NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Quidnessett Elementary School special education teacher Tara George and Hamilton Elementary School teaching assistant Nancy Ciccone have been named the 2019 North Kingstown School District Teacher of the Year and Educational Support Professional of the Year respectively.
The awards, which are named before the start of each school year, are given to teachers and educational support professionals who are nominated and then selected by their peers for extraordinary service to their students and fellow staff members.
For George, who was the first teacher in QES history to be named Teacher of the Year, the award came as both a shock and an honor.
“I was shocked, mostly because there’s so many incredible educators that I work with, so it was just difficult for me in a way to accept it because I just think about all the amazing educators that I work with every day and how deserving they are,” George said. “I’m really proud to represent our school. I really love our school and the community that we have is very powerful.”
George said she was proud not only to represent her school, but special education in general.
I’m very passionate about special education in general and just kind of honored to represent my school but also the special educators in my district,” she said. “They’re a remarkable group of teachers.”
George, who is going into her 17th year as a teacher at QES, wasn’t always set on being an educator.
Though she says she had always considered teaching, George first attended the University of Rhode Island and received a bachelor’s degree in business and worked in the field for several years, but soon realized she was unhappy with her career path.
“I just wasn’t happy with what I was doing and realized that your job is a big part of your life,” George said. “I wanted to wake up every day and be able to go to a job that I felt good about.”
George began volunteering at schools part-time, frequently finding herself helping out with special education classes, where she says she finally found the fulfilling career she always wanted.
“I went back to school and got my teaching degree and definitely met my goal in terms of how I wake up every day and I’m glad to go to my job,” George said. “I love my job, I feel super lucky to be in the position I’m in, that I can come to work every day and work with these amazing kids and try to help them as much as I can.”
“(The kids) are the ones that make me want to come back every day,” George said. “They’re amazing.”
For Ciccone, her award also came as a shock.
“It was shocking to find out (I’d been nominated), I was very surprised,” she said. “It’s humbling, and it makes me feel appreciated that people recognized what I do every day.”
Like George, Ciccone also initially set off on a different career path. An art major in college, she first worked teaching after-school and adult art classes, but said changes in her personal life led her to need a job with health benefits, so she used her previous experience to move into the world of elementary education.
Ciccone says interacting with kids every day is the most fulfilling part of her job, and recalled a recent incident that reminded her of how much she loves doing what she does.
“I got a walkie talkie call to come to front office please and one of the students who I worked closely with last year had come to visit me, he’d moved on to the middle school this year,” Ciccone said. “That’s the stuff that makes you feel really rewarded because they remember you and they want to maintain some sort of contact with you.”
As for the HES community, Ciccone says she couldn’t be happier to be part of it.
“It’s a wonderful, supportive community,” she said. “People are just incredibly helpful, kind, we all just go out of our way to help one another and our children that we have in the school and their families are very supportive of us as well as the school community, it’s really all the way around.”