Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for December 23, 2006

A slightly different story about "apples and teachers"...

"All I can say is that I'm truly choked up to be nominated for a Golden Apple!"

From the Rockford Register Star...

Teacher prize nominee faces battery trial

A student has accused the Hononegah instructor of grabbing her by the throat.

By Jeff Kolkey

ROCKFORD Golden Apple Foundation officials are reviewing semifinalist Stephanie Ballard's status after learning she is facing misdemeanor battery charges for allegedly grabbing a student by the throat.

Ballard is one of 20 semifinalists announced Monday for the award recognizing excellent local teachers.

Golden Apple organizers didn't know Ballard is still facing trial over a January incident at Hononegah High School in Rockton in which then 17-year-old Sarah Hawks says Ballard choked her in anger and frustration over being told her American literature paper would be late.

Ballard's attorney, Paul Gaziano, said there was no reason for Ballard not to pursue the award because she is innocent.

"When you are not guilty of anything and someone nominates you for an office, why not seek the titles you are entitled to?" Gaziano said.

That's not the way the girl's mother sees things. Judy Hawks said she is outraged that Ballard is on the lists of finalists of teachers who could get an award.

"I find it very insulting," Hawks said. "This teacher was arrested, booked, everything you can think of. How can anyone even fathom giving her an award?"

A trial is scheduled for Jan. 22, but progress in the case has been slowed by several continuances because of attorney schedules. If found guilty, Ballard would face a maximum possible sentence of a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Ballard said the allegations are a lie.

"It's heartbreaking," Ballard said. "It's just shocking and offensive someone would lie about me."

Two school officials told Rockton police Ballard said she grabbed or made contact with Hawks' neck, frustrated with several students' inability to complete the assignment on time.

Hawks told police that her American literature class was in the library working on research papers Jan. 20, 2006. She asked to turn in the paper late.

Ballard looked upset and grabbed her by the throat, Hawks told police. Hawks said she broke Ballard's grip by turning away, telling Ballard, "Never mind, I'll just take the zero."

Although police interviewed every member of the class, none witnessed a physical altercation between them. A police officer noted no bruises or marks on the girl's neck.

Golden Apple Executive Director Lori Berkes-Nelson said semifinalists are chosen by a selection committee after reviewing applications, letters of recommendation and an essay. Teachers have been vouched for by their school districts to be in good standing.

On Wednesday, a Golden Apple official said board members are reviewing the facts and “will take appropriate action.