and who proudly tell me that they voted for the first time. I want to get them interested. I want them to debate issues … [and]…“challenge ideas. It has been a really fun fall.” From her student nominator, “She gives us the skills that we will need for the rest of our lives.”

Jeremy Edwards

Jeremy Edwards is in his third year at Belvidere High School. He teaches Freshman Biology, Accelerated Biology and Advanced Placement Biology “My classroom today barely resembles my initial classroom in 2001…my past and current students, colleagues and administrators have taught me so much…students have taught me I don’t have to find the perfect lesson for each one of them. The perfect lesson is the one they find for themselves… I am so grateful to all the amazing people who inspired me to give up the control in order to create a classroom that finally meets my vision for an amazing learning environment.”

Sara Wolf

Sara Wolf is in her 12th year teaching at Belvidere Central. She teaches sixth grade social studies and math. She says, “Teaching a student who is hungry, scared or being pressured to do things they aren’t sure about doing outside of the classroom makes teaching a difficult job.” “This connection that I have created with these children has everything to do with the success that happens inside the walls of my classroom. I have and will do almost anything to create an environment where our woes can be briefly put on a shelf and learning can flourish.” “Being a teacher is so much more than the lesson that happens at the front of the classroom! I hold myself accountable to be the kind of teacher I want my own children to have; therefore, input from students, parents, my colleagues and administration has shaped my efforts as an educator.” 



Golden Apple Foundation is pleased to announce the names of 20 teachers from Winnebago and Boone County who have been selected to move forward in the process for the 2017 Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching.  These talented 6th -12th grade teachers were chosen by a selection committee of community volunteers who had the difficult task of selecting only 20 teachers from a large group of worthy nominees.

Please join us in congratulating the following excellent teachers….

Jeff Corn
North Boone High School - Poplar Grove
9-12 Geometry, Honors PreCalculus, AP Calculus


Christina Dover
Eisenhower Middle School - Rockford
8th grade ELA & Honors ELA


Jeremy Edwards
Belvidere High School -
Freshman Biology


Richard Elston
Guilford High School - Rockford
9-10 World History; 9th Honors World History


Thomas Freesmeier
Harlem Middle School - Machesney Park
8th grade Social Studies


Alex Hartz
Hononegah Community High School - Rockton
9-12 Math: Algebra 1AB, Algebra 2, AP Calculus BC


C. Kent Holden
Maria Montessori Elementary - Rockford
7th & 8th grade Math & Science


Linda Julian
Willowbrook Middle School - South Beloit
5-8 Choir; 7th grade Speech; General Music


Jennifer Keller
Harlem High School - Machesney Park
9-12 German


Michael Manke
Rockford Christian - Rockford
7th Grade Physical Science


Joe Meersman
Boylan Catholic High School - Rockford
9-12 Accounting, Business Law, Marketing, Information Processing 1&2


Kimber Perala
South Beloit High School -
South Beloit
HS Government, Sociology, Consumer Education, World Culture, AP Psychology


Heather Plourde
Hononegah Community High School - Rockton
9th grade Physical Education; 10-12 Health


Sarah Schaefer
Roosevelt Community Education Center - Rockford
10-12 Enviro 1&2; Earth 1&2; Biology 1&2; Robotic Integrated Algebra-based Physics


Susan Schroepfer
Harlem High School - Machesney Park
7-8 Special Education; cross categorical Math, Geometry & Algebra 2


Lis Schurman
Belvidere Central Middle School -
6th-8th grade Band


Julie Thomas
Harlem High School - Machesney Park
9-12 Spanish


Danielle Turner
Belvidere High School -
9th Grade Health Education


Sarah Wolf
Belvidere Central Middle School -
6th Grade Social Studies & Math


Jared Young
Belvidere North High School
- Belvidere
9-12 Business

These teachers will be observed in their classrooms by trained community volunteers on four separate occasions between Jan. 17 and Feb. 17, 2017. The next step in the selection process after observations is an interview. The process culminates with the selection of five teachers who will receive the prestigious Golden Apple Award in surprise classroom presentations featured by WREX-13 and the Rockford Register Star.

Individuals interested in participating as a Golden Apple classroom observer can register online at or call 815-226-4180.

Each Golden Apple award winning teacher will receive a cash award; a professional development stipend; a Rockford University Scholarship; a laptop computer and computer software compliments of Entré Computer Solutions; a desktop computer compliments of Rockford Computers for Schools; and two sets of season tickets to the Rockford Coronado Concert Association 2017-2018 season. In addition, they will be inducted into the Golden Apple Teacher Academy where, as members, they will work to increase public awareness of educational excellence in our schools, promote the profession of education and provide professional development training and mentoring to new and veteran teachers.

Golden Apple Foundation is celebrating its 21st year of taking positive steps to achieve improved education in Winnebago and Boone counties. The Annual Golden Apple Banquet recognizing Excellence in Education and honoring the Golden Apple Teachers will be held Friday, April 28, 2017, at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center, sponsored by First Midwest Group, Inc.

Golden Apple Foundation inspires, recognizes and supports excellence in education in our community.

For more information, contact Jennifer Stark at 815-226-4180 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Golden Apple Foundation is pleased to offer a unique professional education opportunity for qualifying assistant principals. Strong leadership is a skill fundamental to the improvement and maintenance of a positive school culture that facilitates student achievement and faculty motivation. Golden Apple Foundation offers the Investing in Excellence: Assistant Principal Development Program sponsored by First Midwest Group, Inc. Qualifying assistant principals are invited to apply between now and January 9, 2017.

Qualifying Assistant Principals must:

•           have completed two years of experience as an Assistant Principal;

•           have a maximum of five years of school leadership experience;

•           anticipate becoming a principal within the next two years;

•           be in good standing with his/her district/school;

•           be an Assistant Principal in District 100, 122, 131, 200, 205 or 207.

One Assistant Principal will be selected to attend the New and Aspiring School Leaders Program of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The expenses covered by this program are tuition for the New and Aspiring School Leaders Program, round-trip airfare, and a hotel stay of four nights. Upon the recipient’s return he/she will conduct a workshop to share what he/she learned from the experience with administrators of other schools in the area.

For more information visit contact Jennifer Stark at (815) 226-4180 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

All applications must be received by the Golden Apple Foundation office located in Scarborough Hall, room 9, of Rockford University, 5050 E. State St., Rockford, IL 61108 by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, January 9, 2017.

Golden Apple Foundation inspires, celebrates and supports educational excellence in our community.