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Efrain Casillas of Tolleson Elementary named 2024 Arizona Teacher of the Year

photo of Efrain Casillas
Efrain Casillas teaches music at Porfirio H. Gonzales and Desert Oasis elementary
Staff Reports | Digital Free Press

The Arizona Educational Foundation is naming Efrain Casillas, music teacher at Porfirio H. Gonzales Elementary and Desert Oasis Elementary, in the Tolleson Elementary School District, as the 2024 Arizona Teacher of the Year.

Initially, there were 15 candidates for the award, which was then narrowed down to five finalists.

All five finalists were present during a ceremony held last week at the Madison Center for the Arts in Phoenix where Mr. Casillas was announced the winner of the award. Desert Financial Executive Vice President, Cathy Graham, presented the award along with AEF’s Chief Executive Officer, Kim Graham.

Desert Financial has served as the presenting sponsor of the Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards for the past four years.

Mr. Casillas now goes on to compete as Arizona’s candidate for National Teacher of the Year.

“All of our Teacher of the Year nominees exemplify the best that Arizona has to offer in terms of educational excellence, being a role model, and inspiring students in their community,” Ms. Graham said in a prepared statement.

“We are so proud of each and every one of them. AEF congratulates Efrain on being named Arizona Teacher of the Year and looks forward to him representing us in Washington, DC, as Arizona’s 2024 National Teacher of the Year candidate.”

Mr. Casillas, coordinator of all Music Programs for Tolleson Elementary School District, has had a tremendous impact on his students. A public-school music teacher for 22 years, he teaches both general and instrumental music at two schools in the Tolleson district.

He graduated with a BA in music performance and education degree from Western Connecticut State University in 1999. While wearing both a classroom teacher and ‘department coordinator’ hat at TESD, he created the district’s first Mariachi, Jazz, Marching, Concert and Latin Jazz bands.

The Tolleson Elementary School Mariachi band has competed at the Tucson Mariachi International Conference and won First and Second place for the Choice Awards for three years in a row. They’ve also performed at Disneyland and in the Disneyland Parade. His Latin Jazz Band opened for Pete Escobedo and played alongside him. They have also participated in the Fiesta Bowl Parade for three consecutive years.

Mr. Casillas is an active member of the Arizona Music Education Association and a candidate for National Board Certification. He has also been a presenter for the National Symposium of Multicultural Music at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in 2004. In 2015, Mr. Casillas was selected for TESD’s Teacher of the Year and nominated for the Life Changer Award in 2017. He was selected to receive the Esperanza Award from Chicanos Por La Causa in 2018, and the Music Teachers of Excellence from the Country Music Foundation. His dedication as a music teacher also had him featured at the Kelly Clarkson Show in 2020.

The prize package for the Arizona Teacher of the Year includes $15,000 from the Arizona Educational Foundation and travel to National Teacher of the Year events, including a trip to the White House to meet the president and a weeklong trip to International Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.

Mr. Casillas will also be considered for an honorary doctorate from Northern Arizona University.

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