Highlands Teacher Gets 'Golden' Moment, Awarded for Excellence in Teaching

Second grade teacher Kathy Burns gets a surprise visit from staff and family after she becomes recipient of Golden Apple Foundation award.

A cloudy Wednesday afternoon turned into a burst of excitement at as bright lights in the form of camera flashes filled Kathy Burns’ second grade classroom today.

staff, media and Burns’ family surprised both Burns and her students by announcing she was the recipient of the Golden Apple Foundation’s "Excellence in Teaching" award.


In awe, Burns thanked the Golden Apple Foundation and hugged family members as her wide-eyed second-graders cheered and said, “She’s the best!”. Burns is one of 10 teachers in Illinois to be honored this year by the Golden Apple Foundation.

“I’m just so overwhelmed everybody is here,” Burns said, holding onto a bouquet of flowers. “It’s an honor, it’s truly an honor for me.”

Along with being awarded for her excellence in teaching, she also received $3,000 from Golden Apple as well as a semester-long sabbatical at Northwestern University.

And just as she was starting to wrap her head around the excitement, an announcement came over the loud speaker notifying staff and students of a “slight change in our schedule.” Everyone was called on to file into the gymnasium for a surprise assembly.

But students in Burns’ class were obviously already aware.

“I think we already got it figured out,” said one student, which drew laughter from the packed classroom.

In front of the entire school, the district’s director of community relations Julie Carlsen teared up during the gymnasium assembly as she explained why she nominated Burns for this year’s Golden Apple award. 

Carlsen said she was “inspired by the work of Golden Apple teachers” and from Burns’ positive impact on the school as well as District 203.

As far as keeping the announcement a surprise for a week, Burns’ family and friends said it wasn’t easy.

“It’s been tough to keep the Golden Apple news out of the conversation,” said her good friend Jack Francis. “But I know she’s very honored, surprised and humbled. She’s very deserving.”

Burns’ two sons, Mark and Brian, as well as her daughter Jennifer were in attendance and also in on the secret. Brian even had to make a rather covert, late-night bus trip from the University of Iowa last night in order to make it to the ceremony without ruining the surprise.

“I had no idea and I’d go check my mailbox everyday expecting something, but had no idea about this,” Burns said. “I’m just overwhelmed. I think that’s the best way I can describe it.”

To close out the emotional celebration, members of the choir sang a rendition of “Seasons of Love,” which happened to have a special meaning behind it.

Highlands principal Susan Stuckey said a student choir sang the song during a Golden Apple finalist brunch several months ago. Stuckey recalled Burns leaning over to her and whispering, “I love this song.”

Keeping that in mind, upon receiving the news Burns had won Stuckey called the choir director at Naperville Central High School to ask if students could sing “Seasons of Love,” during the ceremony at Highlands. 

“I thought it would be great to get Naperville Central choir students to sing it and I just knew it would be special for her,” Stuckey said.

After students returned to class and most of the media had left, Burns was still in astonishment and grateful of the award and reception. 

“I’m excited to get involved with Golden Apple and I’m really appreciative of Golden Apple and everyone at Highlands and the district. Everybody at this building always works so well together.”

The Golden Apple Awards from the Hyatt McCormick Place in Chicago will be broadcast on Chicago’s WTTW in October.


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