Meet the Arizona TeacherSolutions Team

  • Dayna Burke

    Sahuarita Unified School District

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    Dayna Burke is a first-grade teacher at Sahuarita Primary School in Sahuarita, Arizona. She is a NBCT candidate in the area of Literacy: Reading and Language Arts and is pursuing her Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership. Dayna serves on her district’s Professional Development Team and is an Instructional Coach. Among other leadership roles, she is Arizona’s Core Advocate State Captain for Student Achievement Partners and a Teacher Champion Fellow for the Collaborative for Student Success. In 2014, she was named an Arizona Educational Foundation’s Ambassador for Excellence and has spent her time since advocating for educators and students throughout the state.

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  • Annie Diaz

    Washington Elementary School District

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    Annie Diaz is a Program Coach for the Washington Elementary School District. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, Early Childhood Generalist, and an Arizona Master Teacher. In 2007, Annie received an M.Ed. in Early Childhood with an Emphasis in Reading and Early Literacy from Northern Arizona University and in 2013 received her Ed.D  in Teacher Leadership and Innovation from Arizona State University. Annie’s dissertation topic studied the links between Cognitive Coaching and National Board Certification, is one reason why many teachers benefit from her reflective coaching.

     

    The leader Annie most identifies with is the late Dr. Rita Pierson. In one of the famous TED talks, Pierson emphasizes how every child deserves a champion. I work hard to help teachers realize that our students need someone to believe in them. We must believe in ALL children. They are mini humans with various backgrounds and deserve the best teacher that believes in their abilities. No matter how rich or poor, all children deserve teacher champions to help them succeed.

     
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  • Jaime Festa-Daigle

    Lake Havasu Unified School District

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    Jaime has 16 years of experience educating students in Lake Havasu Unified School District. She is currently an assistant principal at Lake Havasu High School. She has taught civics, economics, American History, English, and been an advisor for student council. Jaime has her Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education, Social Studies and English as a Second Language from Grand Canyon University. She received her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University and holds K-12 endorsements in English as a Second Language, Career and Technical Education, and Speech.

     

    Jaime is a National Board Certified Teacher, an AZ Master Teacher, a past Teacher of the Year/Ambassador and has received many awards including the American Civic Educator of the Year Award, Lake Havasu Most Influential Teacher Award and the Arizona We the People Scholarship Teacher of the Year. A personal highlight for Jaime was the year she was invited to the Street Law Supreme Court Institute and had the opportunity to meet personally with Sandra Day O’Connor. Jaime has led accreditation efforts at her school for the past decade, sat on standards committees for the National Board for Professional Teacher Standards and Educators Rising, and has worked as part of the AZ Teacher Solutions Team since 2011. She sits on the Arizona Rural School Association the Only Orchids Charity, and the AZK12 Center Executive Boards.

     

    The leader Jaime most identifies with is James Madison. Not only did he see citizenship as a primary role of public schools, but he was also the type of leader who ensured tasks were accomplished while recognizing the need for compromise and the value in the views of others. James Madison came to the Philadelphia Convention early and crafted the Virginia Plan; when he was met with disagreement, he still worked to fight for ratification. Educational leaders are faced with decisions that require us to work together to develop strategies that will move our schools forward.

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  • Misha Freeman

    Avondale School District

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    Misha Freeman is a PD Coordinator in the Avondale Elementary School District. She has spent the last 13 years supporting students in mathematics. Misha strives to support teachers everyday to help students review student focused quality math instruction. She has earned a Master’s degree in Educational Administration and in Secondary Education. Misha earned her National Board Certification in Early Adolescence, Math in 2010, and was named an Arizona Master Teacher in 2011. Misha was recognized in 2012 as the AEA Christa McAuliffe “I Teach, I Touch the Future” Award winner, and NEA Award for Teaching Excellence.

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  • Beth Maloney

    Dysart Unified School District

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    Beth Maloney is currently in her eighteenth year of teaching and enjoys every minute of her time in the classroom.  She’s taught kindergarten, third grade, and is currently teaching fifth grade.  Beth is a National Board Certified Teacher as an Early Childhood Generalist and is a Candidate Support Provider for the Arizona K12 Center.  She is the president of the Arizona National Board Certified Teachers Network and a blogger on Stories From School Arizona.

     

    Beth has a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s degree in Leadership and Supervision and was awarded an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Northern Arizona University and is currently a doctoral student.  Beth organizes and presents at various conferences and events around the state.

     

    Beth is honored to be the Arizona Educational Foundation’s 2014 Teacher of the Year and appreciates having the opportunity to represent the teachers of Arizona.

