Tolleson Music Educator Efrain Casillas Crowned 2024 Arizona Teacher of the Year

 Tolleson Music Educator Efrain Casillas Crowned 2024 Arizona Teacher of the YearEfrain Casillas, a music teacher at Porfirio H. Gonzales Elementary and Desert Oasis Elementary, in the Tolleson Elementary School District, has been named the 2024 Arizona Teacher of the Year, marking a momentous achievement in his 22-year career. The announcement, made by the Arizona Educational Foundation (AEF), recognizes Casillas’s unwavering dedication and outstanding contributions to music education.

Casillas’s journey to this prestigious title began among 15 candidates vying for the honor, eventually narrowing down to five finalists, known as Ambassadors of Excellence. During a ceremony held at the Madison Center for the Arts in Phoenix, Casillas emerged as the shining star among his fellow finalists: Andrea Barallardos, a Physics and Engineering teacher at Douglas High School; Marian Johnson, a special education math teacher at Amphitheater High School; Kathleen Malkhassian, a fourth-grade teacher at Thomas Elementary School and Rebecca Oravec, a middle school art teacher at Wrightson Ridge K-8 School. Desert Financial Executive Vice President, Cathy Graham, presented the award alongside AEF’s Chief Executive Officer, Kim Graham, highlighting Casillas’s profound impact on his students and the community.

In his role as both a music teacher and Coordinator of Music Programs for the Tolleson Elementary School District, Casillas has pioneered music education initiatives, nurturing talent and fostering creativity among his students. His innovative approach led to the establishment of the district’s first Mariachi, Jazz, Marching, Concert and Latin Jazz bands, showcasing the diverse musical talents within the community.

Reflecting on his passion for teaching, Casillas expressed, “I continue teaching because it’s a passion, and I love what I do. I get up every morning. I’m here at 5:45 in the morning, and I leave at 5:15, and I love what I do day in and day out.”

Under his guidance, the Tolleson Elementary School Mariachi band achieved remarkable success, clinching 1st and 2nd place at the Tucson Mariachi International Conference for three consecutive years. They’ve graced prestigious stages, including Disneyland, where they performed in the Disneyland Parade, and alongside renowned musician Pete Escobedo. Additionally, Casillas’s dedication to music education earned him accolades such as TESD’s Teacher of the Year award in 2015 and the Music Teachers of Excellence from the Country Music Foundation.

Kim Graham, AEF’s executive director, commended Casillas, stating, “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.”

Now bestowed with the title of 2024 Arizona Teacher of the Year, Casillas embarks on a new journey as Arizona’s candidate for National Teacher of the Year. His dedication, passion and innovative teaching methods promise to make him a formidable contender on the national stage, representing the rich tapestry of Arizona’s educational landscape.

As Efrain Casillas prepares to compete nationally, he stands as a beacon of inspiration, symbolizing the transformative power of education and the profound impact of exceptional educators.

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