October 8, 2005

By Daniel Scarpinato and Jeff Commings


Three local educators are in the running to be named the Arizona Teacher of the Year, a prestigious title that showers the winner with money, gifts, travel, statewide fame and a meeting with the president of the United States.
The local finalists, announced Friday afternoon, are Beth Cirzan, a Marana High School language arts teacher, and two Flowing Wells Unified School District teachers, Walter Douglas Elementary School third-grade teacher Lucy Popson and Laguna Elementary School second-grade teacher Tamara McAllister.
The distinction is especially meaningful for Flowing Wells.
The reigning Teacher of the Year, Kim Babeu, is a physical education teacher at Flowing Wells Junior High School.
The 2002 and 1997 Teachers of the Year also were from the district, and Flowing Wells High School biology teacher Bev Waters was named as a top-10 finalist last year.
There are five total finalists this year, with two Glendale educators joining the local crop, selected from 60 nominations across the state. One will be chosen next month in Phoenix, and the others all will receive the title "ambassador."
The other local nominees who made it to the final 10 but not the latest cut are Glenda DeMoss, a sixth-grade math teacher at Esperero Canyon Middle School, in the Catalina Foothills School District, and Stephanie Duisberg, a high school German, Spanish and French teacher at Amphitheater High School. Both will receive $1,000 and will be recognized along with the ambassadors at a Nov. 17 luncheon.
The Teacher of the Year is selected by the Arizona Educational Foundation. A panel of business and community leaders, educators, parents and students will interview the final five and watch videos of them teaching a class.
Beth Cirzan
Marana High School
For 26 years, Cirzan has taught literature at the rural Marana High School, 12000 W. Emigh Road.
The Oregon native, who moved to Tucson for the sun and worked at a Black Angus Restaurant for a year before landing a teaching job, is "a bit uncomfortable and awkward" about her latest distinction, she says. She also received her district's Teacher of the Year award and the Circle-K Teacher of the Year award this year.
"I'm very, very flattered," she said of all the attention. "I work with so many wonderful people. I just hope I can represent them well."
That's typical of the 47-year-old educator, says her boss, Marana Principal Jim Doty.
"Beth doesn't like the attention and it's kind of nice someone like that is being recognized," he said. "Sometimes, it's just the people who promote themselves, and she's not that kind of person."
But she's not shy around her teenage students. Cirzan keeps them hooked on her American literature lessons by connecting classic readings with historical analysis.
Lucy Popson
Walter Douglas
Elementary School
Before Friday, the only accolades Popson had received as a teacher were the Golden Bulldog award for excellence in service at Walter Douglas Elementary School, 3302 N. Flowing Wells Road, and a few letters of recommendation from her superintendent and principal.
She's careful to say that being an Arizona Teacher of the Year finalist won't trump her local awards.
"I still treasure those," said Popson, 39, who's taught in the Flowing Wells district for 11 years.
Speaking by phone from the school office, Popson sounded a little shaken by all the attention she's received.
The response the school gave when they learned of her finalist status at an assembly Friday was overwhelming, she said.
"It felt like thunder when everybody started clapping," she said. "The kids started to stand up. It was great."
Whether Popson wins or not, the third-grade teacher knows she didn't do it alone.
"This is a special place for me to work," she said. "My co-workers are my family."
Tamara McAllister
Laguna Elementary School
McAllister didn't realize it then, but spending two years teaching in Japan helped her understand the struggles of the English Language Learners in her second-grade class at Laguna Elementary School, 5001 N. Shannon Road.
"I didn't know the language (in Japan) and I needed someone to help me understand what was being said," she said.
The Catalina High School graduate, who has been a teacher in the Flowing Wells district for eight years, said once the thrill settles in and she goes back to class Monday, not much will be different.
"I don't think anything's going to change for me in the classroom because I give them 100 percent and I expect them to give me 100 percent as well," said McAllister, 36. "Outside the classroom, it will give me a wider forum to speak on how great our teachers are."
● Contact reporter Jeff Commings at 573-4191 or at
● Contact reporter Daniel Scarpinato at 573-4195 or at