By Anne Ruisi
It wasn’t a good time to get a job in physics when William LaCasse finished his Ph.D. in 1972. With few opportunities in the field, he accepted what he thought would be a temporary job at Indian Springs School that fall.
Five decades later, LaCasse, 78, is about to start his 51st year of teaching in the classroom when Indian Springs reopens Aug. 12 for the new school year.
“I’ve enjoyed it a lot. I’ve been here 50 years, but no two years have been the same,” LaCasse said.
Head of School Scott Schamberger praised LaCasse in remarks made at a faculty meeting when the teacher was marking his 50th year on campus. He described LaCasse as “a titan at Indian Springs, quietly and diligently going about his business of shaping young minds and transforming lives.”
“I am a believer that we stand upon the shoulders of the giants that came before us. In the case of Dr. LaCasse, I find myself incredibly fortunate that he is still standing among us as a true stalwart of the Indian Springs faculty,” Schamberger concluded.
LaCasse was born in Minnesota, but his childhood was spent traveling, as his father was in the Air Force. After high school, he attended St. John’s University, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts in math and physics.
From there, he headed south to Vanderbilt University in Nashville for his doctorate in physics. He finished the five-year Ph.D. program in 1972. Initially, he wanted to work in applied physics and looked for a job in the industry, such as in a lab.
“It was a very bad time to get in physics,” LaCasse said.
He did hear he could interview for a high school teaching job, and the interviewer in Nashville was going to be the head of Indian Springs School. He also had an interview with the outgoing head and was invited to join the faculty to teach physics.
While he thought he was going to teach for just a year and then look for opportunities outside the academic realm, he stayed for a second year, then a third, a fourth and after decades, marked 50 years with the private school last year.
“It was great material to work with, and the subject material itself, I enjoyed teaching it,” LaCasse said of the curriculum. “There was a good caliber of students.”
At that time, physics was a required course for all students at what was then an all-boys school. In his second year at Indian Springs, LaCasse started teaching math. While teaching, he earned his teaching accreditation through the University of Montevallo.
LaCasse also was involved in extracurricular activities, such as prepping students for the Scholars’ Bowl, the National Science Bowl and the United States Academic Decathlon.
He taught math and physics in past years, but he’s been teaching only math for the past dozen, since he’s gone to part-time. This year he’ll teach differential equations in the first semester and calculus in the second. Both classes are optional, and so the students who sign up are motivated, LaCasse said.
“Some wanted to get ahead in their math and science in AP classes. Other students wanted to take the classes now and never have to take math again,” LaCasse said.
LaCasse Watches Indian Springs Change
In his half-century at Indian Springs, the school and the campus have changed a lot, he said. In the early 1970s, for example, the campus was isolated, as Interstate 65 hadn’t been built through Shelby County. Now it is a short drive to the state’s major north-south highway. The school also is co-ed now.
Indian Springs’ student population has grown over the years, LaCasse said. When he started teaching in 1972, there were 202 students and now there are about 325, Director of Communications Rachel Preskitt said.
Until he moved to part-time status, LaCasse lived on campus, as do many of the full-time faculty. Once he started working part-time, he got his own home off-campus.
And while he doesn’t keep up with his past students on social media as some teachers do, he does enjoy seeing them at alumni gatherings and similar events.
In his off-time, LaCasse likes to occasionally play golf, with the links at Oak Mountain a favorite.