Meet Carlos Lopez

IMAG0002Charter School Initiative is Passion for Educator

By Scott Campbell, Image courtesy of Carlos Lopez

Detailing the work and experiences of educator Carlos Lopez would fill a book. The reader of this forum will have to be content with somewhat less. However, in characterizing his productive life, it can be stated that the 62-year-old man is an American success story.

After decades of teaching and supervisory posts in several Pennsylvania school districts, the Jonestown resident was recently a consultant in the establishment of the Achievement House Cyber Charter School. It is the kind of service that fits with Lopez’ positive and goal-oriented approach to education.

More than 1,000 students in grades 7 through 12 are enrolled across the Commonwealth.

Students use the school’s custom-designed, web-based platform to access their live, virtual classes and interactive, online coursework. Certified teachers develop and teach a robust curriculum that is personalized to meet each student’s academic needs and learning styles. Mentors, special education teachers and ELL specialists support student learning, which can take place in the safety of their home, at one of the resource centers or anywhere an Internet connection is available.

Lopez was born in New York City. “We were poor,” he says of his early years. “Lived in the projects, but were always getting evicted. Wore second-hand clothes, ate powdered eggs, sold bottles to buy bread and milk…that sort of thing.”

In his third year of high school, the family moved to Ponce, Puerto Rico, which turned out to be a seminal event. “I had spoken Spanish at home, but never learned to read or write it,” says Lopez. “After I graduated from high school, I went to the Catholic University of Puerto Rico. But, I had to work to pay my way through school. I started a little stand, or kiosk, that sold fried foods, coffee and drinks. My mom helped me and, one day, a customer overheard me speaking to her in English. She was impressed with my knowledge of the language and asked me to be a teaching assistant in the Ponce schools, teaching English to elementary students.”

Lopez eventually earned a B.A. degree in elementary education from Catholic University in 1976 and returned to the United States. “My mom saw an ad for a bi-lingual position in the Bethlehem School District, and I began my teaching career there in September of that year.” He was the first Spanish immersion teacher in Pennsylvania and, after several years at the elementary and middle school levels, became the Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction at Bethlehem’s Northeast Middle School.

In 1990, Lopez was hired by the neighboring Allentown School District as assistant principal at Trexler Middle School. Subsequent years saw him move on to other administrative posts in Lancaster, Philadelphia and York before returning to Allentown in June of 2005 to become principal and CEO of the Roberto Clemente Charter School.

“We had 290 students in grades 6 through 12,” says Lopez of his initial charter school experience. “Many applicants had to be turned away due to space and staff limits. Most of the students were Latino, along with some blacks and whites.”

After the Clemente School, Lopez retired at age 55 and served for a brief time on the Allentown School Board. Shortly thereafter, he was recruited by the Harrisburg School District and returned to the profession to accept a position as the District’s Assistant to the Superintendent for Teaching and Learning for Secondary Schools.

Lopez was instrumental in establishing the Latino Hispanic American Community Center along Harrisburg’s Derry Street in 2010. “However, due to budget cuts, my school district position was eliminated,” he says. “That’s when I decided to get back into the charter school initiative.”

He was a co-founder of the Lehigh Valley Dual Language Charter School, which began in August, 2010. “It’s a K-8 school, and the curriculum is about 50 percent in Spanish and 50 percent in English,” he says. “We have tried to lease a second building, but the process has gone into litigation.”

Other charter schools bear his mark. He was the first president of the Lincoln Leadership Academy in Allentown and acted in an advisory capacity for Lancaster’s La Academia.

In his “spare” time, Lopez entered into business with his daughter and son-in-law, who founded Home Conservation Services in Allentown. “It’s a marketing agency for four or five power companies,” he says, “and its purpose is to encourage customers to take advantage of energy-saving programs, devices and construction materials.”

Lopez is seldom off his feet, but he does enjoy good reads during rare down time. He is a regular at Planet Fitness. As one might presume, he is an enthusiastic supporter of nonprofits, like the Boy Scouts. And a family vacation spot in Myrtle Beach has prompted him to acquire a South Carolina boating license. Next? “I just started lessons to become a pilot,” he says.

Staff Writer

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