     
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  • Josh Meibos

    Balsz School District

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    Josh began his teaching career in the Balsz School District at Crockett Elementary in 2011. He set forth taking a non-existing PE program to making a welcoming learning community for his students, their families, and his teaching colleagues. Josh has adopted a wide spectrum of diverse rigorous curriculum while partnering with numerous outside organizations including the NFL, PGA, UNICEF, Arizona State University, American Heart Association, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Athletes for Hope and the non-profit program Skate After School. He challenges himself each year to turn words into action and help create a positive environment in his school, his district and his professional content area. Since 2011, Josh has received the NFL Arizona Cardinals MVP in the classroom award, was instrumental in Crockett receiving Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Active Schools National Award as well as receiving the Generation for Healthier Schools Bronze Award. He is the vice president of his district’s teachers association, a member of The Arizona K12 Center Teacher Solutions Team, is currently pursuing his National Board Certification and was recently chosen as a Hope Street Group Arizona Teacher Fellow.

     

    Josh graduated with a B.A. in Communications from Utah State University in 2004 and began a career in business, only to leave that world to follow his true passion for teaching and  graduated with his masters in Physical Education from Arizona State University in 2011.

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  • Sandy Merz

    Tucson Unified School District

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    Sandy Merz has taught algebra, engineering, and other courses for 30 years at Safford K8 School in Tucson Unified School District. For 21 years he facilitated Safford's Math Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) Program. He is a professional consultant with the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) with whom he helps facilitate the Teacher Leadership Initiative. Sandy contributes to Arizona Stories from School.

     

    Sandy is National Board Certified in Career and Technical Education. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Geology from the University of New Mexico and a Master’s degree in Hydrogeology from the University of Arizona. He has a secondary teaching certificate with endorsements in science, math and structured English immersion.

     

    Sandy has training in Cognitive Coaching, STEM, Technology, and teacher leadership. He has published articles on teacher practice and teacher leadership for GOOD, Education Week, Kappan, and Ed Horizons. Sandy authored Education Week Teacher’s #1 Article for the Year in 2012 on seating challenges for students.

     

    Currently Sandy is a Raytheon Leader in Education and a Arizona Hope Street Fellow.

     

    The leader Sandy most identifies with is Dave Brubeck, who created beautiful music for six decades. Sandy seeks to emulate his style and creativity in my teaching and leading.

     
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  • Gerald Neal

    Phoenix Union High School District

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    Gerald is a ninth through 12th grade self-contained special education teacher at Maryvale High School in the Phoenix Union High School District. He has taught students with mild to severe intellectual disabilities for 21 years. At Maryvale High School, he is the sponsor of the Panthertown (diversity and multicultural) Club. It is the largest such club in the district. He also serves on the district multicultural leadership team. He is the head of the professional learning community for self-contained educators in the Phoenix Union High School District and at Maryvale High School. He serves on the Black Alliance leadership team for Phoenix Union High School District. He serves on the district’s political engagement team and is a member of the district’s council of representatives for the teacher union (CTA). He was one of the district leads for the ESS team in implementing PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports) throughout the district. He taught for 10 years in schools for students with autism and began his career at Maryvale High School 11 years ago. He has been a mentor teacher through Arizona State University. He is currently going through the National Board process in the area of exceptional needs specialist.

     

    Gerald holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Seton Hall University, and a master’s degree in special education from Jersey City University. 

     

    The leader that Gerald most identifies with is Malcolm X. Someone who consistently made progress on himself while taking bold stances against injustice. He was flawed, but worked to correct those flaws through life experience and learning. He was passionate and believed that justice is not something that should be compromised.

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  • Karl Ochsner

    Saint John XXIII

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    Karl is a 6th-8th grade STEM teacher and K-8 Technology Teacher Coach at Saint John XXIII in Scottsdale and leads the school’s 1:1 paperless classroom Initiative. He has 16 years of teaching experience. Karl was a member of the Paradise Valley School District Parent Curriculum Board. He has held positions as an animation/special effects cameraman/director and has worked on creative projects with VTech Educational Toys, Joy Berry’s Human Race Club, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and Disney, to name a few.

     

    Karl holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Columbia College in Chicago; a Master’s degree in Elementary Education with a Middle School Endorsement; and an Educational Doctorate in Teacher Leadership and Innovation from Arizona State University with a focus on movie making in the classroom and its effect on students’ 21st century learning skills and science content in middle school classrooms. Karl earned the Copperwing Award for best educational film at the Phoenix Film Festival, the AzTEA/Qwest award for technology, Best Buy Teacher Award and the 2014 National Most Distinguished Catholic School Teacher from the National Catholic Education Association.

     

    Karl is in his 3rd year with the University of Notre Dame's Trustey STEM Fellowship which is a competitive and formative program focused on increasing student interest and learning in STEM disciplines with themes of equity and access.  He completed a fellowship with Carnegie Mellon working on CPED (The Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate) and pursuing National Board Certification.

     

    The leader Karl most identifies with is Walt Disney. His innovation and leadership changed how we learn through story and experiences.  He created educational content that told a story that captivated people, yet taught them through high interest and motivation. With short films such as Donald Duck in Mathemagic Land, Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, he was able to motivate students to learn subject matter without using a text book.

     
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  • Christie Olsen

    Lake Havasu Unified School District

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    Christie Olsen has taught in the Lake Havasu Unified School District for 25 years. She has taught grades 4-6 and has served as a teacher on assignment in charge of professional development in her district. She is currently a K-6 Academic/Instructional Coach and serves beginning teachers in five elementary schools as an Arizona Master Teacher. Christie is a Middle Childhood Generalist National Board Certified Teacher. She supports National Board Candidates in her district.

