Gila County names Teachers of The Year Award winners

Courtesy photo. Mary Yazzie from Miami Unified School District was chosen for the top honor.

Educators from Payson and Rim Country, Tonto Basin and schools across Gila County were nominated for recognition as this year’s ‘Gila County Rural Teacher of the Year’ with accolades shared recently for instructors who inspired, challenged and encouraged their students. This week Gila County Superintendent of Schools Roy Sandoval announced Miami Unified School District High School teacher Mary Yazzie was chosen for the top honor, with Rice Elementary School kindergarten teacher Kim Chae from the San Carlos Apache School District and Tonto Basin’s Wendy Granneman as finalists in a very close race.

“This ranks among the highlights of my job,” said Sandoval. “Students and parents have a daily chance to applaud exceptional teachers during the academic year – and it’s our honor to recognize Gila County’s best teachers through this annual award. We have so many wonderful and dedicated teachers in Gila County. Thanks to all of you who pour your life out for our kids. And a sincere thanks to my staff for the many hours spent creating promotional materials and organizing nominee materials. Also, many thanks to the evaluators who pored over nominations before having to make difficult decisions.”

Winners were all invited to attend the June 7 meeting of the Gila County Board of Supervisors for recognition and presentation of plaques and prize money including a cash award of $500 for Teacher of the Year Mary Yazzie.

Teachers were nominated by peers, supervisors, parents and even the very students whose lives they have touched by their dedication and professionalism. Nominations were heartfelt – some spilled over two pages of testimony!

What earned Mary Yazzie top honors?

Consider this excerpt from nominator Julia Cerda-Crawford: “An instructor in Art/Graphic Design, her expertise and knowledge of technology go beyond the borders of any graphic arts classroom. She has been a pioneer in researching all avenues that would help her students in, and out of, the classroom. Mary is a very soft-spoken teacher, yet she will command her class to make sure she is heard and assignments for their future art finished. A recent recognition at the football field was definitely a surprise for Mrs. Yazzie; she was unaware she would be honored. All the high school students went up to her and gave her a rose to show their admiration for all her participation in their journey. Miami students helped paint a popular mural in downtown Globe, with her guidance – and the students’ work was pictured in the Globe newspaper.”

Kim Chae

San Carlos Unified School District’s Doug Stafford nominated Rice Elementary School kindergarten teacher Kim Chae, writing: “A kindergarten teacher for over 26 years, she is like a ray of sunshine, fun to be around and a positive individual. Ms. Chae always thinks of her students first and makes sure they are learning in a safe environment. She designated a tree out in the school yard, and they called it the Tree of Life. If a student saw or caught a lizard or insect that could be in harm’s way, they released it at the Tree of Life. Her efforts helped many have a second chance at life, all due in part to the students who learned how to respect other lives, great or small.”

Wendy Granneman

Charles Almendarez nominated this Tonto Basin Elementary School teacher, writing: “Mrs. Granneman started and guided the successful Kiwanis ‘Terrific Kids’ program and presented it to other teachers. Now the entire school is involved, and at morning assemblies I’ve personally witnessed students ask how they can become a ‘terrific kid’.”

In fact, she’s the one teacher this year nominated by two separate individuals. Cheri Betancourt wrote: “She attends the basketball and volleyball games and cheers for all the students in the game; she attends the monthly game day that Kiwanis hosts for the community, encouraging citizens to interact with and play board games and card games with youth. She had a student who had behavioral and emotional challenges, and trouble engaging in class. Wendy was brought to tears when he gave her a paper that said he loves her.”

Laura Stennerson

This High Desert Middle School art teacher was applauded by Elizabeth Montague, writing: “A wonderful teacher, students are excited to learn from her and she is excited to teach them. She has such a great attitude and positive energy for these middle school students, which they need at this age. She helps them explore and see what they can do. Last fall she worked with her students to get projects completed to display at the Gila County Fair.”

Sammy Gonzalez

Judges asked to pick this year’s winner were moved by the passionate nomination written by Angelica Castillo: “Mr. G, Coach Gonzalez, my ‘Go-To’ bestie, and my seventh and eighth grade teacher; never in my school years have I had a teacher care so much about my success. He is someone I see as a mentor. He encouraged me to set goals and dreams that I still have today. When things seemed impossible, he told me: “Never give up, Castillo!” Not only is he a teacher, but he is also an amazing coach who will touch everyone’s heart with passion for a sport. He gives positive feedback and roots for you to continue with clubs and sports . . . he’s a counselor when he sees you are having difficulty, he’s a friend who continues to build you up and a parent figure who pushes you to strive for everything you do. He’s the mayor of a small community, trying to make a difference for the benefit of everyone. Mr. G is a hero; he is my hero. He had my back; he always told me to keep fighting and never give up. In his class, seventh and eighth grade were my best years in school – and in general.”

