When teachers walked out of the classrooms for more pay in Arizona last year, Jill Wilson stepped up in Gilbert.

Wilson played an instrumental role in helping a social worker at Gateway Pointe Elementary make sure students on the free and reduce lunch program were fed during the Red for Ed walkout that shut down schools for nearly a week in the spring.

For her longtime volunteer work and dedication, Wilson was nominated for a LifeChanger of the Year award. Wilson was elected last fall to the Higley Unified School District Governing Board.

The national recognition program honors K-12 public school educators and employees who make a difference in students’ lives by exemplifying excellence, positive influence and leadership.

“When you meet Jill Wilson, she will most likely be wearing pink and a smile,” said Kristina Stansbury in her nomination paper for Wilson. “Seven years ago, I met Jill as we were walking our children to school at Gateway Pointe Elementary.

“Her family was new to the neighborhood, and she had many questions about Gateway and the Higley Unified School District. Jill signed up to volunteer in her child’s class right away and soon became a familiar face at Gateway Pointe.”

For the past seven years Wilson has gone above and beyond to serve kids, according to Stansbury.

She said Wilson could always be counted on to lend a helping hand, whether it’s by laminating, making copies, putting together a bulletin board, assisting with book fair or setting up a school event.

Wilson also takes time to get to know teachers and continuously checks in with them to help however she can. She also does small things for the staff to say thank you, such as bringing them a soda or sweet treat, Stansbury said.

Wilson also served on the school site council and on Gateway Pointe’s PTO Board in 2016-17 as president. Stansbury at the time served as the vice president.

“Jill was a committed president who served countless hours to support the Gateway community,” Stansbury said. “She listened to other’s ideas and input before making decisions. She was dependable and completed her assignment and commitment with excellence. Jill always kept in mind what was best for the Gateway Community.”

Wilson also supported administration, even when there may be a conflict with what her own child might need versus others, Stansbury said.

Wilson was a voice for Gateway Pointe at the district level, serving on district communication, calendar and hiring committees.

Whenever there was a decision to be made within these committees, she would survey the parents in her community to receive input before making a decision, Stansbury said.

Wilson’s interest in creating the best environment for students prompted her to start attending the school board meetings. In the seven years before she ran for the school board, she learned about the board’s function.

“Public servant is a phrase that describes Jill Wilson,” Stansbury said. “When there is a need Jill takes action to meet that need. She is a volunteer, giving countless hours to her children’s school and the district as a whole. She is hard working, dependable and supports others in being life changers of their own.”

Higley Superintendent Mike Thomason also gave high praise to Wilson, calling her a mentor and supporter for district employees and students.

“Jill Wilson has been an incredible part of our community and school district,” Thomason wrote on the LifeChanger website.

“She continually provides support for all 13 of our schools and regularly attends events and activities,” Thomason wrote. “She has met with teachers, administrators and classified staff to gain a better understanding of the inner workings of the Higley Unified School District and has become an advocate for our students.”

Kaity Harris, who will be principal at Gateway, beginning July 1, wrote that there are not enough words to describe Wilson’s contributions. Harris is currently the school’s assistant principal.

“She is here almost every morning greeting our students, staff and parents with a smile and encouraging phrases,” Harris said. “If she is not attending one of our school celebrations, she is volunteering in a classroom. Her dedication and passion for our students and community are contagious.”

Each school year, LifeChanger of the Year receives hundreds of nominations of K-12 teachers or school district employees from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Winners are chosen by a selection committee comprised of former winners and education professionals.

Winners will be announced via surprise award ceremonies held at their schools. The grand prize finalists also will be honored at a national awards ceremony in April 2020 in Florida, where the grand prize winner will be revealed.

The grand-prize winner will receive $10,000 that will be shared with his or her school or district.

The four grand-prize finalists each receive $5,000 to be shared with their schools or district and 10 LifeChanger Award winners each receive $3,000 to be shared with their school or district.

There’s also a Spirit Award winner who will receive $5,000. The award is given to the nominee whose community demonstrates the most support for their nomination.

The Spotlight Award winner will receive $5,000. The award is given to a nominee who has made a proven impact on school safety.