KIPP Academy teacher gets the Golden Apple

Austin charter school reading specialist earns one of 10 coveted annual awards for teaching excellence, the first charter school teacher to receive the honor.

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By DELORES MCCAIN

Last Wednesday, KIPP: Ascend Charter School (4820 W. Walton) was the place to be, as one of its teachers received a Golden Apple Award. Tracy Kwock, sixth grade reading teacher at KIPP was the honoree.

The surprise ceremony included CEO Arne Duncan, Golden Apple officials, family members, local TV stations and community media. All entered Kwock's room while she was preparing her students for a "pop quiz."

She was startled to say the least and very surprised to see Arne Duncan enter with the traditional basket filled with apples. As Duncan presented her with the basket, her classroom began cheering and clapping.

Students from other rooms filled the hallway as Duncan told her class, "You have a wonderful, wonderful teacher. She's one 10 teachers, not only in Chicago but in three counties, to get this award. You guys are very lucky to have her as a teacher. You guys got a real star here; you're pretty lucky."

Accepting her award, Tracy told the class, "You guysâ€"what do I always say?  'A good teacher is only as good as their students. So when one of us is wrong ...' [the class recites in unison] 'All will fail.'

"It's a wonderful thing you have done in allowing me to be your teacher and we've learned a lot this yearâ€"and thank you."

Tracy Kwock is the first charter school teacher to be honored with the award since its inception in 1986. She began teaching in 1993 as a Teach For America Corps member in rural Louisiana. She is an 8-year veteran of the Chicago Public Schools and in 2003 became a founding teacher of KIPP Ascend Charter School in the Austin community, where she also resides.

AWN: How do you feel about winning this award?

Tracy: "Totally knocked me off my feetâ€"wasn't seeing it coming at all. I was actually so thrilled by being nominated in the first placeâ€"it's kind of like that's all I need. I was recognized and to take it one step further is such an honor. And it's such a great chance for me to be able to not only say thank you for the profession I'm in, but a chance to showcase the school. The students are doing outstanding things, so it shines a little light on them, too.

"I started [at KIPP] last year, so I've been with them since the beginning. I was one of the founding members. Before this, I taught at DePriest Elementary right here in the Austin area. That's actually one of the reasons I came back here. I wanted to stay in Austin. I live in Austin, so it was really important to me to stay in the community and be able to support them in this way.

AWN: Your entire family is here: your mother, father, husband and your baby.

Tracy: "Oh it's incredibleâ€"my dad just had triple bypass surgery about a month ago. I'm sure he had to cancel a trip to be here. It's such a surprise and my daughter just started walking."

Jake, Tracy's husband stated, "I feel it is absolutely fantastic that she has won this award, and she's the most deserving person that I know."

KIPP Principal Jim O'Connor said, "We are not surprised by Tracy winning the award. She is incredibly committed to the kids, compassionate and impassioned about reading, and our kids love her class. All of our teachers are passionate, hardworking teachers many of them were nominated for the Apple and other awards. I feel like this is a reward for our team and shows what a great staff we have. We're looking for more teachers like Tracy. If you're hardworking and passionate about teaching, we'd like for you to apply to teach at our school."

Kwock was one of 747 teachers, grades 4-8, who were nominated from Cook, DuPage and Lake counties. Each of the 10 winners receives a tuition-free fall sabbatical at Northwestern University; an Apple computer; a $2,500 stipend; and induction into the Golden Apple Academy.

An award ceremony will honor the winners on May 7 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers. The event will be televised and broadcast as a one-hour prime-time special on WTTW/Channel 11.

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