Morris High School graduate Craig Ortiz says he knew from the time he was a child in elementary school that he would become a teacher.
Ortiz grew up with several teachers in the community who inspired him to fulfill his dreams of becoming a teacher.
“They made teaching look easy,” Ortiz said. “They made it look fun. I had such a respect for teachers and I loved learning. For me, I felt like teaching was something I knew I wanted to do.”
Ortiz made his dream a reality when he graduated from Northern Illinois University and continued on for his master’s degree from Aurora University and then his superintendent certification and doctorate in education from the University of St. Francis.
After teaching for one year in Kankakee, he returned to his roots in Morris, teaching math for 23 years before becoming superintendent.
“Math was always the subject that came easily for me, but I always knew it didn’t come easy for most and I enjoyed explaining it,” Ortiz said. “When I got into high school I tutored a little bit and I just found it was something I could do and make a difference.”
Ortiz always made class enjoyable for his students, regardless of the difficulty.
“Dr. Ortiz pushed me to be a better student in his class,” said Amanda Hiller, a former student. “He always made sure it was enjoyable.”
For Ortiz, it is important that he inspire his students to become who they want to be and not what society specifically asks them to be, he said.
“It’s more important now than ever for students to be true to themselves and follow their instincts,” Ortiz said. “A lot of students do not know what they want to do when they grow up and a lot of times they get beaten up for that – like what do you mean you don’t know? It is okay to not know.”
Throughout his career he maintains a relationship with his students, an aspect of his career he finds the most memorable.
“I still run into students I taught 15 or 20 years ago and they will tell me what they are doing, where they are at in life,” Ortiz said. “It is the greatest reward of teaching, seeing what students become and seeing who they become.”
His love for students and the community shines brighter as a superintendent, believing stability is the best way to move forward after the past few years.
“I definitely want us to learn from the last few years and strengthen what we can in terms of curriculum and instruction,” Ortiz said.
“I think that is the most important thing, to ensure we are meeting kids’ educational, social, and emotional needs,” he said. “Morris High School feels very much like a family. People enjoy being here, we have quite a few alumni on staff.”
Overall, Ortiz just wants students to know that their dreams matter.
“Right now, they are preparing for jobs that don’t exist,” he said. “There will be jobs in 10 years that I have no idea what it is, because they are not there. It is okay to follow your heart and not do what other people want you to do, really think about what you want.”