Mesa Public Schools

Taryn Tidwell, the choir and musical theatre director of Shepherd Junior High School, was the first winner of the Tancer Arts in Education Award. Here she is putting her class through some paces.

There are plenty of great teachers in Arizona.

But there’s only one “Teacher of the Year” – and that is Nancy Parra-Quinlan, a veteran teacher for over 27 years who has taught at Mesa’s Kino Junior High for the past 15 years. 

Jeff Meshey, president and CEO of Desert Financial Credit Union, presented her with the Arizona Educational Foundation’s annual award Oct. 16.

She teaches her junior high students robotics, engineering, aerospace, as well as a medical detectives course. Parra-Quinlan earned a Master of Education at Northern Arizona University, with Bilingual (Spanish) and ESL endorsement.

“Nancy Parra-Quinlan is an innovative and phenomenal educator who embodies the Mesa Public Schools Promise,” MPS Superintendent Andi Fourlis said. “Nancy’s dedication to her students is evident in the smiles on their faces and their excitement for coming to class. 

“Nancy engages students by sparking their creativity through real-life projects that include robotics, forensics, engineering and technology.”

Parra-Quinlan is also the director of the Mesa Public School’s summer Aerospace Academy, the coach of the Lego League Robotics team for Kino Junior High and the sponsor of Kino’s STEM Club.

On top of all that, she also volunteers with the Civil Air Patrol and with the 305th Squadron at Falcon Field in Mesa as the Aerospace Education Officer. She holds the rank of captain in the Civil Air Patrol.

She said she loves preparing the next generation for STEM opportunities.

“Arizona is a magnet for technology companies, including aerospace, electronics and other manufacturing industries,” she said. “We must sufficiently fund public education in our state in order to prepare our students to work in the industries that will be most abundant in Arizona over the next few decades.”

Parra-Quinlan plans to spend her “year of service” as an Arizona Teacher of the Year advocating for STEM education, especially the inclusion of girls and Students of Color, who are vastly underrepresented in STEM careers.

As Arizona’s Teacher of the Year, Parra-Quinlan becomes a candidate for National Teacher of the Year. 

She will receive $15,000 from the Arizona Educational Foundation as well as a trip to the White House to meet President Joe Biden and will spend a week at International Space Camp in Alabama. 

She will also be given professional speech and media training, consideration to receive an honorary doctorate from Northern Arizona University and an Arizona K12 Center Scholarship. 


Tancer award

Another Mesa teacher scored a big honor: Act One announced the first winner of its Tancer Arts in Education Award, “given to an Arizona teacher dedicated to sharing a love of the arts with their students.”

The award went to Taryn Tidwell, the choir and musical theatre director of Shepherd Junior High School.

Her award was presented in a special ceremony in front of students, colleagues and Act One representatives at Shepherd Junior High on Tuesday morning.

Tidwell was honored as “a powerful voice across the state for the importance and impact the arts have on the overall learning and social emotional well-being of students.

“We are very pleased to present the first-ever Tancer Arts in Education Award to Taryn for her inspirational story and her passion for the arts,” said Bernadette Carroll, Act One Executive Director. “It was very rewarding for us to see her personal reaction at receiving the award and to see first-hand her impact on her students and school.”

Tidwell said she was “beyond honored” by the award.

“The arts are such a meaningful and important part of my life,” she said, “and I am thrilled to be able to continue to advocate for the importance of the arts in education. 

“I had the honor of working with Bob Tancer before he passed, and it means the world to be able to carry on his legacy and love for the arts.” 

 Michael De Alba, art teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa, was one of the five finalists for the award. 

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