Gazette opinion: Billings picks special crop of Golden Apples

2014-03-25T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Billings picks special crop of Golden Apples The Billings Gazette
March 25, 2014 12:00 am

This year’s crop of Golden Apple Award winners includes outstanding educators and amazing education advocates.

For the first time, the Golden Apple committee, School District 2 and the Billings Education Association jointly awarded a Champions of Education honor to Dr. Heidi Duncan and Jim Duncan. The Duncans last year chaired two community campaigns for education: First, last spring they led the successful Yes for Kids effort to pass a mill levy to hire additional elementary teachers and ease classroom overcrowding. As a result, the district has dozens fewer overcrowded classrooms this year, despite having more elementary students.

In the fall, the Duncans took on the huge task of chairing the campaign that concluded with voters approving $122 million in bonds to build two new middle schools and remodel or repair 25 schools.

Jim and Heidi would be the first give all the credit to Billings voters and the dozens of other volunteers who helped with each campaign. But someone had to take the lead, and that was the Duncans. They stepped up to this challenge.

Billings had a well-deserved reputation for voting down school issues. Yes for Kids volunteers turned that around in 2013. Led by the Duncans, volunteers, including teachers, business and local government leaders, told the community about their schools. It was a powerful story about the value of public education and the need to invest dollars to provide every student with the best opportunity to learn.

We join the Golden Apple volunteers, BEA and school district in saluting Jim and Heidi Duncan, who devoted several months of 2013 to making Billings schools better for all students.

Friend of Education

Accolades are in order for another community volunteer, Mary Johnson, whom the BEA named as this year’s Friend of Education. She volunteers three full days a week at Bench Elementary where she works with students in first through sixth grades. She often buys school supplies for needy students. Johnson retired 14 years ago after teaching for 38 years in Billings elementary schools and has been a school volunteer ever since. She is credited with helping hundreds of students.

The BEA honored Shirley Greene, Lewis & Clark Middle School science teacher, with the Teacher of the Year Award. Known as an advocate for every student, Greene also has worked with Chicks in Science and the Billings Clinic science fair.

Community choices

The Golden Apple Awards are unique among the many professional honors that educators may receive because they are bestowed by the community. The Golden Apple program relies entirely on volunteers and private fundraising. Any community member may nominate an educator in any accredited Billings school, including rural schools that send their middle school or high school students to Billings Public Schools. Panels of community volunteers read and score copies of the nomination letters with the names of nominees deleted.

The nominees with the highest scores, as determined by dozens of volunteer letter readers, are the winners:

Boulder Elementary teacher Kevin Cicero.

Riverside Middle School teacher Jan Besel.

Independent Elementary special education teacher Susan Vermette.

West High business teacher Darcy Conway.

Skyview High counselor Tina Boone.

Skyview High head custodian Jim Miller.

Congratulations to all these honorees. Thanks for going the extra mile for our kids.

Thanks also to the hard-working Golden Apple volunteers. Because of you, the wonderful tradition of Billings Golden Apples continues to reward excellence in education.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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