As if being an educator for 21 years weren’t enough of a service accomplishment, Forest Park Principal Tiffany Brunson has just been nominated by a group of her peers to be considered for a Golden Apple award, one of Illinois’ top awards for an educator who has demonstrated outstanding performance and leadership in their school community.
Brunson, an Oak Park resident who has served as Field Stevenson’s principal for the past five years, recently learned about her nomination, which was initiated by a Field Stevenson fifth-grade teacher and affirmed by the rest of the school’s staff.
“I was very touched,” Brunson said about the moment she learned of her nomination. “I am a worker [and] a person who likes to work alongside people, and I truly believe in empowering people. It’s a little difficult for me to receive an accolade. It’s not my personality. I’m very honored.”
Since 1986, the Golden Apple Foundation, an Illinois nonprofit that works to support teacher excellence, has accepted nominations to choose 10 outstanding fourth- through eighth-grade teachers for the Golden Apple Award for Teaching Excellence and one pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade school leader for the Stanley C. Golder Leadership Award. Brunson will learn later this spring if she was chosen as the recipient of this year’s award.
Even though Brunson prefers to talk about her school and community rather than about herself, she has an impressive resume to back up her nomination.
Before her time in District 91, Brunson worked as a special education teacher, an assistant principal and principal for Chicago Public Schools. With CPS, Brunson was also a founding administrator of Voise Academy High School in the Austin neighborhood.
After CPS, Brunson moved on to teach at Oak Park and River Forest High School, for six years. She said she enjoyed every minute of it.
“I think it’s a high-quality education and the kids get a lot of great opportunities,” she explained. “I think the diversity is absolutely its strength — diversity of students, diversity of thought. It’s very inclusive, and even though I’ve always thought that there were some challenges, I think there are very smart people and very dedicated people who are willing to rise to those challenges to continue the quality of education.”
For the past five years as principal Field Stevenson School in Forest Park, Brunson spearheaded several major projects district-wide, including ushering in changes for the Common Core curriculum, working to create and lead new teacher induction programs and assisting with new district evaluation systems. During those five years, there have been many large-scale district changes that Brunson has either headed or co-chaired.
“I believe in completely immersing myself in the community and doing what’s best, not just for the students, but for the community at large and the families we serve in Forest Park,” she said.
Brunson’s educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in special education from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, a master’s in educational administration from Roosevelt University and a Ph.D. in educational administration from Loyola University Chicago. Before her career in academia, Brunson was a military leader with the U.S. Army, serving in Operation Desert Storm.
Outside of work, Brunson can either be found practicing yoga or spending time with her husband, Ahmaad, and 4-year-old son, Easton.
Brunson says her favorite part of working in D91 has been the families who get involved in the schools.
“Our PTO has been awesome,” she said. “Every single month we have an event, either something that’s fun or academically based. I love knowing all of the parents’ names and all of their hopes and dreams for their children. Relationships are one of the things that are most important to me.”
Along with teachers and staff affirming Brunson’s Golden Apple nomination, district colleague and Forest Park Middle School Principal Joe Pisano agrees that Brunson has been an invaluable asset to the district.
“This is my second full year as principal and we share an office here. She’s been just so great as a resource,” Pisano said. “She helps me so much in what I have to do and any time I have a question, I can ask her or she points me to the right place to get it. She’s just so resourceful, so knowledgeable about everything and a huge help to me.”
Additionally, Pisano said that Brunson’s passion for collaborating with parents has been very well received in town, one of the major strengths she has brought to Forest Park.
“She always has events going on with the parent organizations,” he said. “There’s always something she’s working very, very closely on with parents and making sure that the school’s an inclusive place and that the parents are welcome here — and not just welcome, but valued.”
Regardless of whether Brunson is officially named a Golden Apple award winner, she said she will remain proud of her work with a district and town she considers one of the best around.
“I think this community is quaint and tight-knit,” she said. “People here have very high expectations of their children and they want the best for Forest Park.”