Viktora looks back

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Steven Viktora, New Trier’s math department chair for the past 21 years, was hired in 1991 with previous experience as a member of the Peace Corps in Africa and as a teacher at neighboring C.P.S. schools. With past environments that starkly contrast the affluent North Shore, Viktora naturally sees how New Trier differs in numerous ways.

One trait that seems unique to New Trier is the relationship between faculty and administration. “Teaching at schools like Kenwood Academy, there was a sense of tense antagonism,” began Viktora. “Here, the administration respects teachers as the professionals they are and trusts them to do their job.” That same trust can be said to be extended to New Trier’s student population, which tends to be less socioeconomically diverse than those Viktora taught in past years. He commented, “Even though you expect to be surrounded by Type A personalities, the atmosphere is still laid back. You see kids eating or doing homework by their lockers or strolling through the halls without a hall pass.”

After establishing a sense of New Trier’s identity, Viktora has also noticed how it’s changed in the past two decades. For one thing, student enrollment has risen from 2,700 to 4,000. Also, high school athletics have evolved; Viktora cited New Trier’s Matt Lottich, a grad from the class of 2000, who finished his senior year all-state in basketball, baseball and football and went on to play basketball at Stanford.

“Sports have become much more specialized. It’s unlikely you see a kid like [Lottich] excelling in more than one varsity sport anymore,” said Viktora. That doesn’t mean New Trier doesn’t have a strong athletics department. Viktora referenced a 2005 Sports Illustrated article that ranked New Trier as the best high school for sports in Illinois and the 12th best in the country.

Nonetheless, some things have stayed the same. Viktora sees New Trier’s academics and reputation as relatively unchanged over the years. “We’ve always had a great school that parents really support and expect a lot out of. Unfortunately, it has led to more negative opinions on this institution than should be,” Viktora observed. “I’ve had graduates come back and remark how the teachers here were better than their college professors.”

Moreover, Viktora sees us as the instigators of change: “We were on the front edge with the SILC system, iPad integration and new computer calculators,” he said.

All in all, having met his wife here, the social studies department chair Debbie Johnson, Viktora is content to enjoy his math department chair position and “good life” with “well-behaved students” at New Trier for the remainder of his career.

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