Sussex Tech teacher named Delaware's 2018 Teacher of the Year

Virginia Forcucci becomes second winner in five years from her school
October 24, 2017

A high school English teacher from Sussex Tech High School was chosen Delaware’s 2018 Teacher of the Year.

A 20-year teacher, Virginia “Jinni” Forcucci was named Oct. 17 out of 20 district and charter teachers vying for the honor.

Teachers must be good examples for their students, she said.

“We must maintain high expectations for our students, model compassion and reward exploration. My sincere hope is that when we devote ourselves to lifelong learning and empathy, our students will, too,” Forcucci said.

Forcucci became an educator because of her love of literature, but, she said, her students are her inspiration. She said she remembers a lot of blank stares and disinterest when she first began teaching, and she questioned the school curricula, her teaching strategies and her motivation for becoming a teacher.

So, she said, she worked on her approach and realized that students were more insecure and misdirected than she realized. They needed an advocate, which she became.

In a letter nominating her former teacher, Zoe James-Collins said Forcucci uses literature “to overturn perspectives, to generate critical thought and fruitful discussion, and, ultimately and inevitably in her classroom, to change lives.”

“My classmates and I would often joke that her class was like church: We’d leave her sanctuary each day renewed, enlightened and inspired to be a better person … for many of us, she was the agent of change she urged us to be,” James-Collins said.

Forcucci's fellow English teacher also praised the connections she makes with students.

“Whether she’s laughing so hard at a clever comment from a class clown or suffering along with a student as they share their darkest moment in a piece for creative writing, Virginia Forcucci will cry. Her passion shows through tears,” Anthony Natoli, Sussex Tech English teacher, wrote in his nomination letter. “That’s what makes Virginia Forcucci special. That’s what makes her an incredible educator. That’s what makes her an incredible person.”

Forcucci said she found what best motivates learning is demanding content, freedom to explore and academic discourse. With this discovery, she redesigned her curriculum, enhancing rigor and relying more on student-driven discussions. Even her most resistant learners responded.

Forcucci said she works to encourage her students to understand all sides of an argument before formulating a perspective, and to seek common ground as they search for a resolution.

“We live in a climate right now where lines are often drawn in the sand. Instead of listening to one another, we’re thinking about what to say. Instead of considering the perspective of ‘the other,’ we judge or we ignore,” Forcucci said. “Sitting in a circle, my seniors debate media’s impact on race relations, the need for solitude in self-discovery, the absence of cultural literacy in our schools – and I’m inspired.”

Forcucci is the second Sussex Tech English teacher to win state honors in five years. John Sell, now co-superintendent and a school administrator, was named Delaware's Teacher of the Year in 2012.

As Teacher of the Year, Forcucci will address community groups, business leaders, legislators, and educational organizations to inform the public about the status of Delaware schools. She also will become Delaware’s candidate in the National Teacher of the Year Program, a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers sponsored by the Voya Foundation.

By action of the General Assembly, she will receive a $5,000 grant to use for the educational benefit of her students, as well two personal grants totaling an additional $5,000. The remaining 19 school district/charter candidates each will receive a personal grant of $2,000, said Alison May, spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Education.

Forcucci also will receive: a $1,000 grant for educational/classroom use from American Institutes for Research; grants from the Delaware State Education Association and the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce; a State of Delaware Teacher of the Year commemorative plate from the Division of Motor Vehicles; free graduate-level courses from Delaware’s higher education institutions, including a full doctorate program from Wilmington University; and various other awards.