By Taylor Goldenstein
When the board of the Golden Apple Foundation, which annually recognizes exceptional teachers, got together to discuss the creation of a new award for principals, one name kept coming up.
“We were saying things like ‘The principal has to be an outstanding person who recognizes excellent teaching and helps with the growth — kind of like what Alan Mather does at Lindblom,’ ” said Golden Apple Foundation President and CEO Dominic Belmonte.
The organization quickly realized that Mather, principal of Lindblom Math and Science Academy In Chicago’s West Englewood neighborhood was the right person to be the initial recipient of the Stanley C. Golder Award.
On Wednesday, Mather was announcing the students who had won Golden Apple scholarships in Lindblom’s auditorium when Mayor Rahm Emanuel tapped him on the back, holding a basket of apples.
“Now you all earned $34 million in scholarships, Alan, here’s $129-worth of golden apples,” Emanuel joked to the wildly cheering assembly of students and teachers.
Mather, a 28-year Chicago Public Schools veteran, became emotional as he accepted the award, which includes $2,000 for professional development as well as $8,000 for a school project of his choosing.
“Kids, this is kind of a magical moment,” Mather said, his voice breaking. “But of course this wouldn’t have happened…You make my job so much easier. The incredible, incredible teachers who are here. The incredible, the great students.”
Lindblom had been closed for two years and was reorganized as a selective enrollment school when Mather, formerly an assistant principal at Northside College Prep, took over in 2005. He reached out to the community, hired faculty and created programs that have turned Lindblom into one of the city’s elite high schools. Lindblom has the largest Mandarin Chinese program in the district and the largest non-heritage Arabic program in the United States
“It’s a success story written large,” Belmonte said. “There are economic challenges of a high degree, yet in and amongst that, here come these kids every day to make a better tomorrow for themselves and for their community.”
Senior Alexis Sierra, one of three Golden Apple scholarship recipients at the school, said Mather is well-liked among students and not above having a little fun. Every Halloween, the principal dresses up like a clown and rides around on a unicycle, throwing candy at students.
“He just makes the students feel comfortable,” Sierra said. “I don’t know any student who walks around like ‘Oh my god, I’m so scared of Mr. Mather or I don’t want to talk to Mr. Mather,’ like everybody has a good relationship with him.”
The Golden Apple Awards for top Chicago-area teachers are being announced this week. Six winners were surprised with awards Wednesday:
- Math teacher Luke Albrecht of Crown Community Fine Arts Academy of Fine Arts Center in North Lawndale
- Art teacher Mary Benton of Hawthorn Middle School South in Vernon Hills.
- Math and science teacher Joseph Casanovas of Helen C. Peirce School of International Studies in Edgewater.
- Music teacher and band director Roosevelt Griffin of Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School in Harvey.
- Math and science teacher Michael Novak of Park View School in Morton Grove.
- Multi-subject teacher Rozy Patel of Edgebrook Elementary School in Forest Glen.