Thu, Nov. 14

Four Verde Valley teachers named finalists for county’s Outstanding Teachers awards

Mike Westcot

Mike Westcot

VERDE VALLEY – A “wonderful mix of success and difficulty” is how Mike Westcott views his profession.

Making a lot of money just isn’t in the cards for most teachers. Good thing payday isn’t their motivation. Teachers are in the classroom for reasons either intrinsic or altruistic.

“You have to keep your eye on the prize: student achievement and preparation for successful adulthood,” says Westcott, science teacher at Mingus Union High School in Cottonwood. “Very difficult, but equally rewarding career.”

Last year, the Yavapai County Education Foundation recognized 67 teachers. For Westcott, the evening was special, as the foundation named him the 2016 Yavapai County Teacher of the Year.

“It was – is – quite an honor,” Westcott says. “Validation for the hard work and commitment to student success; they are why we are all here.”

At 6 p.m. April 28, Yavapai County Education Foundation will again name a teacher of the year. Teachers are nominated each year by their school’s principal.

Applications are reviewed by a committee selected by the Teacher of the Year Committee. The top three applicants from each of the categories then participate in an interview with a separate interview committee.

This year, Mingus Union has two teachers among the finalists, in science teacher Sandra Upite and automotive technology teacher Andy Hooton.


Hooton wasn’t always a teacher. In fact, he planned to go to law school.

But former Camp Verde Principal Bob Weir and current Camp Verde teacher Tracy Tudor showed Hooton “a different path,”

“For their intervention, I will be forever grateful,” Hooton says.

What Hooton likes most about being a career and technical education teacher “is to watch our students remain in the Verde Valley and thrive.”

  “The ability to regularly see our students and graduates monetizing their blended core and CTE education is what confirms for me the validity of my own teaching, as well as that of my fellow teachers’ core content educational efforts,” Hooton says.

‘Compelled to help others’

From a young age, Upite says she was “compelled to help others and the environment.”

Which is why her focus is science education and why it “continues to be the force that motivates me to be an active community member.”

Says Mingus Union Principal Jennifer Chilton, Upite has an “understated demeanor [that] belies the powerhouse of an Earth Science and Ecology teacher she is.

“Miss Upite’s daily instruction has the iceberg support of her vast content expertise,” Chilton says. “[She] is a model of excellence, service to students, and professionalism every parent wishes for their child and every administrator wishes for a faculty.”

Four finalists

Hooton and Upite are two of the Verde Valley’s four teachers who are finalists to be recognized on April 28 by Yavapai County Education Foundation.

Lisa Fuller of Dr. Daniel Bright Elementary School, in the first-year teacher category; and Clarkdale-Jerome School’s Jeff Scroggins, in the sixth- through eighth-grade category are also finalists for the Teacher of the Year award.

Fuller’s path to the classroom was rather circuitous, as she was a stay-at-home mother until she began taking courses at Yavapai College in 2011.

Though Fuller says she “always had the desire” to become a teacher, she waited until her family moved to Arizona from Ohio.

Before she completed her BS in Early Childhood Education from Grand Canyon University, Fuller began her career in education as a paraprofessional in both special education and kindergarten classrooms in the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, in addition to serving as a long-term substitute on emergency certification in one of the district’s kindergarten classrooms.


In her short time in the classroom, Fuller has been an “exemplary teacher,” says Nancy Erickson, principal at Dr. Daniel Bright Elementary School. Her superintendent at COCSD, Barb U’Ren, calls Fuller “student-focused.”

Fuller “embodies the teacher where each child knows that they are accepted and appreciated for who they are and their unique talents and gifts are honored,” U’Ren says.

“Each day, they are eager to see her and get started on their learning whether it is using shaving cream to learn math facts or manipulating colorful shapes to learn geometry.”

Says Erickson, Fuller is “an inspiration not only to the students she teaches, but also to the staff with which she works.

“She creates a warm and inviting classroom and also creates an expectation among her students for rigorous classroom work,” Erickson says.

Though no doubt she would be happy to be named the county’s Teacher of the Year, Fuller says she is already “very fortunate” to be in her position.

“My students shared with me that in their eyes, I am already the teacher of the year,” Fuller says. “And that, in itself, is truly rewarding to me.”

The Logical Song

At Clarkdale-Jerome School, Jeff Scroggins teaches science and technology to grades seven and eight.

Says Scroggins, a 30-year teacher at CJS, teaching means “having deep content knowledge and mastery of applied pedagogy, personal investment in my students and their success, and consistency.”

“I teach kids cool things about their natural world and to make logical, reasoned decisions based on tested and verifiable evidence,” he says.

“The best part of my work is knowing that I am helping shape the future of our society.”

For the past 13 years, Scroggins has organized the school’s eighth grade river trip, says Kathleen Fleenor, the district’s interim superintendent.

On top of teaching each of the school’s seventh and eighth grade sciences classes, Scroggins serves as the district’s IT coordinator. 

“He set up the Family Link program, so that parents can daily check on their child’s grades in the classroom,” Fleenor says. 

Working with Northern Arizona University’s science department, NASA and Verde Natural Resources Conservation District, Scroggins brings “real life science and use of resources into his classroom.”

“These are a few of the qualities that make him an outstanding teacher,” Fleenor says.

Awards ceremony

Yavapai County Education Foundation will honor outstanding teachers from grades pre-kindergarten through high school during the 23rd annual Teacher of the Year Award Ceremony and Banquet at the Prescott Resort, located at 1500 HWY 69.

More than $20,000 in grant money will be awarded to category winners and finalists.

The 55 nominees from across Yavapai County district, charter and private schools were nominated by administrators and school leaders.

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