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Ten Teachers Named Candidates for 2022 Arizona Teacher of the Year

Updated: Oct 1, 2021


Kim Graham | 615-509-7422

AZTOY 2022 Top 10 Press Release
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Ten Teachers Named Candidates for 2022 Arizona Teacher of the Year

July 29, 2021 – Today, the Arizona Educational Foundation (AEF) named the 10 candidates under consideration for the 2022 Arizona Teacher of the Year Award. Desert Financial is the title sponsor of this year’s Teacher of the Year Awards ceremony. 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.

The ten nominees are:

Jason Catanese (Mathematics), Pueblo Del Sol Elementary School, Isaac School District; Jennifer Cheesman (Science), Zuni Hill Elementary, Peoria Unified School District; Ashley Crose (Social Sciences), Saguaro High School, Scottsdale Unified School District; Jessica England (Music & English Language Arts), Sahuarita Middle School, Sahuarita Unified School District; Ashton Gildea (English), Walden Grove High School, Sahuarita Unified School District; Kristina Laborin (ELA, Social Studies, Gifted Ed.), Old Vail Middle School, Vail Unified School District; Nancy Parra-Quinlan (STEM/CTE) Kino Junior High School, Mesa Unified School District; Lindsey Peterson (English), Apollo High School, Glendale Union High School District; John Carlo Tulinao (General Ed, STEM), Amberlea Elementary School, Pendergast Elementary School District; Alyssa Weed (Music), Acacia Elementary School, Washington Elementary School District.

AEF’s annual Teacher of the Year program is the 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 the Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards ceremony.

“Along with our efforts to support teachers and students throughout Arizona, it's an honor to continue as the title sponsor of the AEF Teacher of the Year Award. Desert Financial was founded by educators and I can clearly see their persistence and compassion in these ten incredible nominees. We're proud to help recognize their achievements in a time of rapid and constant change." Said Jeff Meshey, President and CEO at Desert Financial, the state's most trusted credit union.

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 self-nominate, or, students, colleagues, administrators, family members and friends can also submit nominations.

“We are so grateful to have Desert Financial serve as the presenting sponsor of the 2022 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. “Desert Financial was started by teachers who wanted a financial institution dedicated to educators’ needs. We see this as a natural partnership as both of our organizations have deep respect and admiration for teachers and public education.”

Now that the ten candidates have been identified, they undergo a final interview process. Following that, five teachers will be named “Ambassadors for Excellence” and finalists for the Arizona Teacher of the Year Award. The remaining five will become “Semifinalists.” All ten are celebrated throughout the year at various recognition events.

The 2022 Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards ceremony will take place on October 16th, 2021 beginning with a reception at 4:30pm. To sponsor or obtain tickets, please visit

Winnings for the Arizona Teacher of the Year include $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 2022 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.

Sara Wyffels, a Spanish teacher at Chandler High School in the Chandler Unified School District, is still carrying forth the duties of her role as 2021 Arizona Teacher of the Year.

According to Kim Graham, AEF’s Executive Director, the Arizona Teacher of the Year program, now in its 39th 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

About Desert Financial Credit Union:

Celebrating more than 80 years in Arizona, Desert Financial is the state's largest local credit union with $7 billion in assets, 350,000+ members and 46 branches. Membership eligibility is open across Arizona with contactless solutions via eBranch, making it easy to call, click or come in. As a not-for-profit cooperative, Desert Financial takes pride in sharing success. In 2020, members received $14 million in dividends via the Member Giveback Bonus, and Desert Financial gave more than $5 million in COVID-19 relief plus donations, scholarships and Random Acts of Kindness to our members, community and team.

About Arizona Educational Foundation:

The mission of AEF is to celebrate excellence and cultivate equity in Pre-K-12th grade Arizona public education. We do this with the support of businesses and partners 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.


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