Letter to the Community - October 16, 2023

Dear Tolleson ESD Families & Community;

Welcome back from fall break and what wonderful news I have to share with you!

On Saturday, October 14 Mr. Efrain Casillas was named Arizona teacher of the year at Arizona Educational Foundation’s (AEF) annual event! Mr. Casillas is known very well in our education community as he teaches music at both Porfirio H. Gonzales Elementary School and Desert Oasis Elementary School and is a beloved teacher. We are so proud of Mr. Casillas, and grateful to AEF for recognizing him. I know his colleagues our families and his students know that no one deserves this recognition more. The video produced by AEF says it all regarding what an amazing man and educator we have in Mr. Casillas. Here is the announcement from AEF:

"Efrain Casillas, coordinator of music programs for Tolleson Elementary School District (TESD) in Tolleson, has had a tremendous impact on his students. A public-school music teacher for 22 years, he is currently teaching 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  oordinator 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.

Casillas is an active member of the Arizona Music Education Association and a candidate for National Board Certification (NBCT). He has also been a presenter for the National Symposium of Multicultural Music at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in 2004. In 2015, 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 week-long trip to International Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. Casillas will also be considered for an honorary doctorate from Northern Arizona University.

Please join me in congratulating Mr. Casillas, and thank you to his entire team and colleagues and leaders, as well as all our families and students, for the fabulous support they provide him.

Have a great first week back at school!


Dr. Lupita Hightower
Treasure Hunter & Superintendent
Tolleson Elementary School District

View All News Articles