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Arizona Educational Foundation Names Five Finalists for 2024 Arizona Teacher of the Year®

by | Aug 24, 2023

By Terri Bradford/ Arizona Educational Foundation

Today, the Arizona Educational Foundation (AEF®) named the five finalists under consideration for the 2024 Arizona Teacher of the Year® Award

Desert Financial Credit Union is the presenting 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.

These five finalists, known as “Ambassadors for Excellence,” are in the running for Arizona Teacher of the Year, which will be announced during the 2024 Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards ceremony on October 14th, 2023. The event will be held at the Madison Center for the Arts in Phoenix, AZ. To sponsor or obtain tickets, please visit

Arizona Educational Foundation Teacher of the Year logo with sponsors

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 2024 Arizona Teacher of the Year, four Ambassadors for Excellence, and five Semifinalists also 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, the opportunity to ride on the APS fire engine during the Fiesta Bowl Parade, a “Fiesta Bowl Experience” package including tickets and on-field recognition provided by Fiesta Bowl Charities, and the opportunity to throw out a first pitch at an Arizona Diamondbacks game.

In addition to serving as presenting sponsor of the ceremony, Desert Financial Credit Union provides each of the ten teachers with an iPad and keyboard case.

Five semifinalists and five honorable mentions were also named and, while no longer in the running for the award, remain part of the “2024 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:

  • 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.
  • Marian Johnson (Mathematics/Special Education), Amphitheater High School, Amphitheater School District, serving 12 years as a teacher.
  • Kathleen Malkhassian (4th grade General Education), Thomas Elementary, Flagstaff Unified School District, serving 12 years as a teacher.
  • Rebecca Oravec (Art) Wrightson Ridge K-8, Sahuarita Unified School District, serving 6 years as a teacher.


The five Semifinalists, who also will be celebrated during the Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards, are: 

  • Caroline Chung-Wipff (ELA/Social Studies) Mesa Academy for Advanced Studies, Mesa Public Schools, 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.
  • Stephanie Likes (Theatre Arts/Stagecraft), Chandler High School, Chandler Unified School District, 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.


The five Honorable Mentions, who also will be celebrated during the Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards, are:

  • Elizabeth Colton (STEM/CTE), Crane Middle School, Crane Elementary School District, serving 17 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.
  • Jessica Marks (English), Aspire High School, Yavapai Accommodation School District #99, serving 15 years as a teacher.
  • Grazyna Zreda (Chemistry) Tanque Verde High School, Tanque Verde Unified School District, serving 25 years as a teacher.

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. Visit AEF’s website to view a full list of donors who support AEF and public education.

To make a donation or for sponsorship inquiries, please contact Kim Graham at

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 ArizonateachSTEMOur 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

For more information, please contact Terri Bradford, AEF® Director of Communications & Digital Strategy, by email at or at 720-468-3996.