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Fifteen Teachers Named Candidates for 2024 Arizona Teacher of the Year®

Arizona Educational Foundation AEF® Arizona Teacher of the Year® News

Arizona Educational Foundation (AEF®) Congratulations to the 2024 Arizona Teacher of the Year Candidates

Phoenix, Arizona, August 1, 2023 — Today, the Arizona Educational Foundation (AEF®) named the 15 candidates under consideration for the 2024 Arizona Teacher of the Year® Award. Desert Financial Credit Union is returning again this year as the presenting sponsor of the 2024 Teacher of the Year Awards ceremony. This is the fourth consecutive year that Desert Financial has served as presenting sponsor of this event. Considered the “Oscar Awards” of teaching, the educator ultimately selected as Arizona Teacher of the Year becomes our state’s candidate for National Teacher of the Year.


Arizona Educational Foundation (AEF®) 2024 Arizona Teacher of the Year Candidates

The 15 nominees are:

  • Andrea Barallardos (Engineering-CTE/Physics), Douglas High School, Douglas Unified Schools District #27, serving 24 years as a teacher.

  • Efrain Casillas (Music), Porfirio H. Gonzales/Desert Oasis, Tolleson Elementary School District, serving 22 years as a teacher.

  • Caroline Chung-Wipff (ELA/Social Studies) Mesa Academy for Advanced Studies, Mesa Public Schools, serving 17 years as a teacher.

  • Elizabeth Colton (STEM/CTE), Crane Middle School, Crane Elementary School District, serving 17 years as a teacher.

  • Clare Contreras (2nd grade General Education), Sahuarita Primary School, Sahuarita Unified School District, serving 15 years as a teacher.

  • Marian Johnson (Mathematics/Special Education), Amphitheater High School, Amphitheater School District, serving 12 years as a teacher.

  • Kayce Kahl (5th grade General Education), Clarendon Elementary, Osborn School District, serving 14 years as a teacher.

  • Melody (Mia) Khayduangta (Math), Cesar Chavez High School, Phoenix Union High School District, serving 19 years as a teacher.

  • Stephanie Likes (Theatre Arts/Stagecraft), Chandler High School, Chandler Unified School District, serving 15 years as a teacher.

  • Kathleen Malkhassian (4th grade General Education), Thomas Elementary, Flagstaff Unified School District, serving 12 years as a teacher.

  • Jessica Marks (English), Aspire High School, Yavapai Accommodation School District #99, serving 15 years as a teacher.

  • Jessie McKinley (Computer Science & Robotics, Engineering), Madison Camelview, Madison Elementary School District #38, serving 23 years as a teacher.

  • Bridget Montoya (CTE-Education Professions/Math), Flowing Wells High School, Flowing Wells School District, serving 20 years as a teacher.

  • Rebecca Oravec (Art) Wrightson Ridge K-8, Sahuarita Unified School District, serving 6 years as a teacher.

  • Grazyna Zreda (Chemistry) Tanque Verde High School, Tanque Verde Unified School District, serving 25 years as a teacher.


AEF’s annual Arizona Teacher of the Year program is our state’s highest honor bestowed upon Arizona’s public school teachers. 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. Desert Financial will serve as the title sponsor of the Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards ceremony.

“Because Desert Financial is a credit union founded by teachers, we know firsthand the importance of recognizing and honoring our educators. It’s why we are so proud to continue as the title sponsor for the AEF Teacher of the Year Award and why we will keep giving back to educators across the state. I look forward to finding out which of the incredible nominees will become Teacher of the Year and continue a legacy of excellence.” said Jeff Meshey, President and CEO of Desert Financial.

Any certified full-time teacher working in an Arizona state-accredited public school or Bureau of Indian Education school is eligible for nomination. Teachers can be nominated by a student, colleague, administrator, family member, or friend, and can also self-nominate.

“We are so grateful to have Desert Financial returning as the presenting sponsor of the 2024 Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards and to have additional support from other Arizona businesses and organizations, all of whom appreciate and value the dedication of educators,” stated Kim Graham, Executive Director of AEF. “The awards ceremony is an incredible opportunity to show public school teachers the respect and admiration they deserve.”

Now that the fifteen candidates have been identified, all will engage in a qualifying round to determine which ten will be invited to the final interview round. Ultimately, when the process is complete, five teachers will be named “Ambassadors for Excellence” and finalists for the Arizona Teacher of the Year Award; five will become “Semifinalists”; and five will be given an “Honorable Mention.” All fifteen will be recognized at the Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards on October 14th, 2023. The teacher receiving top honors will be announced live at the October ceremony.

2024 AEF® Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards | Arizona Educational Foundation | Presented by Desert Financial Credit Union

The 2024 Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards ceremony will take place on October 14h, 2023 beginning with the “Apple-lutely Fabulous Cocktail Reception” sponsored by Alverno College at 4:00 p.m .and the awards ceremony at 5:30 p.m. The event will be held at the Madison Center for the Arts in Phoenix, AZ. To sponsor or obtain tickets, please visit

The prize package for the Arizona Teacher of the Year includes $15,000 from the Arizona Educational Foundation and travel paid to attend several 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 ten Finalists and Semifinalists will receive professional speech and media 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. Desert Financial provides each teacher with an iPad and keyboard case. The five teachers receiving “Honorable Mentions” receive a $50 Amazon gift card and tickets to attend the Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards where they will be recognized with the ten Finalists and Semifinalists.

Ty White, a Chemistry teacher at Willcox High School in the Willcox Unified School District, is still carrying forth the duties of his role as 2023 Arizona Teacher of the Year.

According to Kim Graham, AEF’s Executive Director, the Arizona Teacher of the Year program, now in its 40th year, is made possible by the generous support of donors and sponsors. “The Arizona Educational Foundation is a nonprofit. We exist because of donations we receive from individuals and business partners who value teachers and schools as much as we do,” states Graham. To make a donation or for sponsorship inquiries, please contact Kim Graham at

For more information visit, or contact


AEF Arizona Teacher of the Year 15 2024 Press Release
Download PDF • 3.41MB


About Desert Financial Credit Union

Celebrating more than 84 years in Arizona, Desert Financial is the state's most trusted local credit union with over $8 billion in assets, 400,000+ members and 45 branches. Membership eligibility is open across Arizona with contactless solutions making it easy to click, call or come in. As a not-for-profit cooperative, Desert Financial takes pride in sharing success. In 2023, members received $16 million in dividends via the Member Giveback Bonus, and the credit union became the official retail banking partner of Arizona State University. Federally insured by NCUA. Learn more at

About Arizona Educational Foundation, AEF®

The mission of AEF is to celebrate excellence and cultivate equity in Pre-K-12th grade Arizona public education. This is accomplished through a variety of programs for teachers, administrators, and students. Some 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, Our World, 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. AEF annually reaches over 500,000 students, teachers and administrators throughout Arizona. For more information visit, or contact

Arizona Educational Foundation AEF® – Giving Arizona Public Education the Shine it Deserves | Everyone's Story Includes a Teacher®

­­Media Contact:

Terri Bradford, AEF® Director of Communications & Digital Strategy

Mobile: 720-468-3996 | Email:


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