‘It’s not just a job’: Longtime Turners Falls teacher honored with excellence award

  • Director of Teaching and Learning Jeanne Powers, left, with educator Jessica Vachula-Curtis as she receives the 2023 Excellence in Teaching Award during an all-school assembly in the Turners Falls High School auditorium on Tuesday morning. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Jessica Vachula-Curtis receives the 2023 Excellence in Teaching Award during an all-school assembly in the Turners Falls High School auditorium on Tuesday morning. From left: Principal Christopher Barnes, Director of Teaching and Learning Jeanne Powers, Vachula-Curtis and Superintendent Brian Beck. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer
Published: 1/31/2023 1:22:19 PM

TURNERS FALLS — While longtime teacher Jessica Vachula-Curtis may not have expected the recognition, others knew there was nobody more deserving of the 2023 Excellence in Teaching Award.

“She means so much to our students and our community,” Turners Falls High School Principal Christopher Barnes wrote for a speech delivered by Gill-Montague Regional School District Superintendent Brian Beck at an all-school assembly on Tuesday. “While this public recognition of her great work illustrates our appreciation and gratitude, it pales in comparison to what she does every day.”

Every other school year, the Gill-Montague district presents an Excellence in Teaching Award to an outstanding educator, Beck said. This stems from the Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Awards program, which “annually honors western Massachusetts educators and seeks to motivate teachers at all stages of their careers,” according to the website of the sponsoring Harold Grinspoon Foundation. More than 2,000 educators from across Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties have been recognized since the program’s inception in 2003.

Vachula-Curtis said she “had no idea” she was cause for celebration until midway through Beck’s speech. When she realized who the bouquet of roses was for, a smile spread across her face that continued to grow when the audience of students and staff rose to their feet to applaud.

“It was really lovely,” Vachula-Curtis said of receiving the award. “I love the students here so much and I think we really have a special student body. … I would imagine that teenagers are great everywhere, but there’s something really special about the ones that I get to work with.”

Throughout her 16 years with the Gill-Montague school district, Vachula-Curtis has undertaken a vast array of roles within both Turners Falls High School and Great Falls Middle School. Her responsibilities have included special education, teaching English, advising students, serving on the racial justice committee, managing the school’s social media presence and helping with theater productions.

“When not in her classroom, you can often find this educator in the greenhouse, the library or the theater,” Beck noted. “Whether she is helping prepare the greenhouse for spring planting, discussing the newest young adult novel or supporting the current theater production, she puts the students first and foremost.”

“She cares so incredibly deeply about our school that she will always extend herself to assist anywhere possible,” Barnes added. “There is never a student on whose behalf she wouldn’t go above beyond. There is never a task or a cause that she will not champion on behalf of our students and our school.”

Vachula-Curtis credited her wide range of involvement to being “really invested” on a personal level and feeling “like it’s who (she is) as a person to be working here.”

“I think the school being a successful and really positive place just matters so much to all aspects of my life,” she said. “I really care. It’s not just a job. I love going out into the community, going to Food City and seeing my students working there or going to their sports games or going to their productions.”

Beck concluded his speech by saying he is “constantly amazed” at Vachula-Curtis’ dedication to the Turners Falls High School and Great Falls Middle School communities. Vachula-Curtis looks to assure those around her that her dedication is unwavering.

“I can’t imagine working somewhere else,” she said.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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