Park View School teacher Michael Novak thought Wednesday was just a typical day — until a TV news crew and a slew of friends and family burst into his Morton Grove classroom to surprise him with the Golden Apple Award.
Novak’s 15-year teaching career earned him a 2014 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching, a prestigious recognition bestowed on only 10 teachers in the Chicago metropolitan area each year. Novak teaches math and science at Park View.
Fellow science teachers Lisa Brody and Keetra Tipton described Novak as an enthusiastic and dedicated educator with a unique teaching style that makes every student feel important.
“He’s special for so many reasons — especially his passion and his ability to coach both students and teachers,” Brody said. “He’s in your corner all the time as a teacher and as a teammate, and we’re strong because of him.”
The winners of this year’s Golden Apple Award were selected from a pool of 620 teachers who were nominated from fourth through eighth grades level, according to Eileen Rochford, communications director for Golden Apple.
The Golden Apple Award also honors elementary-level and high school teachers in alternating years.
Novak’s entire family, including his wife Dawn, two sons, and parents Bob and Kathy Novak attended the surprise celebration Wednesday.
Teaching seems to be in the Novak family’s blood. Bob and Kathy Novak are retired teachers, and Dawn Novak is a math specialist at Grayslake High School.
With master’s and bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering, Michael Novak started his career at large corporations like Fermilab and Caterpillar before realizing his true passion was in teaching. He taught middle school in Champaign for five years, then moved to the Chicago area where he’s continued teaching for the past decade.
Bob Novak remembers one day when the family went to a Chicago Bears game at Soldier Field, and Michael was in a wheelchair from a recent minor injury.
“We were there at the Bears game, and there he was sitting in his wheelchair grading papers and working on curriculum,” Bob Novak said. “He’s consumed with constantly making things better for the kids, and he’s so deserving of this award.”
Novak was at first speechless as he accepted the surprise award from CBS Channel 2 anchor Rob Johnson, whose cameraman burst into his afternoon science class with a long line of supporters trailing behind.
“I was hoping everything was OK, but then when I saw everyone coming in I got really excited,” he said.
Novak said the Golden Apple Award symbolizes something bigger than what he does as a teacher, and that it extends to the whole Park View School community.
“I’m so happy we won the award for the school. I think we sometimes forget how special Park View is,” Novak said.
Recipients of the Golden Apple Award receive $3,000 in cash and a tuition-free spring-quarter sabbatical to study at Northwestern University.
The teachers are also honored with an induction into the fellowship of the Golden Apple Academy of Educators, where they become instructors in ongoing professional development programs led by Golden Apple.
All recipients of the 2014 Golden Apple Awards will be honored at a black-tie gala Oct. 24 at WTTW/Channel 11 Studios in Chicago. The award ceremony will be broadcast following the event, according to a press release from Golden Apple.
“We’re beyond excited that his efforts in teaching have been recognized,” said Phil Collins, superintendent of Morton Grove School District 70. “Not only is his work phenomenal, but he’s a deep and caring person.”