Faculty & Staff Departures from LFA

Ella Gartz and Nghi Doan

Lake Forest Academy is known for its tight-knit community as its campus is home to not only students but also devoted faculty and staff members. A few of those members will be making bittersweet departures from LFA after the 2021-2022 school year. We can not thank them enough for their time and dedication here, and we wish them only the best for the future. 


Dr. Aviral Pathak has been a passionate soccer coach, committed dorm parent, and beloved teacher in the Department of History and Social Studies for the last four years. He has taught government and politics, world history, and a philosophy course, which he first introduced to the Academy. Pathak has spent a lot of time at the university level and said that “while university courses can be very instrumental, LFA is more eager and energetic” when it comes to the subject of government and politics. “Dr. Pathak helped to lead the ISACS Self-Study for the History & Social Science department, through which he led us to take a deeper look at implicit biases in our curriculum,” mentioned Tom Johnson, the Dean of Faculty, “[He] has pushed us to think more progressively about our curriculum.” Pathak will be moving to New England over the summer with his fiancée, who will be working at Dartmouth College next year. Pathak said that “this is not goodbye” as he hopes to regularly visit his LFA colleagues, friends, and family in the Midwest. 


Debbie Witmer has been an enthusiastic chemistry and biology teacher for the last five years at LFA and has served as the Science Department Chair for the last two. “I have always been impressed by her dedication to her students and her willingness to pitch in,” Johnson said, “[she] has been deeply engaged in the life of the community, serving on the Faculty Advisory Council, to which she was elected by her peers, serving as a class advisor to this year’s senior class, and coaching volleyball.” Witmer came to LFA from a school over sixty miles away and with twenty years of teaching experience. “I had never worked at a boarding school before,” Witmer said, “I felt like I would try something new and I fell in love with it!” She will be staying in the independent school world as she moves on to be the STEM Director at an all-boys boarding school in Pennsylvania, it is “called the Church Farm School, which is funny because it’s not a church or a farm!” Witmer said. She is also excited to finish her last class before working on her dissertation this summer, as she pursues a doctorate degree.


Teresa Zaiff has worked as the Dean of Students Officer Manager since 2009. She has played a vital role in bridging together the Academy, students, and parents on a day-to-day basis as well as coordinated many large-scale events. “She works exceptionally hard, is attentive to detail, and cares deeply about LFA,” Chris Tennyson, the Dean of Students, said. In an interview, reflecting on her experience, Zaiff talked a lot about the importance of “fairness” and “respect” in an office that has to address when “teenagers make mistakes” and discipline. Her lasting advice is “For the students, be good to yourself, you are so blessed to be on this campus… you can be who you want to be.” Zaiff will be retiring this year and hopes to move closer to the lake. As for her next project, Zaiff said, “I have been collecting vintage clothing for about 40 years, so I have racks and racks of clothes and boxes… I am hoping to get that off the ground and make a virtual store and sell my stuff.” 


Diego Duran-Medina, the Executive Director of the Stuart Center, and Patrick Coyle, the Chief Communications Officer, will also be leaving the Academy this year. It was great to see the programs that they were able to advance in their time here. 


Steve Ryder will also be retiring after 37 years at the Academy (his story was covered in the last Spectator edition).