The 'game-changing' educator who will end College of DuPage deadlock

  • Lazaro Lopez

    Lazaro Lopez

 
 
Updated 2/11/2016 6:35 AM

The man charged with choosing the next member of the College of DuPage board is a "game-changing" educator -- the son of Cuban immigrants who joined the Army after high school because he lacked direction but who now is a rising star on Illinois' education landscape.

As the newest chairman of the Illinois Community College Board, Lazaro Lopez -- whose full-time job is assistant superintendent of teaching and learning at Northwest Suburban High School District 214 -- will break the deadlock on the COD board.

 

It's a decision charged with political electricity, but Lopez is getting used to being in the spotlight.

As a principal, he transformed Wheeling High School into a science and technology-focused school with the state's first high school nanotechnology lab, which then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called a model of innovation. In 2013, Lopez was Illinois Principal of the Year.

Gov. Bruce Rauner named him to his transition team in 2014 and then asked him to lead the community college board.

"He's logical," said Bill Dussling, a longtime District 214 school board member. "He's going to pick someone (for COD) who is going to be outstanding for that board."

A request to interview Lopez was denied by Rauner's staff, but a look at his background and quick rise may help point to how he will approach the tough decision that could come in the next few days.

In a profile written by Roosevelt University, where Lopez got his master's degree in educational administration, Lopez said he was the first in his family to go to college. He admits to struggling in high school and joined the Army right after graduating, as a noncommissioned officer stationed in South Korea.

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He came home and worked a variety of jobs before deciding to become an educator.

"I decided I needed to help those who, like me, were struggling to find a path," he told the interviewer.

Newly motivated, he started with an associate degree in 1996 from COD. In 2010, he received his doctorate of education degree from Aurora University.

Lopez, 48, taught English at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, was hired as an assistant principal at Harry D. Jacobs High School in Algonquin in 2004, and was named Wheeling High School principal in 2007.

While a teacher Lopez was on the union's board of directors, but his personal politics are not plainly evident. According to the Cook County clerk's office, he pulled Democratic ballots in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 presidential primaries, but in the March 2014 gubernatorial primary he took a Republican ballot.

Dussling said that from what he knows of Lopez, he won't fall into the politics and drama that has plagued the College of DuPage in recent months but will make a decision with students in mind.

"You look at him and know, this is not just a high school guy. This is a guy who understands education all the way up," Dussling said. "His whole focus is for students and what can be done to do a better job for them. This guy is a game changer."

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