After Dr. Lazaro Lopez graduated high school he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. He joined the U.S. Army and, after completing his military service, bounced between jobs while looking for his path. Not until a few years later did he become the first in his family to go to college. He started with an associate’s degree from College of DuPage before working all the way up to a doctorate of education from Aurora University.
As the associate superintendent for teaching and learning at Arlington Heights-based Northwest Suburban High School District 214, Lazaro oversees the district’s career pathways program to help today’s students identify and pursue their career passions. With more than 900 partners providing internships, work, and educational opportunities to the district’s 12,000 students, he said these connections are the basis for preparing young people to thrive in tomorrow’s economy.
Bringing all those different actors together requires collaboration. “Our public system of education still serves as the great equalizer that facilitates inclusive growth, but our policies and practices still encourage an independent network of educational institutions working to ensure their individual success that may not always align with collective success of the region,” he said. “The only way we can succeed economically long term is to work together collectively toward that same goal.”
Lazaro, who also chairs the Illinois Community College Board, said that in both of his roles he sees imaginary boundaries get in the way of larger goals, and outside-the-box thinking is required to provide a lifetime of education and training to all the region’s residents.
“If we do nothing, we are going to eliminate the potential workforce for the businesses of tomorrow. Our residents won’t have the resources to sustain our consumer driven economy because they won’t have jobs that will pay them enough to have sustainable wages to prosper and have economic opportunity. It’s all interconnected,” he said.
The future can be brighter. With more pathways for upward economic mobility and data-driven approaches for workforce and education systems (both recommendations in ON TO 2050’s Prosperity chapter), learners of all ages, passions, and skill levels can get the training they need to succeed in the changing economy.
“My dream for 2050 is that all of our public and private entities are collectively working toward one goal, that every resident has access to the education they need to be successful in our economy in a way that’s affordable and close to home,” Lazaro said.