     

    Christie holds a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from the University of Wyoming, a Master’s degree in Elementary Education from Grand Canyon University, and a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Phoenix.

     

    Christie is a member of the Learning Forward Academy of 2019 and is studying a problem of practice related to a continuum of accomplished teaching.

     

    The leader Christie most identifies with is Coach Herb Brooks, 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team Coach. He was an inspirational leader who helped others realize the greatness within. Coach Brooks’ final words before his players took the ice were, “…you are meant to be here, this moment is yours…” Coach Brooks was a leader who gave his players

    permission to be powerful beyond expectation. “This cannot be a team of common men, because common men go nowhere. You must be uncommon.”-Coach Brooks

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  • Jennifer Robinson

    Maricopa Unified School District

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    Jen has served in many educational positions in both Arizona and New York. She has been a classroom teacher of preschool and kindergarten, an elementary special education teacher, an instructional coach and is now an elementary school principal in Maricopa Unified School District. She is Nationally Board Certified as an Early Childhood Generalist. Supporting teacher leaders through the National Board certification process helps ground her in what is most important, teaching and learning.  She has been instrumental in developing the Leader in Me program at her school, in which scholars learn the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Every scholar has the opportunity to become a leader - from Kindergartners through 5th grade.

     

    Jen holds a Master’s Degree in Exceptional Needs/Special Education from Buffalo State in New York and an Educational Doctorate in Teacher Leadership and Innovation from Arizona State University.

     

    The leader Jen most identifies with is Eleanor Roosevelt. She admires how she spoke out for human rights, children’s causes and women’s rights. She tries to follow and lead by her words, “You must do the things you think you cannot do.”

     
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  • Mike Vargas

    Paradise Valley Unified School District

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    Michael Vargas is a high school physics teacher at Pinnacle High School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District. He was named Arizona High School Science Teacher of the Year in 2014 by ASTA, and was selected as a 2016 Arizona Ambassador for Excellence by the Arizona Educational Foundation. Michael is currently a 2017 state finalist for the President’s Award in Excellence for Math and Science Teaching. He has been an advocate for physics education statewide. His recent policy work includes testifying in front of the Arizona state legislature to address the problem of a lack of STEM teachers statewide. This advocacy work led to passing Senate Bill 1038, the “Teachers Professional Development Pilot Program.”

    At Pinnacle High School, Michaels Near Space Team is one of only a handful of programs in the country that do high altitude science and fly payloads to the edge of space via weather balloons. Their team recently completed an altitude record of 112 thousand feet. Michael is an avid space enthusiast who most recently completed the Honeywell Educators at Space Academy Program in Huntsville, Alabama.

    Michael is a member of STEM Teachers PHX, the Arizona Chapter of the American Physics Teachers Association, and the American Modeling Teachers Association, and a lifetime member of the Belgian Basketball Coaches Association. Before moving back to Arizona in 2011, Michael coached and taught at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Mons Belgium for 10 years working as a science instructor and athletic coach.

    Michael is a proud graduate of Northern Arizona University and still gives back through his efforts with the Chris Freeman Scholarship Foundation providing funds to students affected by cancer.

    Michaels favorite quote is,“Courage Lies in Every Heart.”

     
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  • Yolanda Wellington

    Phoenix Elementary School District

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    Yolanda has taught for the past 7 years in the Phoenix Elementary School District. Her passion for developing and supporting the human potential is evident in the cross-curricular work done her classroom. She is a member of the Association Montessori International and is a RODEL Scholar. Yolanda earned a Bachelor’s in Psychology from The Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.), a Master’s in Social Work and a Master’s in Education (Special Education) from Arizona State University, and a diploma in Lower Elementary Education for ages 6-12 from the Montessori Institute of North Texas.

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  • Sara Wyffels

    Chandler Unified School District

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    Sarah attended Western Washington University in Bellingham where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish in 2002. Her studies there included a study abroad experience in Segovia, Spain focusing on Spanish linguistics, grammar, and literature. After a short stint of living in South Florida, she moved to Portland, Oregon where she earned a Master of Arts in Teaching at the University of Portland. Sara taught middle school Spanish for two years before relocating to Gilbert in 2008. She has been teaching at Chandler High School since then. Sara has taught IB/AP Spanish in and was hired as the World Language Department Chair in 2014, and in 2016, she also began serving as the school’s IB Outreach Manager. In 2015-2016 she co-taught World Language Prop 301 classes for the district, and she found this professional leadership position fulfilling and challenging. Sara is inspired to try new things every year. She works diligently to create a language department that is focused on growth and teamwork. Sara is currently a National Board Certification Candidate and awaiting her scores. She continues to have excitement towards teacher leadership opportunities in Arizona.

     

    Sarah’s educational philosophy is that you get out of it what you put into it. She believes this philosophy rings true for her personally, and she shares it with her students. She believes her students’ success reflects the amount of work, interest, and grit they put into achieving their goals.

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