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Norwich - Jessica St. George, school counselor for the Norwich Free Academy's Sachem Campus, had a difficult secret to keep all summer until the opening day of school last week.
St. George, a 16-year veteran counselor at NFA, was selected as the school's teacher of the year in April. But NFA keeps the selection secret until the opening day teachers' conference, when the winner is named and gets the chance to address colleagues.
St. George, 41, of Norwich, said she was excited and overwhelmed by the award, and had to tell her family. Then she spent the spring and summer reminding her two young sons, ages 4 and 7, that they couldn't tell anyone. That seemed to go well until her oldest son told his hairdresser.
"I told him 'you're not supposed to tell anyone. It's a secret,'" she said. "He said 'I thought it would be OK to tell her.'"
Her husband, Thomas St. George, was named teacher of the year for Norwich public schools last year. He now is a library media specialist at Windham Regional Technical School.
Jessica St. George used her opening day speech to express her pride in two family traditions - NFA and the popular Vocatura's Bakery in Norwich. In a slide show, she described how her grandmother and grandfather attended NFA, and her mother, longtime Norwich public schools teacher and principal Cheryl Vocatura, graduated from NFA in 1969.
St. George graduated from "our amazing academy" in 1990, and her brother, Josh Vocatura - who runs Voc's West Side Pizza in the Vocatura tradition - graduated from NFA in 1995.
Last year, St. George made somewhat of a career change within the academy when she accepted the new position as school counselor at the fledgling Sachem Campus, a new transitional high school program. She now works with about 70 students in grades nine through 12 who attend the program that replaced Norwich's alternative high school.
"I really like working with that population of students," St. George said. "They have various needs and support to get them where they want to go. They're so energetic. They have goals and they want to be there."
Lorraine Dooley, who was the facilitator for the NFA Teacher of the Year selection committee, said St. George had impressive qualifications, is an "incredible leader," and well respected by her peers.
"She has taken on a leadership role (at the Sachem campus), and has helped the program become extremely successful," Dooley said. "We chose her because of her accomplishments, but also because of her sincere love of NFA."