Payson People

Motherhood ends biology career, inspires true calling

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Having children changes most peoples' lives. But when Tina Crabdree and her husband, Scott, had their first child, it changed her career and her life ... not to mention the lives of many Rim country students.

In her pre-motherhood days, Crabdree worked for the U.S. Forest Service as a firefighter, range manager and wildlife biologist. Then she had her first baby son Micah, now 15 and decided to chuck it all for a career as a full-time, doting mom. But after having one more baby daughter Tamara, now 12, Crabdree decided to pursue a different career: teaching.

How did that job-switch work out?

Not too badly. Last September, Crabdree tied for top honors in the Best Teacher of the Year 2000 competition sponsored by the Arizona Small and Rural Schools Association. The co-winner was Tracy Herbert, Julia Randall Elementary's physical education teacher.

In other words, the Forest Service's loss was education's gain.

What pleases Crabdree most is not her own victory, but the victory of the Payson Center for Success, the 54-student charter school for which her self-described job title is "teacher, curriculum coordinator, whatever ... we're a small, one-room schoolhouse, so you just do whatever needs to be done."

When Crabdree learned of the contest's outcome, she said, "It was almost embarrassing. I'm the kind of person who likes to work quietly behind the lines, because my belief in educating children for the future is so strong.

"But I was truly honored by the award; it was validation for me and our school. For a charter school teacher to be named teacher of the year was such a thrill and honor for the school like, 'We must be all right,' and 'We must be doing something good.'"

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Crabdree spent her childhood flitting about the country, due to a mother and father who were both enlisted in the Air Force.

"We moved around a lot to Deerborn, Mich., a couple of places in Ohio, California, and some I can't even remember. Then dad retired when I was 12 and we came to Phoenix."

Although Crabdree attended Paradise Valley High School, she said, "I wasn't one of those Valley rats like you see now. I was always the kind of kid who was interested in doing things and going places. I remember riding our bikes all the way out to Pleasant Lake, which took an entire day to do."

Crabdree was well down the path of her first career before she graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor of science degree in range management and a minor in wildlife biology.

"I was fortunate in my sophomore year; I was the first woman firefighter to be hired by the U.S. Forest Service in Pleasant Valley in 1978, at a time when they were just not hiring women for those kinds of positions," she said. "One man even told me, 'You'll never be a good range manager because you don't wear the right kind of belt buckle.' I ran into that kind of attitude all the time.

"But I loved the job. Absolutely loved it. I was going to go on to be chief, but ..."

But in 1986, she heeded the call of motherhood.

"I found out that being a mother was my life's calling, so I stayed home with the kids and raised them. And I never regretted it."

By the time Crabdree was ready for a new career, she had spent quite a bit of time reviewing what it was she'd liked best about her old one.

"When I worked for the Forest Service, I had sponsored several clubs and had done a lot of educational outreach and working with schools," she said. "I loved working with kids, and I like teaching. It was a natural thing for me to do. So when my kids started going to school, I started volunteering."

The first thing she found out "real quick" was that "kindergarten and the lower grades were not for me. I have to be able to reason with my students, and to be able to talk to them without having to say, 'Wipe your nose!' But other than that, I like working with kids. They give me energy. They keep you on your toes.

"So I went back and got my teaching certificate and my master's, and in 1994 I started working at Rio Grande High School and Taylor Middle School in Albuquerque. I taught science, so I was able to combine my love for science and biology with my love for kids."

That's what Crabdree was allowed to do, too, after her brood relocated to Payson in 1996 and she began helping to hammer together ideas for the town's very first charter school.

"A lot of people think of charter schools with negative connotations (so) I really applaud the school district's governing board for being forward-thinking and recognizing that students in Payson need another option," Crabdree said. "There are a lot of kids who, because of family difficulties or whatever reason, they can't stay in school as they would like. So the board created us, and now we've been in operation for five years.

"I've always challenged people in the community to come into our school and look at our kids," she said. "I know they'll be very pleasantly surprised.

"For one thing, this is the only school I've ever worked in where the students are quietly working and the teachers are having a blast, cutting up and having fun."

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