Back to School - 405 Magazine

Back to School

A give and take about hard work, enthusiasm and popcorn with OKC Public Schools interim superintendent Dave Lopez as he heads back to class.

Photo by Carli Wentworth

At the time of our interview, business leader and former Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce Dave Lopez is just a few weeks into his role as interim superintendent for Oklahoma City Public Schools. He equates the monumental challenge of charting a new course for more than 45,000 schoolchildren with being “back in school.”

We sat down with Lopez and learned a lot about the former telecommunication executive’s unbridled enthusiasm and optimism for getting the job done, which made us wish he’d consider dropping the “Interim” half of his job title.

What is your hometown? Las Cruces, New Mexico. I’ve lived in Oklahoma for about 14 years.

What is your wife’s name? Lana.

How is the new gig going? It’s been fun, energizing and challenging. In a very real sense, I’ve gone back to school! There’s so much to learn, not just about the structure and how things work, but also about what the community thinks about Oklahoma City Public Schools. The opportunities in this job are greater than I would have imagined.

As interim superintendent, you’ll only serve in this role a short time. What is the one thing you hope to accomplish in the limited time you have? I hope to demonstrate to the incoming superintendent that this is a community that cares. I’m encouraged by the many people who have come forward in support by asking, “How can we help?” Fortunately, apathy is not something we have to fight.

Did you spend any school years in the hall? Oh, yes. I can still remember calling my fourth grade teacher a “party pooper” when she wouldn’t let our class go to recess after an assembly one day.

Did you have a favorite teacher? My first grade teacher, Sister Herman Joseph.

What’s a risk worth taking? Love.

Do you have any guilty pleasure? Popcorn. It evokes so many memories of spending Friday nights around the TV with my brothers – I’m the youngest of five boys. We loved watching Friday night prize fights.

How much worthless trivia do you retain? Tons, especially about sports. In college, I was a stringer and I became interested in statistics, which was something of a currency of choice for conversations.

What kind of unsung skills do you have? I like to think I’m a good writer. The unpublished great American novel will have to wait, however.

What has been your greatest achievement? Hopefully, that is yet to come, but marrying Lana would be at the top of that list.

What do you value most in your friends? Humor.

What do you think your friends value in you? Loyalty.

What should everyone experience at least once in this lifetime? Giving to someone who can never repay you.

What’s not as important as it used to be and what’s more important than it used to be? What’s not as important is getting it perfect. I think it was General Patton who said that a good plan executed today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow. What’s more important is focusing on these young students and understanding the opportunities and obligations there.

What do you wish you’d never thrown out, lost or given away? My eighth grade yearbook. That year, there was a predictions section about ‘Where will they be?’ and someone wrote that I would be head of a telephone company! How prophetic!

What were your teachers and parents wrong about? Not all mischief is bad. Said the fifth of five boys …

What do you now bring to a crowded room? A smile.

What’s the best decision you ever made? To give up the dream of being an athlete. I played basketball and one day, the coach put some tape on the wall and said, ‘If you can walk under the tape, keep walking.’ That’s terrible! No, it turned out fine. I had a geometry teacher who pointed me in the right direction.

What’s still on your bucket list? More time for reflection and time to treasure the relationships that matter most.

What’s your favorite hole-in-the-wall in OKC? In OKC, it’s Classen Grill. In Oklahoma, it’s Eischen’s in Okarche.

What’s the last book you read? “Boundaries for Leaders” by Dr. Henry Cloud.

What’s the best advice you ever got? It came from my dad, who was a great example of this (and in fact, my dad got much smarter as I got older): Work hard and be proud of what you do.

What other examples did your parents model? My mom was generous to a fault. There were no strangers and no one ever left our house unfed. We were poor, but we didn’t know it.

What is the one thing you’re determined to accomplish by the end of the year? Demonstrating positive outcomes for the school district.

What is your most treasured possession? My faith. It’s hard to think of anything having meaning beyond that.