Unveiling of new, ‘top secret’ school mascot will highlight 20-year anniversary event

Lisa Wonter remembers walking through the doors of Kyrene de la Mirada every day as she navigated her way through elementary school.
Every morning promised a new discovery. Little did she know that, years later, she would once again be walking through those same doors, only now as a student teacher, and that each day would still be filled with new discoveries.
A new generation of students are now at Kyrene de la Mirada. The school, at 5500 W. Galveston St., Chandler, is celebrating 20 years in the Kyrene district this month, and Principal Nancy Branch has decided it’s a perfect time to begin new traditions.
“Our world is about change, and it is time to celebrate the change we have seen at Mirada,” says Branch, who is completing her third year as principal at Mirada and her 20th year with the Kyrene district.
Branch says she is proud to be part of the change that is ushering in the next generation.
Mirada’s newly crafted mission statement, designed to usher in the next successful two decades, sums up the school’s history and lays the groundwork for its future: “Inspiring academic excellence while celebrating strengths, developing leaders and honoring diversity.”
The neighborhood surrounding the school has grown over the past 20 years, and Branch says it’s exciting to see the changes that Mirada has celebrated as a school. Kyrene de la Mirada earned an “A” grade from the Arizona Department of Education last year, an achievement the school is proud to celebrate.
When Mirada opened 20 years ago it was touted as the district’s technology school, according to Kelli Nafziger, a third grade teacher who has been there since it opened.
Coming from Apache Junction, Nafziger says she was amazed at the resources offered at the school.
“We had a great relationship with the Intel plant across the street and we had engineers come in daily to volunteer with the kids and help me to get the most out of all we had to learn from,” says Nafziger.
She says she stayed after school every day for the first few months to learn all about all the technology she had access to.
“I definitely made the right decision when I came to Mirada,” she says. “I have become part of the community. Children of children I taught are starting to come through our doors. It is a great feeling to be in this community.”
Evidence of the generation of growth is seen as some of Mirada’s first students return in different roles.
A student teacher and a graduate student are doing their training from this familiar territory, but now from the other side of the desk. Lisa Wonter and Rachel Grief say they’re glad to be in a familiar setting as they set off on the next chapter of their life journeys.
Andrew Gibson, now a graduate of the W.P. Carey School of Business, was in the first class of Mirada kindergarten students. Now a manager at a local advertising agency, he has fond memories of two of Mirada’s longtime teachers.
Anthony Santillan always dressed as the turkey every year to lead the school in a rousing rendition of the chicken dance, giving all the kids a good laugh. He also credits Scott Harnish for broadening his love for all types of music.
Santillan and Harnish will be guests of honor at the school’s soon-to-be celebrated anniversary observance, along with Nafziger and kindergarten teacher Lynn Levos, all teachers at Mirada since the day it opened.
The anniversary celebration will include memories from the three past principals and an event that current students have been excitedly anticipating: an unveiling of a new school mascot.
According to Branch, “The top-secret new mascot represents strength, dignity, justice, courage and honor, and this is exactly what we teach our students.”
Parents can join Mirada and its past and present students at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 25, to help celebrate—and get a peek at the new mascot and thank the teachers who have long served the community.

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