State Board Welcomes Dr. Landon Mascareñaz as New Chair

For someone who’s worked mostly in the K-12 sector, Dr. Landon Mascareñaz has a surprising number of connections to community colleges. His father attended one, and his mother—a lifelong educator—taught at one.

Now, he’ll help guide their next chapter as the newly elected chair of the State Board for Community Colleges and Occupational Education (SBCCOE).

“I’m very honored for the opportunity to be in this seat and this role,” said Dr. Mascareñaz, who will lead a 12-member, bipartisan board that oversees the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) and its 13 colleges. “I’m trying to sit with the gratitude and the trust placed in me. It’s very special.”

Breaking Down Walls

Growing up in Littleton, Colorado, Dr. Mascareñaz never imagined he would end up in the family business of K-12 education. Through a career exploration program called SOAR, he was exposed to a wide variety of potential jobs.

“I remember really liking Jurassic Park, so I wanted to learn about being a geneticist. I thought about being a history professor and then a graphic designer,” he said. “I went all over Colorado, shadowing and learning about career opportunities.”

He settled on international relations, earning an undergraduate degree at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. As he scouted national service opportunities, his mother, then a school principal, encouraged him to apply for Teach For America.

He landed a position teaching first grade in the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, where the community felt historically disconnected from the school. To help build relationships, he remembers his now-wife organizing a town welcome night despite negative feedback from colleagues.

“A lot of people said no one was going to come, but a significant number of parents showed up,” he recalled. “That’s where I started thinking about the relationship between education systems and communities, and that’s really been the focus of my career arc.”

After running the state’s Teach for America program for five years, Dr. Mascareñaz decided to hone his leadership skills through a doctorate program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. During that time, he helped colleagues launch a network of indigenous schools across the country and worked at the Tennessee Department of Education. There, he lasered in on the questions that vexed him during his teaching career.

“Fundamentally, I think the great work of our time is to bridge, whether that’s between people of different opinions, or whether it’s to get systems to work together,” he reflected. “Our families don’t live in silos—they experience all parts of our public and private systems. It’s incumbent upon public leaders to break down these walls.”

Leaning into Partnership

As part of his doctorate program, Dr. Mascareñaz returned to Colorado and was embedded in the Denver Public School Family and Community Engagement Office. He later worked for A+ Colorado and the Colorado Education Initiative—nonprofits committed to advancing public support and innovation in K-12 education.

Then, in 2019, he got a call from Governor Jared Polis.

I think the great work of our time is to bridge, whether that’s between people of different opinions, or whether it’s to get systems to work together.
Dr. Landon Mascareñaz

“When the Governor asked me if I’d be interested in joining the community college board, I was thrilled,” he said. “I increasingly was aware of the role and relevance of the system, and I knew I had so much to learn. It was really exciting for me to think about all the work that we could do.”

Bringing this positive energy to the board, Dr. Mascareñaz eventually rose to vice chair serving under former state senator Rollie Heath—for whom Dr. Mascareñaz volunteered during Heath’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

“Rollie pioneered a significant amount of the legislation that created concurrent enrollment and a variety of the programs that make our community college system function,” he said. “I have a lot of humility in succeeding him, and I’m very honored.”

Over their tenure, the pair has guided CCCS through the unprecedented disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic and helped champion new models—from the Bridge to Bachelor’s degree program to expanding apprenticeships in healthcare and other sectors.

“All of these programs require deep partnerships, and it’s beyond inspiring to see what CCCS is already doing in that realm,” he said. “To me, it’s a strength that we can lean into even more.”

Putting the “Community” in Community Colleges

In his new role, Dr. Mascareñaz plans to “put the ‘community’ in community colleges”—rallying education, civic, and industry leaders around a shared vision for success. That’s the theory underpinning his recently-released book, The Open System: Redesigning Education and Reigniting Democracy, which a recent interviewer described as a “blueprint for how to practice democracy in education.

Applying these concepts, Dr. Mascareñaz believes CCCS colleges can strengthen their roles as cultural and economic hubs and revitalize entire regions. He cited a new development project uniting Trinidad State College and local K-12 schools that aims to close talent gaps and connect students to high-paying local jobs.

“We have to have economic mobility for our students as our north star,” he said. “We are in the middle of a major economic transformation in our society, and we should be at the forefront of pushing an economic mobility agenda.”

Dr. Mascareñaz also hopes to support CCCS to be more “future-ready” as colleges become even more adaptable and flexible to students’ needs. Thanks to their career-connected approach—and nimbler design—community colleges will continue to be critical partners for the state, he said, noting the launch of workforce development initiatives Career Advance Colorado and Care Forward Colorado.

Given all this momentum, Dr. Mascareñaz says there’s no better time to serve as the SBCCOE chair.

“I think investment follows opportunity, and if that’s true, then our community colleges are positioned to be real opportunity engines all over Colorado,” he said.

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