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Get to Know Our 20 Finalists!

Fort Zackary III of Rockford, a teacher for 21 years, was initially an urban studies and planning major in college. He didn’t think he had the patience to teach. However, a teacher strike landed him in a kindergarten classroom for a week, which he describes as “the most rewarding experience of my life to that point.” A year and a half later, he had his own kindergarten classroom.” Fort has primarily taught Kindergarten, but he’s also taught fourth grade. This is his first year as a Kindergarten teacher at Carlson Elementary. Taren Turner, Ellis Elementary principal, commented that, “it is not the duration of years in the field alone that makes him stellar. Rather, his natural character, compassion, and professional evolvement over time, which have greatly impacted students, families, and school staff, are what make Mr. Zackary unparalleled.” His teaching experience has ranged from “the incredibly affluent to homelessly poor, suburban to hardcore urban, all white to all black, all English speakers to years where I was the only English speaker and everything in between.” At each school, Fort has advocated for, collaborated with and coached new, veteran and student teachers as well as students. The parent of one student wrote that her child was well behaved but quiet and shy. “Mr. Zackary was just what the doctor ordered! He not only helped him come out of his shell, he now excels as a student and a person. I can only thank Mr. Z for that.” Fort has done much reflecting and changing since being named a Golden Apple finalist 10 years ago. Sensing impending burnout, he rededicated himself to teaching by attending conferences and implementing what he learned. He added technological tools to better reach students and their families. He listened to Golden Apple Academy mentors. He brought the fun back into his lessons. And he changed schools. He says, “while I miss being the champion for so many underprivileged children, I have saved myself from burnout and can continue teaching and shaping young lives for the better.”