Payson High now boasts the top teacher in Arizona's rural schools.
Anna Van Zile, an English and literature teacher, received the prestigious honor Sept. 17 at the Arizona Rural School Association convention in Prescott.
Among the awards she will reap for being the ARSA Teacher of the Year are a $1,000 cash prize and a ride in the Fiesta Bowl parade in the presence of about 400,000 spectators.
In addition to the ARSA laurels, Van Zile was earlier named the Gila County Teacher of the Year and the 2004 Payson Rotary Teacher of the Year.
Payson High School principal Roy Sandoval is among those lauding Van Zile for her achievements.
"She exemplifies what an outstanding teacher is in her commitment to students, instruction and to the community," he said. "I am proud and honored to be her colleague."
Van Zile was nominated for the award by former Payson High School principal Sue Myers, now PUSD superintendent.
"I nagged her and twisted her arm, but was finally able to get her (to consent to nomination)," Myers said. "We knew she was very deserving."
For Van Zile, it is her affection for students and public education that helps her overcome the challenges facing a teacher of mostly freshmen and sophomore students.
"I know that one must love what one does to be truly successful," she said. "And I truly enjoy working each day with the young men and women in my classes."
One of the obstacles Van Zile faces in the classroom is student apathy.
"What do we do about the segment of the student population that just doesn't care about completing work and passing classes?" she asked. "I have seen too many students fail one or both semesters of English I, only to have to make it up later, creating a more serious problem when faced with taking two English classes at the same time."
The problem is compounded by PUSD's modified school year calender and small teaching staff that limits summer school options for making up failed classes.
To help those students who did not pass English I, Van Zile founded night school classes that focus on learning with technology.
After receiving approval two years ago, Van Zile led a team that developed scope and sequence, assignments and assessments for freshmen English.
"In many senses, night school has been more rigorous than the high school course," she said. "Attendance is mandatory, every assignment has to earn a C (grade) or better and students pay a nominal registration fee."
The three-hour-long classes, held twice a week for nine weeks, have been an overwhelming success at PHS.
In reflecting on her almost 20 years in education, Van Zile identifies passion as the key to becoming a master teacher.
"Teachers must possess certain traits -- dedication, sacrifice, patience and a sense of humor --but most important is passion," she said. "Passion distinguishes a good teacher from a great one."
After graduating from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill., Van Zile began her career as an English teacher at Cholla Junior High in Phoenix Washington School District.
Following stints at Mountain Sky School, Four Peaks Elementary and Fountain Hills High School, she accepted a position at PHS in 1994.
In 1999, she earned a master's degree in secondary instruction from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
At PHS, she has undertaken a myriad of responsibilities, including serving on the Arizona Department of Education AIMS and Writing Standard Committees as well as serving as a Performance Assessment and Writing Across the Curriculum presenter.
She has also been the Campus Beautification and Character Counts site coordinator and is currently the student government, or STUGO, adviser.
She also oversees the school's annual spring ski trip to Durango, Colo., and has helped organized STUGO benefits such as a dodge ball tournaments and road rallies.
"Some say I take on too much, but I'm careful at managing all that I take on," she said. "And I surround myself with others who complement me, making me look better than I really am," she said. "At the same time, I do the same for them."
Van Zile is a member of the National Council of Teachers of English, the Arizona English Teachers Association and Association for Career and Technical Education of Arizona.
For Sandoval, the appreciation shown Van Zile should be expanded to include even more educators.
"There are many teachers like Anna who do their jobs and do them well," he said. "It is our responsibility to do anything we can to give those teachers public recognition and financial rewards."