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The surprise is part of the fun with Golden Apple awards, which are given to six Billings educators each year. Winners aren’t given any advance warning about the awards. But once they’re announced, no one else seems surprised at who was picked.

There’s Anita Dolan, a seventh-grade math teacher at Will James Middle School who DJ’s at school dances, and Amy Leffler, a fifth-grade teacher and robotics club specialist at Meadowlark Elementary.

The Skyview High gymnasium erupted with cheers when Barbara Bueno, the school’s hall monitor, was announced as an award winner. Eagle Cliffs Elementary first-grade teacher Courtney Niemeyer couldn’t quite hold back tears when her name was called, and was still pulling her thoughts together at the end of a school assembly.

“I’m so honored,” she said. “I want to thank whoever said those lovely things about me,” referring to her nomination.

Niemeyer’s students had plenty to say about her. Their favorite subjects, resoundingly, were math and science.

Daevon Simmonsen and Danyka Mockel proudly noted that they could do “times,” as well as addition and subtraction.

“She makes the math games fun,” Channing Phares said.

Part of that is through her technology focus — one student mentioned iPads as their favorite subject. In 2011, Niemeyer wrote a grant that reeled in iPads for her entire classroom, and she's become a leader in using them in the classroom.

Teachers who receive Golden Apple awards go above and beyond, but are also masters of classroom basics.

“The students are treated as equals,” said Rilla Hardgrove, an award coordinator and former school principal, reading from Niemeyer’s nomination.

Other Golden Apple award winners:

Anita Dolan, seventh-grade math, Will James Middle School

“She’s always been very, very involved,” said Kim Verschoot, next year’s principal at Will James. “She’s here usually six days a week, if not seven.”

She’s involved with groups like students council and an after-school math group, and she’s highly requested to oversee student teachers.

“She has done a lot to help new teachers get started,” Verschoot said.

Amy Leffler, fifth grade, Meadowlark Elementary

“She just has a passion for kids and teaching,” Meadowlark Principal Stacy Lemelin said.

Leffler’s written several grants to help get robotics programs off the ground and leads groups for students of all ages at the school. She also led the school’s Hour of Code.

“All this is outside of the school day,” Lemelin said.

Dar Schaaf, assistant principal, Career Center

“He is a student advocate beyond belief,” Career Center Principal Scott Anderson said. “He will never give up and make sure that student is successful. He is a true life coach.”

Schaaf is in charge of scheduling and student discipline as part of his duties and builds them into a compassionate approach.

“He finds really creative ways to make a schedule work for a student so they can fulfill their passion,” Anderson said.

Barbara Bueno, hall monitor, Skyview High

“I swear she knows every kid,” Skyview Principal Deb Black said. “If we talk about who’s this kid, she can tell you everything about them. She’s the kind of person kids just gravitate to.”

Bueno helps students with bus schedules, stops fights, enforces the dress code and encourages kids to keep the school clean. She also pinch hits when a substitute teacher can’t be found or fills in as school nurse.

“She’s just our go-to person,” Black said.

Bridgett Paddock, English teacher, Skyview High

Paddock is the first to volunteer for anything she thinks will help students.

“It’s not, well, that’s going to be more work for me,” Black said. “If I need a person on a committee, Bridgett’s always the first one that comes to mind.”

She also helped start Sister’s Closet, a program that collects prom dresses and offers them to student for free or for minimum fees.

“She was keeping all the dresses in her room for a while,” Black said.

The Billings Education Association, the union for most SD2 teachers, also gave out two awards.

Shelly Stanton, technology integration specialist, 2016 BEA Teacher of the Year

Stanton helps teach SD2 teachers how to use technology, and more importantly, how to use it to enhance students’ education. She’s an advisor to the Teacher Leadership Initiative and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

“Shelly’s commitment to the students and citizen of Billings reflects the best in the teaching profession,” a BEA release said.

Dan Carter, ExxonMobil, 2016 BEA Friend of Education

Carter has been a strong partner with SD2 in the implementation of Project Lead the Way and other science, technology, engineering and math initiatives. He frequently leads activities in schools and at after-school events.

“This man knows how to connect with kids,” the release said. “His words and actions mold relationships with the youngest of our students.”



Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Billings Gazette.