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Starting the next chapter: "Dr. V." reflects on her time at Alton Central

EVER THE BOOKWORM, retired Alton Central School Reading Director Jackie Verville poses for a photo while packing up her office on June 25. Brendan Berube. (click for larger version)
June 30, 2009
ALTON — The scrapbook given to Dr. Jackie Verville at her recent retirement party speaks volumes about the impact she made during her five years as director of the Alton Central School's Reading program.

Between the photographs of the students she's taught and the colleagues she's worked with, and the handwritten messages from nearly all of them (many accompanied by drawings of frowning, tearful faces), there isn't so much as a single blank space on any of its pages.

"I hate to leave … it's very difficult," the woman affectionately known to students and co-workers alike as "Dr. V." says, her voice wavering and her own eyes brimming with tears as she looks around her nearly vacant office, which was filled with bookshelves and paperwork just a few weeks before.

A veteran educator with more than 52 years of experience in the field, Verville announced her plans to retire earlier this year, devastating both her fellow teachers and district officials, who acknowledged after accepting her resignation that finding someone to fill her shoes would be no easy task.

Verville explained during an interview on June 25, while still in the process of packing up her office, that her decision to pursue a teaching career in 1955 was spurred by her membership in an order of nuns who were great supporters of education.

After earning a Bachelor's degree in Business and Mathematics from Notre Dame College in 1970, a Master's degree in Reading from Rivier College in 1974, Verville taught at all grade levels (including a 10-year stint as a professor of education at Notre Dame) before obtaining her doctorate in Reading and Disabilities from Boston University in 1985.

Joking that she has never seemed able to do anything the easy way, she said the dissertation study for her doctorate involved charting the progress of 800 students through skills assessments, and visiting with 48 teachers.

Returning to the classroom after a brief stint as a principal because she missed working closely with students, Verville joined the Northwood School in 1987 as a Reading Specialist with 62 students, and remained there until local school officials determined that her reading recovery program was no longer cost effective for the district.

After leaving Northwood, she found herself in Franklin, and then settled in Littleton for six years as Supervisor of Language Education for six separate districts.

She was touched, she said, to see the superintendent for whom she worked in Littleton at her retirement party earlier this month.

After joining the Alton School District in 2004, Verville said she quickly grew to love the community, the staff, and most of all, the students.

Asked what she hoped to leave behind as her legacy at Alton Central, Verville said she wanted to be remembered, first and foremost, for her energy.

"You know those commercials for the batteries that keep going and going and going? That's how I am," she said with a laugh, adding that she also hoped to have instilled a motivation to read and a lifelong love of writing in her students.

One student whose transformation she looked back on with great pride was a third grader who she said had experienced difficulty in the classroom since kindergarten, and who progressed under her tutelage to the point where he was able to read a book to someone for the first time.

"There have been a lot of kids," she said, explaining that she worked with all grade levels, from pre-school through middle school, during her time in Alton.

Verville also looked back fondly on the family nights she helped establish, particularly the annual Poetry Night event held in conjunction with National Poetry Month.

This year's event, she said, drew the highest level of attendance yet.

"I just love the kids," she said, explaining that she always tried to be "very flexible" and set aside time to have students read to her one-on-one, or to visit classrooms and listen to them read when asked.

"I'm going to miss everybody, especially my wonderful Title I staff," she said, wiping away tears as she recalled the school's faculty rising to their feet to offer her a standing ovation when she received her five-year service pin earlier this year.

The support of her co-workers never meant more to her, she said, than when teacher Pati True nominated her for the New Hampshire Excellence in Education (or ED-ie) Awards' first-ever Reading Teacher of the Year award this year, an honor for which she was selected.

"I was so surprised … I didn't think I'd get it," she said, explaining that she later learned that a number of colleagues and even a few students submitted letters on her behalf.

"I was very surprised, honored, and humbled," she said.

"It helps me to go out with a bang," she added, laughing.

Recalling a humorous moment during the awards ceremony on June 13, Verville said that when she stepped to the podium to deliver her acceptance speech, and asked whether anyone in the audience could top her 52 and a half years in education, "no one stood up."

Although it was difficult for her to leave Alton Central behind, she said she was looking forward to starting a new chapter in life, and pursuing a longtime dream — opening a learning center in Manchester for non-English speaking students and others in need of help with their reading and writing skills (perhaps, she said, even a program for prisoners).

Explaining that the idea first occurred to her while she was studying for her Master's degree in 1974, Verville said she recently began scouting locations in downtown Manchester (a community whose inhabitants, she said, speak 100 different languages, and which she felt would benefit greatly from such a facility).

The key, she said, will be finding a location easily accessible to people who might not own a vehicle.

"I'm thinking big," she said, adding that she hoped to form a committee to explore the possibility. "That's my dream."

As for her five years at Alton Central, Verville said she "loved every minute of it," and most appreciated the fact that no two days were exactly alike, and that she always had something new to look forward to.

Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or bberube@salmonpress.com

Martin Lord Osman
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