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Arizona Educational Foundation names five finalists for Teacher of the Year


Kim Graham | 615-509-7422

Arizona Educational Foundation names five finalists for Teacher of the Year

August 27, 2020 – Five teachers have been named finalists for the Arizona Educational Foundation’s 2021 Arizona Teacher of the Year Award, which is sponsored by Desert Financial.

These five finalists, known as “Ambassadors for Excellence,” are in the running for Arizona Teacher of the Year, which will be announced during the virtual awards ceremony airing on October 23rd at 6:00pm.

The winner will be named the 2021 Arizona Teacher of the Year and go on to become Arizona’s candidate for National Teacher of the Year. Winnings for the Arizona Teacher of the Year include $15,000 from the Arizona Educational Foundation and travel paid to attend National Teacher of the Year events including a trip to the White House to meet the U.S. President and a weeklong trip to International Space Camp in Huntsville, AL. They are also considered for an honorary doctorate from Northern Arizona University. The 2021 Arizona Teacher of the Year and four Ambassadors for Excellence also receive professional speech and storytelling training to aid them in delivering hundreds of presentations during their year of recognition. AEF also has generous partners who provide gifts to the top ten teachers including a free membership to Treasures4Teachers, scholarships from the Arizona K12 Center to pursue National Board Certification, on-field recognition during the Fiesta Bowl, and the opportunity to ride on the APS fire engine during the Fiesta Bowl Parade.

The annual Teacher of the Year program is the premier event of the Arizona Educational Foundation, a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to spotlighting and championing the exceptional work of public schools. Information on donating to or sponsoring the Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards is available at

Five semifinalists were also named and, while no longer in the running for the award, remain part of the “2021 Top Ten Teachers of the Year” and will be honored during the awards ceremony and at various events throughout next year.

The five finalists, known as Ambassadors for Excellence, are:

Estevan Carreon Special Education, Independence High School Glendale Union High School District

Estevan Carreon is a special education teacher in the Glendale Union High School District. Mr. Carreon began his career in education as an instructional assistant before teaching at Cortez High School in Phoenix. He currently teaches students who have emotional disabilities and behavioral issues at Independence High School in Glendale, Arizona. Mr. Carreon holds a Bachelor of Arts in Special Education with an emphasis on emotional disabilities, and two Master of Arts degrees in Secondary Education and Educational Leadership. He has served three terms as president of the Glendale Union Education Association; and served on the board of directors for both the Arizona Education Association and the National Education Association.

Hillary Stacey

Chemistry, Empire High School

Vail Unified School District

Hillary Stacey teaches chemistry at Empire High School in Tucson, Arizona. Her classroom is filled with relevancy, humor, and high expectations. She makes chemistry meaningful and enjoyable by using real world phenomena such as pollution, ocean acidification, and nuclear power to engage students and inspire them to dig deeper into chemistry. Having worked in science research, she challenges students to develop real skills they can use in the future. Creating lifelong science learners is Stacey’s main professional goal. She received her Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education from Montana State University, and her Master of Arts in Secondary Education from the University of Arizona.

Jillian Hernandez

Elementary Education, Puente de Hózhó

Flagstaff Unified School District

Jillian Hernandez is a fifth grade teacher at Puente de Hózhó in Flagstaff, Arizona. Puente de Hózhó is a Title I, public bilingual magnet school that has a Diné (Navajo)/English and Spanish/English program and is currently seeking authorization to become an International Baccalaureate School. Ms. Hernandez graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and a minor in Spanish from Northern Arizona University. She also obtained a Master of Education degree in the teaching of mathematics from Western Governors University.

Sara Mora

Career and Technical Education, Wrightson Ridge School

Sahuarita Unified School District

Sara Mora is a passionate educator in the Sahuarita Unified School District. She got her education in elementary education from the University of Arizona. During her senior year, she was given the opportunity to hear the Arizona Teacher of the Year speak. During that speech, Mora felt validated that she was meant to be a teacher. There was no going back for Mora. Her passion had been ignited and as a result of that spark, that semester she was selected to be a Rodel Student Teacher. After graduating from the University of Arizona, Mora was hired to teach first grade at Robert M Bracker Elementary School in Nogales, AZ. Her current position is to help students discover their pathways and introduce the career and technical education classes available to them at the high school level.

Sara Wyffels

Spanish, Chandler High School

Chandler Unified School District

Sara Wyffels is a Spanish teacher at Chandler High School in Chandler, Arizona. Wyffels currently teaches Spanish level 2 and International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement levels 5 and 6. Wyffels 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. 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 human connections, adventure, and the beauty of the human spirit, which are themes integrated in her Spanish classes.


The five Semifinalists also will be celebrated during the Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards.

(From left to right)

Elizabeth Shaw, Social Studies, Rincon Vista Middle School, Vail Unified School District

Jeffrey Mann, World History, Flowing Wells High School, Flowing Wells USD

Nicole Powell, Elementary Education, Las Sendas Elementary, Mesa Public Schools

Sharisse Nunes, Elementary Education, Falcon Hill Elementary, Mesa Public Schools

Shaylyn Savage, Special Education, Sunset Ridge Elementary School, Pendergast ESD

Lynette Stant, a 3rd grade teacher at Salt River Elementary, part of Salt River Schools, is the reigning 2020 Arizona Teacher of the Year and is the first teacher from an Arizona Bureau of Indian Education school to earn the coveted distinction.

For more information, contact Kim Graham, at or (480) 421-9376.

Download photos of the 2021 AEF Arizona Top 10: DOWNLOAD

Download a PDF of this Press Release:

2021 TOY Top 5 Reveal Press Release
Download PDF • 629KB

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 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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