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2021 AEF Arizona Teacher of the Year Announced



Kim Graham | 615-509-7422

Meet the New AEF Arizona Teacher of the Year


October 24th, 2020

Sara Wyffels, a spanish teacher at Chandler High School in the Chandler Unified School District is the Arizona Educational Foundation’s 2021 Arizona Teacher of the Year.

Wyffels was selected from the five 2021 Ambassadors for Excellence that were identified by the foundation last month as finalists. The award was announced during the Arizona Educational Foundation’s virtual awards ceremony on Friday, October 23rd.

Desert Financial Credit Union served as the 2021 AEF Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards presenting sponsor. “Supporting education has been a long tradition of ours, and it was our pleasure to serve as Title Sponsor for the 2021 Arizona Teacher of the Year Award,” said Jeff Meshey, President and CEO at Desert Financial Credit Union. “Teachers have always influenced the future but this year, their adaptability and dedication really cemented their hero status,” he added.

A veteran teacher of 14 years, Sara Wyffels teaches Spanish Level 2 and International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement levels 5 and 6 at Chandler High School. She is a nationally board certified teacher who earned her Bachelor of Arts in Spanish from Western Washington University and her Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Portland. The ignition for her language learning journey was sparked by her study abroad experience in college and she is passionate about teaching the power of human connections through the Spanish language. Wyffels learned Spanish as a second language, which has shown her the power of adventure and the beauty of the human spirit, which are themes integrated into her Spanish classes. She considers herself and her students global citizens who have the ability to make a positive difference in the world every day.

Wyffels became a teacher to make a difference. “I choose to teach and I choose to remain a teacher. Being a teacher is one of the most fulfilling careers an individual can have because you’re changing lives. As a Spanish teacher, I see firsthand how the power of language inspires human connection. Teaching language isn’t just about learning new vocabulary; it’s opening the eyes of my students to a world beyond themselves and teaching them how to be global citizens.”

As the new Arizona Teacher of the Year, Wyffels will engage in a “year of recognition” as an Ambassador for the teaching profession, delivering over a hundred speeches and making public appearances throughout the state and the nation. As Arizona’s Teacher of the Year, Wyffels becomes a candidate for National Teacher of the Year. She will receive $15,000 from the Arizona Educational Foundation and paid travel – COVID permitting – to the White House to meet the U.S. President, and will spend a week at International Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala. She will also be given professional speech training, consideration to receive an honorary doctorate from Northern Arizona University, and an Arizona K12 Center Scholarship to attend the Teachers Leadership Institute. She will also be a participant in the Fiesta Bowl Parade and receive a “virtual” Intel experience courtesy of Intel Arizona.

Additionally, AEF named its four Teacher of the Year finalists, called “Ambassadors for Excellence,” who will serve with Wyffels as spokespersons for their profession, advocating for excellence in the classroom by making presentations statewide to education, civic, government, and professional organizations.To book an appearance by the Arizona Teacher of the Year or one of the four Ambassadors, please contact Kim Graham at

The four 2021 Ambassadors for Excellence are:

· Estevan Carreon (Special Education), Independence High School, Glendale Union High School District;

· Jillian Hernandez (Elementary Education), Puente de Hózhó Elementary School, Flagstaff Unified School District;

· Sara Mora (Career and Technical Education), Wrightson Ridge School, Sahuarita Unified School District;

· Hillary Stacey (Chemistry), Empire High School, Vail Unified School District;

Five additional teachers were selected as Semifinalists and recognized during the ceremony:

· Jeffrey Mann (World History), Flowing Wells High School, Flowing Wells Unified School District;

· Sharisse Nunes (Elementary Education), Falcon Hill Elementary, Mesa Public Schools;

· Nicole Powell (Elementary Education), Las Sendas Elementary, Mesa Public Schools;

· Shaylyn Savage (Special Education) Sunset Ridge Elementary School, Pendergast Elementary School District;

· Elizabeth “Liz” Shaw (Social Studies), Rincon Vista Middle School, Vail Unified School District;

AEF’s annual Teacher of the Year program is the only statewide program to spotlight and honor Arizona’s public school teachers for excellence in teaching. The annual Teacher of the Year program is the premier event of the Arizona Educational Foundation, a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to spotlighting the exceptional work of public schools.

