March 2024 Alum of the Month: Jana Wilcox Lavin ’97
Hotchkiss Alum of the Month March 2024 Jana Wilcox Lavin

Jana Wilcox Lavin ’97 poses with her daughter, Carey James.

Jana Wilcox Lavin ’97 has spent most of her career striving to ensure that every child, especially those most underserved, has access to high-quality education. She is a marketing and communications professional and CEO of Opportunity 180, a nonprofit that aims to put students on track to be college and career-ready.

“My experience at Hotchkiss was one of the biggest influences in my decision to focus on public education. What I gained from my time in Lakeville was life-changing in so many ways—finding my people, finding my voice, and pushing my intellectual curiosity,” she said. “As I progressed in my career, I was confronted with the deep inequities in our education system and the tangible imbalance from my experience to that of thousands of others.”

Wilcox Lavin came to Hotchkiss as a lower mid needing to be challenged. She did some research and found schools that met her criteria. “I called a family meeting to let my parents know of my intention. Once I visited Hotchkiss, I knew I was at home.”

Senior English was one of her favorite classes. “It inspired me to write in a more vulnerable way than I had before,” she said. She fondly remembers running track with Walter Crain P’86,’89. “He had a way of encouraging you and showing he was proud of you with just a look. Also, Mrs. Wendy Brennan—my dorm mom during my first year—was a huge part of my successful transition to Hotchkiss.”

Thanks to her time in Lakeville, Wilcox Lavin found herself well-prepared at Tulane University, where she graduated with a B.A. in communications, and Emerson College, where she earned her master’s in integrated marketing communications. Wilcox Lavin says she still regularly shares how Hotchkiss gave her the foundation to manage her work and time. “I was not a straight-A student, but I gained the skills to effectively prioritize, which made my B-pluses a big win.”

In 2009, Wilcox Lavin served as chief operating officer for Scholar Academies, a nonprofit school management organization designed to ensure that all children have access to high-quality public education. Wilcox Lavin led the opening and transformation of eight Scholar Academies schools in Philadelphia, PA, Washington, D.C., Trenton, NJ, and Memphis, TN, increasing the student population from 250 to 4,000.

Wilcox Lavin took a position in Nevada as superintendent-in-residence for the Nevada State Achievement School District in 2016. She served as a member of the Nevada Department of Education Executive Team, was a supporting author for Nevada’s Every Student Succeeds Act Plan, and helped lead policy efforts during the 2017 legislative session. 

As CEO of Opportunity 180, Wilcox Lavin steers the organization’s quest to give every child access to a great school. With a $6 million annual budget, she works with a small team to lead diverse education efforts across Nevada.

Wilcox Lavin speaks to the unique challenges facing Nevada and the education of its children. “Las Vegas was built as a town of chance and possibility, but it was not built to house more than 2 million people. We don’t have the needed infrastructure,” she said. “So, there are two main factors, in my opinion, that hold us back. First, the main economic engine of our community relies on a workforce prepared to serve in hospitality, and we lack economic diversification at the scale that is needed to demand a fully educated workforce. Second, we are lacking a cohesive North Star that can unite our state to bring about the change needed to ensure every kid is prepared for college and career.”

She worked on a bipartisan-supported, public-private facility loan fund for public charter schools. “I was a student who benefited from choosing the place that was right for me. Hotchkiss was a life-changing experience, but it is not for everyone. I believe charter schools diversify the school ecosystem to ensure that there is a school environment for each kid that will fit their unique needs.”

Much of what she learned in Lakeville continues to serve and influence her day-to-day life, both professionally and personally. “I am committed to my work and impacting the lives of kids. I spend my time building and maintaining relationships with funders, politicians, community leaders, and school leaders. Opportunity 180 is working to build an ecosystem of quality education that can outlast our organization’s work. To do that we need to build a broad coalition.”

Wilcox Lavin wants to be sure that others have the opportunity to live and grow at Hotchkiss, so she gives her time and support. “Hotchkiss gave me the ability to be confident in almost any situation, and I credit Hotchkiss for giving me the ‘at-bats’ to practice being the leader I have become.”

What is the most gratifying aspect of her work? “Seeing a school come to life, or hearing an idea for a new school and then walking through the doors to see kids experiencing that vision in real time.”

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