‘Overwhelmed with gratitude’: Suburban teachers win Golden Apples

Overwhelmed was the word of the day for a pair of suburban educators who learned Monday that they’re among the winners of 2024 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching.

  Fox Meadow Elementary kindergarten teacher Aimee Legatzke is surprised by Golden Apple Foundation President Alan Mather at the South Elgin school Monday with the news that she was a winner of the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. Rick West/

As part of the Golden Apple tradition, Julianne Collier of Stevenson Elementary School in Elk Grove Village and Aimee Legatzke of Fox Meadow Elementary in South Elgin were surprised with the news at separate school assemblies attended by their students, colleagues, friends and families.

“I am so overwhelmed with gratitude,” Collier said Monday morning after tearfully embracing those who came to congratulate her. “I can’t thank everyone enough.”

“Oh my gosh, thank you so much everybody. I’m like shaking,” Legatzke later said between exuberant hugs at Fox Meadow. “I am so honored and so overwhelmed.”

As Golden Apple winners, each becomes a Fellow of the Golden Apple Academy of Educators and receives a $5,000 cash award and a spring sabbatical provided by Northwestern University. They are among 10 statewide winners, chosen from more than 600 nominations of prekindergarten through third grade teachers in Illinois.

Collier teaches literacy and mathematics to students in kindergarten through second grade at Stevenson. She thanked school administrators for challenging her with the career opportunities she’s received, and parents for trusting her with their children.

Then she turned her focus to her students.

“You know that hard work feels good and sets a foundation for your future success,” Collier told them.

Judy Tyler, who received the Golden Apple Award in 2019 at Maine East High School in Park Ridge, was one of the fellows who observed Collier’s teaching methods during a site visit.

“She takes data, literally, on every student every day,” Tyler said of Collier. “She showed me data for 90 kids. Who has the time to do that? Every kid had extensive data. Then she went home and researched how to make each one successful.”

Those methods led former high school intern Mia Parker of Schaumburg to nominate Collier for the award, and redefine her goals for her future career to be more like Collier’s. Parker was a senior at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates when she assisted Collier in 2022.

“She is just the most dedicated educator I have met in my entire life,” Parker said.

Collier said her data-driven approach came from following her instincts to get results. She added that Monday’s surprise honor was a reinforcement that she’s in the right place.

“I feel that I have a God-given gift to teach, and that it’s my calling,” Collier said.

Stevenson Principal Ken Haase agreed that Collier has an inner quality that has led to her success.

“I’ve always said Julie can teach any kid anything anywhere,” he said. “I think it’s really her passion, her drive … the way she lights up in front of students.”

Legatzke, a kindergarten instructor who has taught at Fox Meadow for nine of her 21 years in teaching, said it was a surprise just be to nominated for a Golden Apple.

“And now it’s just so hard to put into words how much of an honor it is and how much I feel undeserving. To be honored in this way is just so humbling,” she said.

  Fox Meadow Elementary kindergarten teacher Aimee Legatzke, center, is congratulated Monday by fellow teacher Kathy Johnson after finding out she won a Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching at the South Elgin school. Rick West/

School Principal Jason Gold said Legatzke is more than deserving to be Elgin Area School District U-46’s first winner of the award.

“It’s just amazing. She’s student-centered, all about the kids, and she really tries to understand what each child needs to move them forward,” Gold said. “She works so hard every day with the planning that she does, and she’s so deserving.

Legatzke said she’s always known she was born to teach.

“I love it. Every day is hard, but every year is wonderful,” she said. “This is all I’ve ever wanted to do, and I’ll stay here for as long as they let me.”

  Adlai Stevenson Elementary School’s Julianne Collier is surrounded by students Monday after receiving a Golden Apple Award at the Elk Grove Village school. Paul Valade/
  Adlai Stevenson Elementary School’s Julianne Collier, facing camera, gets a hug from former student intern Mia Parker of Schaumburg on Monday after receiving a Golden Apple Award at the Elk Grove Village school. Paul Valade/
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