Today, the Arizona Educational Foundation (AEF) named the 10 candidates under consideration for the 2021 Arizona Teacher of the Year Award. Desert Financial Credit Union serves as the title sponsor, continuing its community commitment to education. CEO Jeff Meshey announced the ten candidates along with 2017 Teacher of the Year Michelle Doherty, who recently retired from Osborn School District after 22 years.

In alphabetical order, the nominees 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

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

• Sara Mora (Career and Technical Education), Wrightson Ridge School, Sahuarita 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

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

• Sara Wyffels (Spanish), Chandler High School, Chandler Unified School District

AEF’s annual  Teacher of the Year program is the highest honor bestowed upon Arizona’s public school teachers. Considered the “Academy Award” of teaching, the winning educator goes on to become Arizona’s candidate for National Teacher of the Year. The annual Teacher of the Year program is the premier event of the AEF, a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to spotlighting and championing the exceptional work of public schools.

“Supporting education has always been a top priority. We find ways to honor the legacy of our credit union’s founding teachers and we’re proud to serve as the title sponsor for this important recognition. Our Teacher Appreciation program honors educators throughout the year, and we’re proud to share the news of these 10 educators who consistently go above and beyond. Now, they’re being asked to do more than ever. They are also essential workers,” said Meshey, President and CEO at Desert Financial 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 2021 Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards,” 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 10 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 10 are celebrated throughout the year at various recognition events, including the Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards ceremony. The event will go virtual this year.

The 2021 Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards ceremony will air on October 23rd, 2020 at 6 p.m. To watch, AEF will publicize a link to the awards ceremony on its website at The virtual ceremony will feature videos of the five Ambassadors as well as congratulatory messages from special guests. The ceremony will conclude with the announcement of the next Arizona Teacher of the Year.

Winnings for the Arizona Teacher of the Year include $15,000 from the Arizona Educational Foundation and paid travel to attend several National Teacher of the Year events. These include a trip to the White House to meet the U.S. President and a weeklong trip to the International Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. The winner is 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. This helps them in delivering hundreds of presentations during their year of recognition. AEF also has generous partners who provide gifts to the top 10 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.

Lynette Stant, a 3rd-grade teacher at Salt River Elementary, part of Salt River Schools district is the first teacher from an Arizona Bureau of Indian Education school to earn the coveted distinction. She is still carrying forth the duties of her role as 2020 Arizona Teacher of the Year.  Learn more about Lynette’s story on becoming 2020 Arizona Teacher of the Year.

“I became a teacher because I don’t ever want a Native American student to feel they are not prepared to meet the challenges of college,” said Stant. “Providing equitable learning opportunities in an environment that respects and honors Native American culture is essential.”

While Stant missed out this year on some of the traditional activities and perks of the role, she was surprised at how busy she stayed advocating for equity in schools. Although the pandemic interrupted Space Camp and Stant’s trip to the White House, those opportunities will be provided for her next summer.

According to Kim Graham, AEF’s Executive Director, the Arizona Teacher of the Year program, now in its 38th year, is made possible by the generous support of donors and sponsors. “The Arizona Educational Foundation is a nonprofit organization. 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.