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A school designed to help kids beat the odds requires a leader who has done the same.
Meet Jennifer López.
Lopez, formerly the vice president of academic affairs of St. Anthony School, was unanimously selected to be the CEO of the Carmen schools network in July.
“Jennifer’s qualifications, experience and values were exactly what we were looking for,” said Ivan Gamboa, chair of Carmen’s board of directors.
López replaces Carmen founder Patricia Hoben, who announced her resignation in March.
Carmen Schools of Science and Technology include five schools. School leaders say 90 percent of the approximately 2,000 students come from low-income homes. Many enter school with reading and math skills below state averages.
López can relate. Raised by immigrant Salvadoran parents, she attended under-resourced urban schools in Los Angeles from kindergarten through eighth grade. Although she was always a top student, she found herself feeling lost when she began attending a college preparatory high school.
“That was the first time I really felt the effects of the education disparity in this country,” she said.
Her father was a janitor, and her mother was a homemaker. She and her three siblings all graduated from college and begin ambitious careers: a surgeon, an anesthesiologist, an engineer and, now, a CEO.
López first attended Occidental College, where she earned her bachelor’s degree, then Loyola Marymount University, also in Los Angeles, for her master’s in school administration and policy. In between, she participated in a Teach for America program where she taught math to students in under-resourced high schools.
What helped her power through were high expectations, a belief she could succeed and seeing people who faced similar challenges flourish. She calls them “proof points.”
“It’s incredibly important to make sure all of our students see themselves reflected in positions of power and influence to ensure that (they know) they all really have a seat at the table making decisions that impact them,” she said.
Throughout her career, López has worked closely with low-performing schools that sought to be better. She found that when kids are given a high bar to meet, along with the proper tools and support, they achieve.
“I have an unwavering belief that all of our kids can achieve at high levels,” she said. “It’s a matter of showing our kids that we love and care about them, and we believe in them even when our kids have been told that they will not amount to anything in life. We want our kids to recognize the power that they have.”
Carmen is a network of charter schools: two high schools; one combined middle and high school; a middle school at 1300 S Layton Blvd.; and Stellar Collegiate Elementary School, 1115 S. 7th St.
The original campus, Carmen School of Science and Technology South Campus, 1712 S. 32nd St., has historically earned high marks on its state report cards. U.S. News and World Report’s list of high schools ranks the campus second among Wisconsin high schools and 47th in the U.S. among public charter high schools. The south campus was one of only three high schools in the Milwaukee area to “exceed expectations” or higher on its state report card.
The northwest campus, which opened in 2013, includes a middle school and high school at 5496 N. 72nd St. Its latest state report card stated the school failed to meet expectations. The score was marked as an outlier because it had dropped more than 10 points from the previous year.
The southeast campus shares a building with Pulaski High School at 2500 W. Oklahoma Ave. It has not been established long enough to receive traditional scoring but was marked satisfactory for the past few years.
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