Walk into the sparkling Lake Ridge Academy in quiet North Ridgeville, Ohio, and you might be in for a shock. There, on the 88-acre wooded campus, you’ll find third graders leading parent teacher conferences, lockers lining the halls without locks, students busy managing the school’s solar panels, and local community members studying rocketry.
But Carol (Lawlor) Klimas ’84, would have it no other way. For five years the former bank executive who now invests in innovative education has been the vibrant, visionary president of the impressive academy, an independent K-12 school where community service is viewed as a commitment to way of life, not a school requirement. She’s helped launch everything from pre-med and entrepreneurship studies programs to a student jazz initiative and an alumni hall of fame.
Klimas began planning a financial career in her hometown of Shillington, Pa., where she worked summers as a bank teller. She majored in banking and finance at Alvernia, where she was mentored by Gwen Williams, professor emerita of business.
She spent the next 23 years in banking, rising to the rank of chief fiduciary officer of KeyCorp Wealth Management and Trust Services. At the same time she served as a volunteer for health-based non-profits, eventually serving as board chair of the National Arthritis Foundation.
Klimas made the unusual leap into education largely because she was attracted by Lake Ridge’s mission to teach life skills and global citizenship. Third graders, for example, use PowerPoint presentations to rate their quarterly performances for teachers and parents. Environmental-studies students use the woods on thecampus as a laboratory. Community members use theCenter for Creative Thinkers to study topics that span rocketry and sign language.
Lake Ridge’s customized, cross-cultural approach appealed to Klimas, who has four children with her husband, Daniel, president and CEO of the Lorain (Ohio) National Bank. In 2007, when she became Lake Ridge’s president, she stood at a career crossroads.
“There was no more direct client contact in banking.I really needed the stimulation of working closely with dynamic people. And I liked the challenge of education, of learning a whole new industry."
One of Klimas’ most industrious challenges was making Lake Ridge a solar-powered campus. After students convinced her of the economic and ethical benefits, she found a donor to fund the acquisition and installation of 400 solar panels. Today, students manage the solar program online, deciding when the panels need to be shifted for optimal performance. The panels generate 18 percent of the school’s power.
Under Klimas’ leadership, Lake Ridge, with its 375 students, has become a more vibrant educational haven. Before Klimas became president, Lake Ridge had lost money for a decade; now, it is back in the black. On her watch the school has started a green society, an entrepreneurial-studies program and a pre-med curriculum with courses in anatomy and forensics.
Of course, like any education executive, Klimas has bad days. Her surefire cure for the blues is reading to first graders. Even better is when they read to her. “Let me tell you,” says Klimas, “it doesn’t get any better than that.”