2022 Toyota Family Teacher of the Year shares a project update

For the past 27 years, the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) and Toyota have partnered in a nationwide search to celebrate extraordinary school- and community-based educators who engage families with a multigenerational approach. The Toyota Family Teacher of the Year wins a $20,000 grant to implement a family engagement, family literacy, or family leadership program in their district. 

Last October, Ivonne Ortiz—a family educator with Mesa Public Schools (MPS)—was named the 2022 Toyota Family Teacher of the Year for her outstanding commitment to family literacy as an adult educator.  In January of 2023, her Toyota Family Teacher of the Year program kicked off and we are excited to share updates on its progress!

Parents at Jefferson Elementary School participate in the Mesa Public Schools Family Literacy Program.

With the grant funds from her award, Ortiz and MPS are expanding their established Family Literacy Program to include parent leadership training and the development of community/school involvement projects. Over the course of 2023, the project’s goal is to train and support parents in eight MPS elementary schools with family literacy programs. Notably, this training will be based on the Parent Nation curriculum[1].

The beginning phase of Ortiz’s project is designed to develop parent leadership skills based on each participant’s needs and interests. This phase started by training parents in Adams, Jefferson, Longfellow, and Whitman Elementary Schools during the spring semester (pictured below). In March, staff and trained parents started planning for the extension of the program, with all eight schools scheduled to be included in the training in the fall semester of 2023. 

While the training will occur at the individual schools, Ortiz and MPS will also be organizing a one-day parent conference for all participants, giving them the chance to network with parents from different schools and further their training.

Ortiz’s project will culminate with a final Family Literacy Parent Conference organized by the parents in the spring semester of 2024. This conference is designed to provide parents with a venue to put their leadership skills into practice. In addition to organizing the conference, they will also take the lead in planning and implementing an improvement project of their own, which will be shared during the spring event.

When speaking with NCFL CEO & President, Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith, Ortiz shared that the primary aim of her project is to bring family voices into decision-making at schools[2]. Ortiz recognizes that parenting adults are already leaders and hopes to use this program to provide the tools they may need to be better heard by the schools. 

Do you know an educator who is committed to engaging families just like Ortiz? Nominate them for the 2023 Toyota Teacher of the Year award by 11:59 p.m. PDT on Thursday, May 18, 2023.


Ivonne Ortiz and her family moved from Puerto Rico to Mesa, Arizona in 2002, jumpstarting her career in the public school system with the Department of Education of Mesa. Her career change has been a source of great personal and professional satisfaction, leading her to work with the district for 13 years. For 10 of those years, Ivonne has been an instructor with the Family Literacy adult program. She currently serves at the Jefferson and Longfellow Elementary Schools.

[1] To learn more about the Parent Nation framework, check out NCFL’s February webinar, Family Leadership: Building a Parent Nation.

[2] To read more about Ivonne Ortiz’s interview with Dr. Felicia C Smith, click here.