Next year, math teacher Steve Ellis will come full circle with his teaching career, retiring after 39 years from the same place he began his career.
“A friend from college was teaching at Lake Zurich High School and that’s how I got my foot into the door,” said Ellis.
Since then, he has taught every math class LZHS has offered. For the last 24 years, he has taken on teaching Advanced Placement calculus classes and, according to Math Department Chairman Jeff Biven, “prepared and guided over 800 students for one of the advanced placement calculus exams.”
Ellis has a 90% success rate in his students achieving a score of three or more. According to The College Board, which administers the Advanced Placement exams, a score of at least three "is regarded as an indicator of an ability to do successful work at most colleges."
“You have to have high expectations and the kids respond to that,” said Ellis.
“Mr. Ellis is a great teacher and I’ve learned so much from him,” said James Conlon, a Lake Zurich senior.
For 14 years, Ellis served as the varsity girls soccer coach and for nine years he was the freshman wrestling coach.
“I've gotten so much out of coaching the kids, but when my daughters started becoming active in sports, I stepped down from coaching so I could watch them play,” said Ellis.
He’s seen LZHS go through many changes during his 38 years as a teacher.
“Lake Zurich was predominately a blue-collar town when I first started working here,” recalls Ellis. “The kids were a lot tougher and now it’s so different.”
A highlight of his career was being named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the .
“I was shocked when I was named,” said Ellis, “I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I’ve had the privilege of teaching these fabulous kids.”
He was chosen among six other teachers in Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95.
“Lake Zurich High School and the students of Lake Zurich High School have greatly benefited by the hard work that Mr. Ellis does day-in and day-out,” said Biven.
Ellis does have a few tricks up his sleeve to keep students engaged.
“A teacher has to be a good storyteller, and using your real-life examples makes it interesting and engaging for them,” he explained. “I like to tease and joke with my students. Sometimes you just have to have fun.”
Ellis resides in Wauconda with his wife Nancy, who he met in college in physics class.
“I’d leave pieces of candy in her desk,” said Ellis.
They have been married for 36 years and have three daughters - Jenny, Katie and Tammy.
He looks forward to spending time with his wife when he retires and possibly doing missionary work overseas.
“Nancy is my best friend, and to travel to a foreign country and help others would be incredible,” said Ellis. “The world is open to us.”
For right now, he plans on enjoying his last year as a math teacher at LZHS. Coincidentally, his replacement has the same last name, Dan Ellis.
“I’ve been lucky to teach the cream-of-the-crop kids at LZHS,” said Ellis. “I’ll miss my time here, but look forward to starting a new chapter in my life.”