Teaching To A Different Drummer

Teacher takes alternative tack to education


by Jennifer Atkinson
payson roundup intern
Tina Crabdree isn't your typical high school teacher.

Avoiding the cookie-cutter model techniques of a traditional high school instructor, Crabdree, curriculum director and teacher at the Payson Center for Success, follows the beat of her own drum when it comes to teaching students academic excellence and life skills.

"I left a traditional middle school to come here because I saw a brand new school that I could shape," Crabdree said.

And that's exactly what she has done.

"This school has become the child of my heart," she said.

Opened in August 1996, the center has blossomed, receiving academic praise from around the district and the state. In a recent survey of charter schools, the Center for Success ranked 12th out of 241 on the Bellewether Report, a watchdog group for schools in the southwest, she said.

Although some people have misgivings about the alternative school, Crabdree is a firm believer in the center's teaching tactics.

"I believe education should offer a menu," she said. "Not everybody follows the factory model high school -- we all have different needs.

"We've had some discontents from Payson High School come here and they have flourished. All they needed was something different, a different way of learning things."

Crabdree worked at a traditional school for three years and said she was dissatisfied with her job.

"It was just a factory -- 180 kids would come in and out of my classroom. Here, I get to spend five hours a day with the kids. Unlike a traditional school, I get to interact with all the students, none fall through the cracks."

Crabdree, who was a range and wildlife biologist for the U.S. Forest Service, switched careers in order to teach students what she thinks they really need to know; how to read and write well, how to balance a checkbook and how to get a job.

"I would never go back to a traditional school after my experiences here," she said. "I just think it's the best. What makes the school so great, what makes the school really work is the students."

One of the many proverbs that adorn the walls at the school reflects the creed of the teacher and her students: "Success is not to be pursued; it is to be attracted by the person we become."

Some of the school's students picked PCS because the traditional high school setting wasn't working for them. Some teens go because PCS offers benefits in terms of performance expectations and teacher attention. Many go for both reasons.

"Any and all students come here, not just the children with problems," Crabdree said. "The image of the school is very stereotyped by residents here. They think only problem kids come here, but we get a cross-section of all kinds of students."

The school accepts a maximum of 48 students each semester, Crabdree said, and there are currently 16 students waiting to get in.

Crabdree described the school's standards, which are aligned with Arizona state standards, as eclectic.

Instead of requiring two years of math like most high schools, the Center for Success requires three. Classes are held from Monday through Thursday, leaving Friday open as a homework make-up day.

"Students have to attend class for exactly 20 hours a week in order to receive credit for the subject," Crabdree said.

To accommodate the students, many of whom have complete independence and lack parental supervision, classes are divided into two, five-hour sessions. One is held in the morning, the other in the afternoon.

Student Tracy Franklin, 16, said, "I began the center because I had a baby recently and it's a lot easier to go to school in the morning for five hours as opposed to all day for eight hours."

Crabdree said student curriculum complies with Payson High School, but the expectation level here is higher.

Each student works on different material, she said, material that each individual student needs to be focusing on.

"The attention level here is great," Franklin said. "Here, you can work at your own pace, not like at Payson High School where all of the class has to be doing the same work at the same time."

Students have to sign a syllabus, which is much like a contract, for each class, Crabdree said. "It's up to the kids to learn, not me, I'm here to help," she said.

Most of the students entered the school with the high expectations in mind.

"You have a lot more independence here, and the teachers notice your work progress and really care about the quality of the work we do," 19-year-old student Amber Corder said.

"This is the best school I've ever been to," she said. "At the regular high school, I had a "D" average. Here, I have an "A" average -- they really make you work at this center."

"You can either sit in the high school and barely get by or come here and actually achieve something."

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