Jaffrey’s Victory High founder looks back at long career 

  • Longtime Victory High School Principal Lorna Letorneau is set to retire after more than 50 years in education. Staff photo by Abby Kessler

  • From left: Heather Furlong and Lorna Letorneau sit in an office at Victory High School on Tuesday. Staff photo by Abby Kessler

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/13/2018 2:32:39 PM

Standing at the podium on graduation day earlier this month longtime Victory High School Principal Lorna Letourneau didn’t know quite what to say.

“I was really kind of nervous about the whole thing, you know speaking at graduation for the last time, and my mind went blank,” Letourneau said sitting at her desk at the school in Jaffrey Tuesday morning.

She stood at the podium for a moment, and then something came.  

“At the very end, that’s what I remember, I think I said, ‘I give all of the honor, and courage and glory to God,” she said. “And that’s the key.”

Letourneau graduated from Keene State College in 1957, worked in the public school system for 22 years, opened Victory High School and has led it for 30 years. At 82 years old, Letourneau said her eyesight has become so bad that she has to retire.

Heather Furlong, who had known of Letourneau for a long time through a network of people affiliated with the school, plans to take over as principal.

Furlong said she has a masters in healthcare administration, but her heart is in education.

“I want to ensure that kids get the best exposure to the realities that face them after they graduate,” Furlong said.

Victory is an alternative high school aimed at students “who might otherwise find it difficult functioning in a standard educational setting,” according to its website.

The school offers standard academic studies and also includes life skills courses and classes on morals and values. It also encourages students to work up to 20 hours per week at various businesses in the Monadnock Region.

“[Letourneau’s] on the innovative edge with having the kids work. She’s also had them learn life skills,” Furlong said, adding that public schools are only now starting to emphasize things like vocational programs.

Furlong said she heard Letourneau was leaving and that the school was in danger of closing its doors altogether if someone didn’t step up and take it over.

“It’s an important option for high school in the area and it has helped so many people over the years and I said, ‘we can’t let it go,’” Furlong said.

Letourneau’s story

Letourneau was working in the public school system and had four children of her own when everything changed.

Her husband left her and she was left to raise their children on her own. She said she was devastated and tried to take her own life at one point. She lived through the suicide attempt, and the hardship ultimately led her to the Lord, she said.

“It changed my life,” Letourneau said about the tragedy.

Eventually, she quit her job in the public school system and went to a bible school. After two years of bible studies, she started substitute teaching in a high school.

“I saw these boys sitting in the back of the room doing nothing and nobody cared,” Letourneau said. “My heart went out to them.”

She took a particular interest in the children who were on the path of dropping out or being kicked out of school.

Growing up, Letourneau said she was a good student. She loved to read and always did well in school.  She worked closely with a friend to develop a plan to open a school focused on providing students with close academic and social attention, and a sense of order, respect and love. The New Hampshire Department of Education approved the plan in 1990. The school has been accredited ever since, she said.

She started out alone, working so many hours that she would be cross-eyed at the end of the night. Now, she employs three other teachers and has had class sizes larger than 50.

The students come from all walks of life, from those seeking vocational job skills, to those facing jail time or a teen pregnancy.

“I had some cowboys, I had some rough kids,” she said. ” … I loved them all.”

Louise Simonetta has taught at Victory for eight years.

“Lorna never quit on a student no matter how bad they were, how nutty they were,” Simonetta said.

Simonetta said before she started teaching at Victory, there was a student who went to jail while he was still enrolled in school. Letourneau traveled back and forth to the jail to bring work to the student.

“She truly loved her students,” Simonetta said.

New beginnings

At graduation this year, Simonetta gave a speech themed around new beginnings.

She said she spoke about the topic in relation to students going out into the world, Letourneau’s retirement, and the school as a whole now that it’s under new leadership.

Letourneau said it’s been hard to let go of the position after all these years.

“When you’ve done something for 30 years and 22 years in public schools it’s so part of you that, I think, ‘where am I going to go? What am I going to do?” she said.

She’s interested in working with people who are 25 to 35 years old age bracket. She’ll likely spend more time with her four children, 12 grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren.

She hopes to come back to Victory as a guest speaker and maybe serve on its board, but that will be something she has to work out with Furlong.

“You’re always a servant,” Letourneau said.

On Wednesday morning, Letourneau said she had a slower morning. She had time to wash her hair, which she had typically done at night to save time. She still has some things to do at the school, but now that the students have graduated, things have slowed down.

Simonetta plans to continue teaching at Victory. She said she will miss Letourneau.

“Her faithfulness and her love that’s what we’re going to miss,” Simonetta said. “Her love for God is out of the park.”

A retirement party for Letourneau is planned for Thursday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Victory High School. All are welcome.

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.

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