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At the latest Achievement Above All event, the Glendale Union High School District's Governing Board celebrated the significant achievements of notable individuals. This annual ceremony recognizes the extensive efforts of key members of the Cortez community, including a teacher, a student, a student group, a support staff member, and a volunteer. Brooke Parsons, the Principal of Cortez High School, proudly introduced these outstanding recipients to the community, the governing board, and the superintendent. To commend their impressive accomplishments, each award winner received certificates or awards at the event.


Jim Piazza, Teacher of the Year

Art Teacher Jim Piazza is Cortez’s Teacher of the Year. He opens his classroom doors not only during class hours but also before and after school. Piazza’s support extends beyond the classroom by securing backpacks for those in need or providing a listening ear for those facing challenges. Outside of the classroom, Piazza is a coach for baseball and chess. 

3D Art Teacher Andy Cohen says, “In the brush strokes of life, Jim Piazza paints a masterpiece of dedication, creativity, and community spirit. His canvas is adorned with the colors of inspiration, his classroom a sanctuary of artistic exploration. As he earns the well-deserved title of Achievement Above All Teacher of the Year, Jim’s legacy shines as brightly as the works of his students, illuminating the corridors of Cortez High School and beyond.”

Jim Piazza

Mert Isik, Student of the Year

At the top of his class, Mert Isik is this year’s Student of the Year. Over his high school career, Isik received a score of 5 on all of his Advanced Placement exams. He has received a 34 on the ACT, holds a weighted grade point average of 4.97, and is a National Merit Finalist. Beyond the classroom, Isik is a multi-sport athlete.

Principal Brooke Parsons says, “What truly sets Mert apart, however, is his remarkable character. He consistently embodies the qualities of humility, helpfulness, and positivity, earning the respect and admiration of peers and faculty alike. He is not only a model student but also a role model for others, exemplifying the values of respect, integrity, and kindness that are the cornerstone of our school community.”

Mert Isik

Football, Student Group of the Year

With more wins in the past two seasons than in the previous 15 seasons, the Football team is this year’s Student Group of the Year. During this past season, all players maintained passing grades and three players received college scholarship offers to continue their athletic and academic careers. The team consistently serves as role models by taking initiatives such as cleaning their bleachers after games, participating in food delivery for the community, and volunteering for Dunlap clean-up activities. 

When asked what their goals and plans for the future Coach Hopper says, “To continue to pursue academic and athletic success that centers around positive character values, teamwork, and leadership that allows every individual to champion life on the field, off the field, and within their communities.”


Raymond Mkandama, Support Staff of the Year

English Language Instructional Assistant, Raymond Mkandama is this year’s Support Staff of the Year. Mkandama has developed strong relationships with students, and families from diverse backgrounds, particularly those who speak Swahili. His fluency in five languages has enabled him to bridge communication gaps and provide much-needed support to those individuals. In addition to Mkandama’s work within the EL program, he runs a free soccer summer camp every Saturday throughout the summer for children 7 to 17 in the community.

Principal Brooke Parsons says, “Raymond has proven himself to be a reliable and adaptable member of our staff. Whenever the EL department requires a substitute teacher, he willingly steps in to ensure a seamless transition for our students. His willingness to take on additional responsibilities speaks volumes about his work ethic and dedication to our school’s mission.”


Ginger Hansen, Volunteer of the Year

Ginger Hansen is this year’s Volunteer of the Year. Hansen volunteers by preparing and serving nourishing meals for the football players before games and offering words of encouragement. Her volunteering extends beyond the football field as she participates in various community service events, including Feed My Starving Children and campus clean-ups. 

Cortez Teacher Dustin Hansen says, “My mom, has always been a driving force in my life towards spreading joy, kindness, and care to all around us at all times regardless of circumstance. Since I was a young boy, teenager, and then young man she has always been my #1 supporter and actively involved in all my brothers and my activities. Whether it was chaperoning on countless field trips, being on the boosters for sports teams, or volunteering with us at community events, spending countless hours giving her life to others has always been a prerogative of my mother.”