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Quinn surprises ‘perfectionist’ CPS teacher with Golden Apple award

The kindegardeners come up hug Murray Language Academy Kindergarten teacher Elizabeth Lunafter being surprised by Gov. Quinn Dr. Joyce Brown

The kindegardeners come up and hug Murray Language Academy Kindergarten teacher Elizabeth Luna, after being surprised by Gov. Quinn and Dr. Joyce Brown telling her that she has received a Golden Apple teaching award, at Murray Language Academy in Hyde Park. Wednesday, May 9, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 9, 2012 8:50PM

Gov. Pat Quinn may have interrupted a kindergarten class at Chicago’s Murray Language Academy Wednesday to surprise teacher Elizabeth Luna with a Golden Apple Award for Teaching Excellence, but he didn’t interrupt Luna’s lesson.

Crayons in hand, her five- and six-year-old students worked diligently at their desks throughout the award ceremony, despite a throng of reporters and dignitaries packed at the front of their classroom.

“Oh look, my kids are still working!” Luna exclaimed after receiving the Golden Apple award from Quinn.

Quinn declared Luna “the best of the best’’ as a teacher and, finally, 30 students rose from their desks to swarm Luna with a group hug of congratulations.

Luna’s ability to establish seamless routines with her kindergarteners, so they know what to do when, was one of the strengths that impressed the Golden Apple selection committee, said Joyce Brown, who headed the selection process.

“They are all very organized,’’ Brown said of Luna’s students. “They understand the processes she put in place.’’

As a Golden Apple Award recipient, Luna will receive a tuition-free quarter sabbatical at Northwestern University and a $3,000 cash award. Plus she will become a Golden Apple Fellow and mentor of would-be teachers awarded Golden Apple scholarships.

Also receiving Golden Apple Teaching Excellence Awards Wednesday were Maria Barba, a third-grade teacher at MacArthur Elementary in Hoffman Estates; Kathy Burns, a second-grade teacher at Highlands Elementary in Naperville; Denise Ostarello, a first- through third-grade teacher at Crete Elementary in Crete; and Robert Taylor, a second-grade teacher at Central Road Elementary in Rolling Meadows. Five more winners will be announced Thursday.

Brown said the selection committee was also impressed with how deeply Luna knows her students. Luna’s report cards take three weeks to produce as she writes one to three pages on the academic and social strengths and weaknesses of each student, including who they play with, who they eat with and who their friends are. “These are the social-emotional things parents want to know,’’ Brown said.

Murray Language Academy Principal Gregory Mason said he nominated Luna not only for her strong teaching skills, but her strong devotion to her craft.

After Luna left Murray last Thursday and Friday for a training session, she called Mason and asked if he could open the building on Saturday because she wanted to prepare her classroom for Monday’s lesson. Said Mason: “She wanted everything to be neat and organized. That’s the kind of perfectionist she is.’’

A graduate of Lane Technical High, Luna, 47, switched careers at age 39 to become a teacher after the former district manager for a wine distributor realized how much she enjoyed watching her son, now 16, learn how to read.

“There are more lucrative jobs but this is my passion,’’ Luna said. “Kindergarten is the most important time. We get them ready for the rest of their career.’’

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