Fremd’s Elza named as finalist in 2015 Illinois Teacher of the Year


Photo Courtesy: Rucha Patel

Ethan Wong, Staff Writer

Applied Tech teacher Steve Elza is one of the finalists for the 2015 Illinois Teacher of the Year award, including 11 other teachers from other districts around the state.  The Illinois State Board of Education annually sponsors the awards as a part of the “Those Who Excel” award program, which awards numerous figures who significantly contribute to the state’s education system.

When the school year began, Elza received the news about his nomination, but it didn’t seem like news at first.

“On the first day of school, Mr. Tenopir, comes to me and says, ‘I need to see you in my office,’ which is one of the last things you want to hear on the first day,” Elza said.  “So I stepped inside his office and I see the superintendent, Mr. Cates, and then they close the door, shake my hand and say, ‘Congratulations, you made it to the top 12.’”

Elza explains how shocked he was at his nomination, as he believes that students should always be the top priority.

“When I was told I was nominated for the Illinois Teacher of the Year award, I was speechless, and I’m rarely speechless,” Elza said.  “I’m not one who’s usually in the limelight, because I like putting the kids out there. The kids are what we’re here for.”

Past D211 award winners include Fremd physical education teacher Andrew Kittrell and Palatine High School’s “Palatine’s Promise”

State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch spoke about how the program allows the state to discover and award the people responsible for the high standards set in education.

“This program gives us the opportunity to meet outstanding educators at every level and recognize leadership and achievements in classrooms throughout Illinois,” Koch said. “Their passion, creativity and commitment to students is an inspiration. We are pleased to publicly recognize the individuals who make a difference in students’ lives every day.”

Sophomore Vince Hoffman, who takes Elza’s autos class, describes how Elza goes the extra mile for his students in class.

“Mr. Elza has gone above and beyond the necessary duties of a teacher,” Hoffman said.  “Elza is a great automotive teacher and really a nice guy, but above all that, he always seems willing to sacrifice his own time to help a student improve not just in his class but in whatever their needs may be.”

For seven years, Elza has taught numerous automotive courses at Fremd and is a sponsor of Fremd’s Auto Club.  Many schools across the nation do not have very large vocational education programs such as automotive or applied tech courses due to the high cost to maintain them.

Vocational education, as well as career and technology courses such as automotive tech have been in decline for the past decade or so with figures showing that from 1990 to 2009, credits earned by students in vocational education courses have decreased, while other subjects such as mathematics and science have steadily increased.

Elza believes in today’s day and age, the awareness and need for vocational education is high, due to the changing generations of workers and believes these awards and nominations will turn eyes towards this cause, along with the “Those Who Excel” program.

“When you look at hands-on, vocational education, there has been a large deficit recently,” Elza said.  “In the seventies and eighties, there was a high demand for these types of courses, such as applied tech and engineering, but everything started to slow down when everything started to go overseas. Now we’re seeing all of these baby boomers who had these jobs retiring, who are going to take their positions?  We’re getting a large push for these vocational education, and it’s extremely hard to get these courses ramped up again. It costs a ton of money, but it’s needed, and hopefully I’m in a position where I can change this, and bring awareness to this. There’s a lot of jobs in this.”

The 2015 Illinois Teacher of the Year will be named on Oct. 25 at the “Those Who Excel” banquet by the Illinois State Board of Education.