Tolleson music teacher named 2024 Arizona Teacher of the Year

Efrain Casillas has been a public school music teacher for 22 years and currently teaches for the two schools within the Tolleson Elementary School District.
Published: Oct. 14, 2023 at 9:54 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - A Valley teacher has been recognized for his decades of music education and love for the arts and entertainment. On Saturday, the Arizona Educational Foundation named Efrain Casillas, the Coordinator of Music Programs for the Tolleson Elementary School District, as the 2024 Arizona Teacher of the Year.

Casillas has been a public school music teacher for 22 years and currently teaches general and instrumental music at Porfirio H. Gonzales and Desert Oasis elementary schools in the Tolleson district. He created the district’s first Mariachi, Jazz, marching, concert and Latin jazz bands. Casillas helped shape the Tolleson Elementary School Mariachi band to success, leading them to victory at the Tucson Mariachi International Conference. His bands have also performed in the Disneyland and Fiesta Bowl parades.

Initially, 15 candidates were nominated, and the top five were selected as Ambassadors of Excellence. Casillas was given the ultimate honor at a ceremony on Saturday. He will go on to compete as Arizona’s candidate for the National Teacher of the Year in Washington, D.C.

“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,” said Casillas.

“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,” said Kim Graham, AEF’s executive director. “We are so proud of each and every one of them. AEF congratulates Efrain Casillas on being named 2024 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.”

Casilla’s love for music education has earned him multiple accolades, including being selected for TESD’s Teacher of the Year award in 2015 and receiving the Music Teachers of Excellence from the Country Music Foundation award and the Esperanza Award from Chicanos Por La Causa in 2018. He also appeared on The Kelly Clarkson Show in 2020.

As the newly named Teacher of the Year, Casillas will receive $15,000 from the Arizona Educational Foundation, travel to National Teacher of the Year events, meet the President at the White House and attend the International Space Camp in Alabama. AEF says Casillas will also be considered for an honorary doctorate from Northern Arizona University.

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