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Q&A: Jana Wilcox Lavin, CEO of Opportunity 180, on Education in Nevada

Jana Wilcox Lavin is the CEO of Opportunity 180, a local education nonprofit committed to ensuring every kid graduates from high school is college and career ready.

Jana Wilcox Lavin (Courtesy of Opportunity 180)

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In Clark County, there are currently over 70,000 kids who attend schools where only 2 in 10 students are on grade level in reading and math (Nevada Report Card data, 2018-19). Jana Wilcox Lavin is the CEO of Opportunity 180, a local education nonprofit committed to ensuring every kid graduates from high school is college and career ready.

She has led the organization in offering grant opportunities to launch new charter schools in low-income neighborhoods, providing resources for teachers and school leaders through workshops and fellowships, and has become a source for transparent school performance data with its interactive platform sharing school outcomes with families.

Jana came to Nevada to serve as the Superintendent-in-residence of the Nevada State Achievement School District. Prior to that, she served as both the Chief Program Officer and the Executive Director for Memphis Scholars, for Charter Management Organization Scholar Academies (now DC Scholars Community Schools, Philly Scholars & Memphis Scholars). As Memphis Executive Director, Jana designed, developed and executed Scholar Academies’ city-wide strategic plan to partner with the Tennessee Achievement School District to turnaround the lowest performing schools in the State.

What led you to Opportunity 180 and why is the organization needed in Nevada?

I’ve been in the education field for most of my career, but I originally came to Nevada from Philadelphia and Memphis to work with the Nevada State Department of Education. My role at Opportunity 180 is a culmination of my previous work in launching  schools and supporting and developing school leaders, and working towards ensuring more kids have access to a high quality school, no matter where they live. Our North Star at Opportunity 180 is every kid graduating from high school college and career-ready, prepared to live the life they dream. Our team, and a dedicated group of community partners, work collaboratively in service of that North Star every day.

What do you think is the most critical need in education right now?

Our kids are not leaving school prepared for their next step. We see this is in the number of college students who need to take remedial coursework to get up to speed, and we see this as students try to enter the workforce. Kids are not at grade level in reading and in math - and we see that in proficiency scores when compared to graduation rates.

Ensuring every kid leaves school college and career ready, and ensuring every kid has access to a high-quality education, is something that benefits not only the student, but our communities, as well. And when our kids aren’t ready for that next step, it is a setback for everyone. Every moment we divert our attention from it is another moment we are leaving behind another student and compounding the issue.

What is a career moment that you are most proud of when it comes to your work with Opportunity 180?

At Opportunity 180, we work with and through the community as a strategic investor and partner. We have been able to bring in nationally recognized programs and people, as well as cultivate new funding in the state. We partnered with a national foundation for a middle-school accelerator pilot program we introduced in five local middle schools. We have also partnered with several nationally recognized fellowship programs, such as Surge Institute, Transcend Education Partners, and the National Fellowship for Black and Latino Male Educators, to invest in school leaders of the future. This work weaves together great leaders and great ideas, creating the conditions for great schools to thrive.

What do you foresee being the biggest challenges in education in Nevada for the next five years?

Education is first and foremost about kids. We must codify our belief and commitment as a community to ensuring every kid has a high-quality educational experience. The way that happens is by having a cohesive vision and a single guiding principle - a North Star. If we can agree what we want to be true for education in our state, we can determine the best way to approach that North Star and get it done. We know that it means multiple interventions, happening at the same time, to address longstanding issues relating to student performance, inequity, and ensuring every kid has a great school in their neighborhood. There is a role for everyone to play - from families to students to educators to business owners and elected officials. We all have a stake in ensuring our education system is the best that it can be and working in lockstep to make that a reality.