“Public schools in Arizona employ some of the best and most dedicated teachers in the state,” says Kim Graham, Executive Director of the Arizona Educational Foundation. “Ms. Wyffels and the other teachers honored with the award are outstanding examples of the quality of Arizona’s public school educators. I have the utmost respect and admiration for all of our teachers and the efforts they make daily to improve the lives of Arizona students.” said Graham.

Thanks to its generous sponsors and donors, the Arizona Educational Foundation continues to be able to provide this distinguished award for the 37th consecutive year. For sponsorship inquiries, please contact Kim Graham at


Arizona Educational Foundation

Kim Graham

(480) 421-9376

About Arizona Educational Foundation:

The mission of AEF is to identify, support and celebrate excellence in Pre-K-12th grade Arizona public education through business and community partnerships. We do this through a variety of programs for teachers, administrators, and students. Some of our programs shine a spotlight on excellence; others provide a stepping stone to help support schools and educators on the road to awesomeness. In addition to the Arizona Teacher of the Year program, AEF also coordinates the Arizona State Spelling Bee, the A+ School of Excellence Award, the Principals Leadership Academy of Arizona, teachSTEM, and Take Your Legislator to School. AEF was founded in 1983 by then State Superintendent of Public Education, Carolyn Warner, who felt a nonprofit needed to be established to champion public education and recognize the great work of public school educators.

About the Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards:

Arizona Educational Foundation (AEF)

  • Desert Financial Credit Union was the presenting sponsor of the 2021 Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards.

  • AEF has been serving the state’s public education system as a champion of excellence in public schools across Arizona since 1983.

  • Founded by former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Carolyn Warner, Basha’s CEO and education advocate Eddie Basha, and retired director of public relations for The Arizona Republic, Bill Shover.

  • This is the 37th year AEF has hosted its annual Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards luncheon.

  • This is the 1st year AEF has done a virtual event. An in-person ceremony was planned but was changed due to COVID-19.

  • The Teacher of the Year program is one of 7 programs hosted by AEF.

  • Teachers may self-nominate, be nominated by a student, co-worker, administrator, school or district committee, friend or family member to apply for the award. To be considered for the award, teacher candidates must submit a written application that is reviewed by a panel of judges consisting of K-12 educators, higher education, and members of the business community. Ten finalists are selected from the written applications. The 10 finalists are asked to prepare a 15-minute video teaching in the classroom and participate in a 30 minute in-person interview. The final selection process includes review of the video, an interview, and an impromptu speech by each of the 10 finalists.


    • Spend the majority (over 50%) of the school day in direct instruction to students;

    • Be certified to teach Pre-K-12th Grade (or combination) in Arizona and work at a state-accredited public school or school operating under the Bureau of Indian Education;

    • Have completed at least six (6) full years as a classroom teacher at the time the application is submitted;

    • Be a full-time teacher and plan to continue in an active teaching status through 2021;

    • Not have been selected as an AEF™ Teacher of the Year, Semifinalist or, Ambassador for Excellence in the past.

  • The Arizona Teacher of the Year is Arizona’s candidate for the National Teacher of the Year award, hosted and run by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

    • CCSSO has hosted the National Teacher of the Year program since 1952. The National Teacher of the Year is chosen from among the State Teachers of the Year by a National Selection Committee representing the major national education organizations. Each April, the NTOY is introduced to the American people by the President of the United States.

  • Learn more at

About Desert Financial Credit Union:

Celebrating 81 years in Arizona, Desert Financial is the state’s largest local credit union with $6 billion in assets, more than 330,000 members and 47 locations across the Valley. As a not-for-profit cooperative, Desert Financial takes pride in sharing success. In 2019, Desert Financial gave nearly $11 million to Valley nonprofits, the community and members. Learn more at

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