COTTONWOOD - It's not uncommon for children to bond with their teachers. But for Jessica Vocca, that association was the first sign she would grow up to become an educator.
"When I was in elementary school, I loved my teachers," says Vocca, who was recently named principal at Cottonwood Elementary School. "Looking back now, I knew that I wanted to make that impact. But back then, I didn't make that connection."
Fast forward to 2003, Vocca's first year in the classroom, a second-grade teacher at Cottonwood Elementary School. She reached her goal, which her husband says is not common these days.
"My wife's one of the few people I know who actually did what she set out to do," said Frank Vocca, code enforcement officer with the City of Sedona's Community Development Department. "She's a very intelligent person, and she always tries hard. She's always committed to doing her best."
Also having taught kindergarten and third grade before she served as the gifted cluster teacher for third grade, Title I reading specialist, then culture specialist, Vocca now prepares for her first year leading a school - something she has wanted for the past few years.
Preparing to be a school's lead administrator meant going back to school to earn her Master's Degree in education administration from Grand Canyon University. When Jason Douvikas recently announced he was leaving Cottonwood Elementary School to become principal at South Verde High School in Camp Verde, Vocca says she "immediately" knew she was ready to lead a school.
"I had everything ready," says Vocca, who had also interviewed to become the school's principal a year ago when Randy Koeppe stepped down. "When it came up, I would try again."
According to COCSD Assistant Superintendent Steve King, what made Vocca stand out was her "ability to build positive relationships, her knowledge of good, instructional practices and her knowledge of the community."
Vocca says her first goal as principal is to develop "strong relationships with the teachers, students and parents."
"All of that will help me build a culture of collaboration in the school," Vocca says.
Vocca also says she plans to have a "heavy presence" in her school, to know all of the students, as well as the teachers.
"Being a part of the classroom culture, the biggest contact out in the school," Vocca says. "When they're at recess, I'll be at recess. When they're in the cafeteria, I'll be in the cafeteria. I'll get to know the kids, hear their stories. Give them [my] time. They're all important to listen to."
Born in Cottonwood, Vocca lived a few early-childhood years in Sedona before her family returned to Cottonwood just in time for her to start middle school. With the exception of her time away at college - NAU - Vocca has lived most of her life in Cottonwood.
"She's been with the district 14 years," says King, Vocca's supervisor this year. "She has very deep roots in the community."