Six outstanding educators at four Billings schools earned Golden Apple Awards Tuesday. One showed up for his surprise award ceremony dressed as he customarily does — in a polo shirt and gym shorts, and wearing a large grin.
“I’m a little shocked” said Jacob Pertuit, a health and PE teacher at Arrowhead Elementary School who received his award during an assembly staged as a ruse to ensure that the fourth-year teacher would indeed be surprised.
“I have to say,” he told gathered students and his colleagues, recovering a bit, “that this award reflects not on me, but on the students and teachers I work with. You bring out the best in me — and the best in everybody.”
According to Rilla Hardgrove of the Golden Apple Committee, students and teachers nominating the 29-year-old teacher used phrases like “a heart for every student,” “funny,” “generous,” and “plays with me at recess” in their letters to the committee.
The winners each receive $500 and a golden apple and will be further honored during an educator appreciation banquet April 27 at the Red Lion Hotel and Convention Center. A free public reception, which includes a time to honor 25-year educators, begins at 5 p.m., with the banquet to follow at 6 p.m.
Golden apples have been awarded since 1985. The winners are selected by a group that reads through each set of letters of nomination. This year about 125 teachers and support staff were nominated.
Pertuit’s wife, Sarah, and their five-year-old daughter, Emily, also slipped unnoticed into Tuesday’s assembly. Sarah said she believes the respect her husband shows to his students — and the respect he demands in return — is key to his success at Arrowhead.
Effort helps, too.
“He puts a lot of work into his teaching,” she said, a theme echoed by fifth-grade teacher Ross Marquis.
“He puts in a ton of time,” Marquis said, noting that Pertuit is responsible for the school’s PEAK program. Providing Enhanced Activities for Kids is a three-days-per-week after school program in which more than 100 students run track and play flag football, handball and dodgeball, occasionally competing against students from other Billings elementary schools.
“They stay after school because they love it,” Marquis said. “He does it all on his own time.”
“This is not a job. This is my life,” Pertuit said moments after receiving his award.
Arrowhead Principal Pam Meier was attending a leadership conference in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, but she took a few minutes to congratulate Pertuit by telephone.
“She just told me congratulations and how happy she was for me,” Pertuit said.
After the Arrowhead celebration, the committee made three additional stops to honor five other accomplished Billings educators:
- Ryan Nafts, a 6th-grade teacher at Meadowlark Elementary School, for outstanding K-8 teacher
- Richie Selleck, a kindergarten teacher at Meadowlark Elementary School, for outstanding K-8 teacher
- Marcene McDonnell, a reading and language teacher at Riverside Middle School, for outstanding K-8 teacher
- Nedal Dababneh, the head custodian at Riverside Middle School, for outstanding support person
- Amy Pfeifle, a math teacher at Senior High School for outstanding high school teacher.
On the same day, the Billings Education Association announced its award recipients. Community educator Michelle Gisek was named Teacher of the Year.
Author Craig Lancaster was given the Friend of Education award.