Max Madewell

Globe High School student Meadow Gore wrote a thoughtful nomination that shined a spotlight on an instructor who has helped shape her academic achievement: “He is well known for his gregarious demeanor. Mr. Max is very positive and outgoing. He is the kind of teacher you ask your friends “What does he teach?” so you are sure to sign up for his class the following semester. . . I have gained a new love of history; his teaching style is dynamic and interactive. He grabs students’ attention by relating history to modern day culture and keeps their attention by his animated and energetic teaching style. . . . previously he had a student with cerebral palsy; the student did not enjoy history and wasn’t doing well in the course yet loved coding. Luckily these are Mr. Max’s specialties. He was able to teach the student history - through coding. The student’s grades and study habits improved immensely. That student is now going to college for coding. This shows Mr. Max’s resilience as a mentor. He can quickly change his teaching style to benefit the student.”

Ellen Beydler

Lee Kornegay Intermediate School is fortunate to have this instructor on staff, according to Valerie Wilson: “She is someone who will stand up for the rights of students. She captured my attention as someone important, someone whose opinion all teachers heard. While doing my student teaching at her school, even though she was not my mentor she would often give me support and advice. I noticed in all the meetings she was very vocal on what she believes and always had the students’ best interest. Ellen is also part of the Garden Club, and she amazes me with what she has accomplished with the children. To see their garden and their growth is amazing.”

Amanda Bickel

Miami Junior/Senior High School student Jasmine Arriaga wrote: “She has a great personality, even though she teaches agriculture; if I needed help with any other subjects, she is dependable. She motivated me into helping others, getting good grades, and becoming responsible – not just in school.”

Lillie Rodriguez

Douglas Schlemmer wrote a touching nomination of this Payson High School educator: “A Spanish teacher at Payson High School, [she] is one of those teachers who not only shares her life in the classroom – but outside as well. She’s a teacher, a cheerleader for her students, and one who is deeply moved by her students and what affects them – as evidenced by her openly weeping after one of her students was killed recently. She also donates her time several days each week interpreting Spanish for a women’s group, as well as youth in a youth group.”

Sreevelmurugan Vamadevan

Nominated by fellow Miami High School teacher Rajasree Babu: “Mr. M is an amazing educator, teaching a range of mathematics, college algebra, calculus and Advanced Quantitative Reasoning. Mr. M radiates a passion and zest for learning, which is reflected in his commendable achievement data. He takes time out to build a sense of community in his learning environment. . . never raises his voice or loses control; his scholars are redirected silently with a purposeful glance. Mr. M’s scholars love him because he acknowledges their individuality and addresses their needs. He’s always researching and employing instructional methods that will intrigue and inspire his scholars.”

Emily Belvado

Globe High School student Taylor Stevens finds particular inspiration in her nominee – even though Taylor now attends a different school! She wrote: “She has taught me SO MUCH! She was the one who started my interest in becoming a doctor. And she’s more than a teacher, she’s also a coach – and has contributed so much to her students and athletes; her graduates have earned scholarships. All the knowledge I’ve gained from her classes still sticks with me today. I’m a senior now at Miami High School and she has always inspired me, ever since I met her my freshman year at Globe High. She taught me so much in the classroom and on the court – and still motivates me today, even if I’m not on her team.”

Rhiannon Oldfield

Aaryam Roojam wrote: “. . . has been the best teacher I have ever had, even considering the fact that I have studied in a different country. She’s always willing to go out of her way to help each and every student, whether she is close to them or not. She helps them through anything they might need or are going through mentally. Miami High School does not have a high school guidance counselor, so she helps all the seniors with college  preparation as much as she can. She is also the sponsor for the student council – which means all the student events, from homecoming to prom, to little things like pep rallies. As if she didn’t already have enough on her plate, she’s also the Ed-rising teacher and is constantly organizing events for that club. She makes sure the students are engaged with the community and knows how important it is to live life outside of school . . . she inspired me personally to do my absolute best at college and has helped me get over any hurdle that I had while making a decision about college.”


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