D86 candidate Karen Shannon's questionnaire

Karen Shannon

Attendance area: D181 Monroe School, D86 Hinsdale Central

Years in district: 15

Age: 54


JD, Georgetown Law Center 1997

PhD, Chemistry, California Institute of Technology 1992

BS Chemistry & Biology, Houghton College, Houghton NY 1987


Vice President, Intellectual Property, Beckman Coulter Diagnostics

Community service:

Pro bono cases involving domestic violence, human trafficking, and immigration, Legal Assistance Foundation (1997-2011)

Community improvement projects (painting schools, creating community gardens, fundraising for hospitals), Beckman Foundation (2015-present)

People’s Resource Center, Westmont Food Pantry (>200 hours since March 2020)

Board experience:

Board of Directors, Legal Assistance Foundation (2006-2017)

Vice President, 2015-2017

Chair, Fundraising Committee

Strategic Planning Committee

Budget Committee

Why are you running for this particular seat at this particular time?

“To whom much is given, much is required.” I have had the privilege of raising my daughters in the D86 community. They have benefited from the strong schools, which are maintained by an amazing faculty and robust community involvement. At this time, the critical issues before the board (STEM curriculum and operating during the pandemic) are ones in which I have particular expertise. In July 2020, I applied to fill the vacancy created by Nancy Pollak’s departure. As I wrote in that application, I am interested in serving because it blends my work experience with Covid-19 and my desire to serve my community.

What in your personal or professional experience has prepared you to be an effective board member?

I serve on the management team of my company. My job entails attending strategic planning meetings, reviewing new product business plans, monitoring the progress of products in development, analyzing what is/isn’t working, monitoring what our competitors are doing, etc. My job requires that I understand what success looks like, how to analyze data to identify gaps, how to identify the root cause of gaps and possible solutions, and how to set metrics to monitor progress – all skills needed to be an active board member. More recently, I have been involved in maintaining operations during this pandemic, including addressing employment issues, health and safety concerns, privacy in an increasing virtual world, and shifting thru the tsunami of information from the CDC, WHO and other international health agencies. I know how to make data driven decisions and to adjust course as changes inevitable happen.

Also, I have 11 years of experience on the not-for-profit board of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago (now Legal Aid Chicago). During my tenure on the strategic planning committee, we envisioned moving LAF from being almost entirely reliant on the government funded Legal Service Corporation (LSC) to being community-funded. Subsequently, I led the fund raising committee to realize that vision, achieving ~50% funding from the Chicagoland community. This strategic move created a more level budget, ensuring continued services during changing presidential administrations. I have demonstrated my ability to be a board member who can deliver results.

What in your opinion are the board’s three most important responsibilities?

The school board is responsible for maintaining open and honest lines of communication with the community, setting the strategic vision of the district based on community input, and ensuring the superintendent of schools is progressing toward the vision.

What is the district’s greatest strength? Which area is most in need of attention?

This district’s greatest strength is its people – including the students, the faculty, the parents, and the community. It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child, and the D86 community raises awesome ones.

The lack of trust between the board and the community needs to be corrected. Without trust, the board will remain embroiled in debates questioning its every decision. With trust, the community can move toward its mission to empower each student to pursue their ideal future.

What is the most pressing budgetary matter the district will face over the next four years?

Fund a 21st Century Education – invest in technology and training so teachers and students can combine in-class, virtual and other resources to integrate learning into every day. We not only need to educate students with basic skills (3Rs), but also to teach them how to sort, analyze and make sense of the overwhelming information available to them, how to apply the information to solve problems, and how to use evolving platforms to share information and solutions.

What will be your top three priorities if elected?

1. Rebuilding the community’s trust in the board by actively listening to community input and conducting business in an open format, whenever possible.

2. Identifying learning gaps that formed during the pandemic and providing resources to close the gaps for all students

3. Restoring the STEM curriculum by tabling integrated math and physics. There should be no major curriculum changes until normalcy is restored.

Please cite a recent board decision that you have agreed with and one that you have disagreed with and briefly explain your reason(s) why.

Agree – Declining to adopt the School Superintendent’s adaptive pause. In a rare departure from its policy of rubber-stamping the School Superintendent’s recommendations, the board had a lengthy discussion, questioned the recommendation, and eventually split rank, declining to adopt an Adaptive Pause in December 2020.

Disagree – Despite a substantial community backed petition requesting more data to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Integrated Match curriculum, the board unanimously approved it without further review. This blatant disregard of the community’s concerns is inexplicable and out of line with the board’s responsibility to be the voice of the community.