Illinois State Board of Education Announces the 2015 Illinois Teacher of the Year

Steven Elza from William Fremd High School in Township High School District 211 Named 2015 Illinois Teacher of the Year

NORMAL, IL – The Illinois State Board of Education named Steven Elza, an automotive technology teacher at William Fremd High School, the 2015 Illinois Teacher of the Year. One of 12 finalists, Elza was announced as this year’s top educator during Saturday night’s 40th annual Those Who Excel/Illinois Teacher of the Year banquet in Normal.

“Steve is an important role model both for his students, colleagues and for those individuals thinking about a career as a teacher,” said State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. “His pathway into teaching, including his experience in being mentored, is an important story for others to hear about as the field of teaching experiences decreased enrollments. As a career technical educator, he also will be able to provide much-needed insights into the preparation of students for high-paying and rewarding careers.”

Steve wasn’t interested in school until the end of his sophomore year in high school when an opportunity arose that would change his life — he was offered the chance to attend the Technology Center of DuPage (TCD) to specialize in automotive technology. The program director, Jim Krudl, became his mentor and lifelong friend. He inspired, encouraged and supported Steve as the future began to take shape. College hadn’t been a part of Steve’s plan until Krudl asked him to visit Southern Illinois University. Steve obliged and, in his words, “fell in love.” He was the first person in his family to attend college and graduate.

The idea of teaching wasn’t on his radar until Krudl again intervened and told him about an opening at the Technology Center of DuPage, where Steve had studied in high school.  Steve quickly discovered teaching was his dream job.

Steve builds relationships with his students just as his mentor, Krudl, did with students at TCD.  He’s known for his extraordinary efforts to support each student in his classroom.

“Before the end of every year, Mr. Elza has a one-to-one discussion with all of his students and helps them establish their high school exit strategy,” said Kurt Tenopir, principal at Fremd. “With freshman and seniors alike, Mr. Elza discusses what each student’s goals are and assists them in developing a plan that will provide each student with the knowledge of being as successful as they possibly can be. These life-altering discussions between Mr. Elza and his students should be administered to all students by all educators.”

A graduate of Southern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Science in automotive technology, Steve also holds two Master of Education degrees from Southern and has earned numerous other certifications. Steve’s automotive technology program has achieved National Automotive Technician Education Foundation certification. Township High School District 211 is the first high school district in the state to have all of its schools achieve this distinction. Only 4 percent of all high schools in the United States achieve this certification. Additionally, Steve has led students to multiple state and national competitions, where his students have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships and materials.

A former student described Steve’s teaching in this way: “From the basic automotive technology class to the weekly Auto Club, he puts his students before many other priorities and makes many sacrifices for his students. Always promoting school events and participating in any way possible, he teaches the meaning of becoming part of something bigger than yourself.”

Last year’s Teacher of the Year was Pam Reilly, a second-grade teacher at Woodbury Elementary School in Sandwich CUSD 430.

This year, more than 230 nominations for Those Who Excel were reviewed and scored three times by a selection committee composed of administrators, teachers and school board members. Principals, faculty, parents and students submit letters on behalf of candidates as part of the nomination process.

The 12 finalists for Teacher of the Year were interviewed and videotaped, and those interviews were scored again before going to State Superintendent Koch for a final decision.

As Illinois Teacher of the Year, Steve will have opportunities to share his knowledge and expertise outside the classroom. Beginning in the 2015 spring semester, Steve will be available to speak at teaching workshops, educational conferences and community meetings. He will represent Illinois at the NASA Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., and in the National Teacher of the Year program sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers and ING. Steve will also receive products from SMARTer Kids.