The trader turned teacher
After making his fortune by age 27, this Gainesville native looked for meaning beyond Wall Street, and found it as an inspirational high school math teacher
Published: Monday, January 11, 2010 at 3:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 11, 2010 at 3:18 p.m.
During his brief, six-year stint as a bond trader on Wall Street in the 1980s, Will Frazer made enough money to retire by the time he was 27 years old.
OCCUPATION: Math teacher at Buchholz High School
EDUCATION:- Bachelor's degree in accounting from the University of Florida, 1980
FAMILY: Married to Jenny; two sons, ages 5 and 3
HOMETOWN: Will is a native of Gainesville who graduated from Buchholz High School in 1976
"I was in my early 20s, dealing with crazy amounts of money. I didn't feel I was mature enough to handle it and I kind of didn't like who I was," Frazer says of his decision to leave Wall Street in 1986.
Frazer, who is now 50 and teaches math at Buchholz High School, returned to North Central Florida until he could figure out where he wanted to live and how he wanted to spend the rest of his life.
"For about 11 years, I didn't have an income or job," Frazer says of his transition from Wall Street mogul to high school math teacher. "I spent a lot of that time just living the good life. I bought a couple of Ferraris — I like to drive … drive fast. I played a lot of golf, a lot of basketball."
After a while, however, the good life started to grow stale. Frazer began looking for something more meaningful to do with his time. He volunteered as a golf coach for area high schools and as a financial consultant for the city of Gainesville, helping to manage its pension fund. But he yearned to do more.
When Frazer inquired about teaching in the Finance Academy at Buchholz High School, the principal offered him a math class instead.
The moment he stepped into the classroom, Frazer was hooked.
"When I look back on my life — the coaching, the financial advising — even while I was on Wall Street working with the younger bond traders, I've been teaching," he says.
One day during his first full year teaching Algebra 2 Honors at Buchholz, Frazer found a flier in his mailbox for a February math competition in Central Florida. He invited a handful of his best students to participate.
"We went and we got killed," Frazer recalls. But on the bus ride home, the students peppered Frazer with questions about how to solve the math problems that had stumped them during the competition. Frazer admits that even he needed to buy a little time to solve a few of the problems.
"This stuff was hard!" he says. But the students were undaunted. And they struck a deal with him: "The kids said, if we practice and win a trophy, you've got to throw us a party at Black Diamond." At the time, Frazer was living at this exclusive gated golf community near Crystal River and commuting to Gainesville to teach. Frazer, whose competitive streak had served him well on Wall Street, accepted the challenge.
During the following month's competition, the students placed fifth and won a trophy — along with the party at Black Diamond. By 2001, the team was winning state competitions and placing in national competitions. And during the past five years, the Buchholz math team that Frazer founded in 1998 has won five state championships and three straight national championships. This year, Frazer hopes his students will be the first ever to win four national championships in a row.
But adding to Buchholz' trophy case isn't all Frazer has done for his high school alma mater. He started offering advanced math classes at Buchholz that were more in line with the skill level the students needed to do well in the math competitions. He now teaches economics and other courses in Buchholz' Finance Academy. And he has helped put Buchholz on the "A" list for recruiters from such elite universities as Cal Tech and MIT.
"If you can connect your subject to the real world, you get kids interested," Frazer says of his ability to demonstrate how math skills are applicable not just in the scientific community, but also in the world of finance, business and economics. "I feel that's my job, to get kids excited."
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