Kimberly Small ‘00 recently broke barriers by becoming the first female executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards in its 110-year history.
“It’s a bit surreal for me and also humbling,” said Small, who began the new role on July 1. “I wasn’t prepared for the outpouring of excitement.”
Small has worked for the association, which provides training to school board members and a subscription service of sample school board policy templates that the nearly 6,000 members of school boards in Illinois can use in their own districts.
Small’s interest in both the law and education was born from a traumatic experience in her youth. Her brother and she were getting ready for school one morning in her childhood home in Coon Rapids, Minn. They heard the door open, thinking it was their parents. But it was instead of group of men. They called for help as the men fled.
There had been reports of burglaries in the area, so Small spent the summer before fifth grade as a witness in court as the case played out.
“I still have the trauma of not wanting to stay home alone and locking everything twice,” she said. “But that’s when I decided being a lawyer was a pretty neat thing and I was going to do that.”
Attending law school never left her mind. After earning English and Secondary Education undergraduate degrees, Small finished law school at Mitchell Hamline in just two and a half years. The school provided access to public service opportunities that she believes helped launch her full-time career.
Being supported by both her peers and the professors was memorable. “The professors were always accessible and made us understand that if we needed clarification or had questions, we could visit or give them a call,” she said.
Following graduation in 2000, Small relocated to Illinois for her husband’s work, where she landed positions within several public defender offices working primarily in their juvenile court divisions prior to joining the school boards association.
Small’s work has involved navigating education policy during several challenging years in Illinois – from guiding members through the advent of mandatory school board member training and state budget impasses to helping districts implement evidence-based funding, supporting school safety initiatives, and currently supporting student learning recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The organization also continues to advocate that state mandates be accompanied with adequate funding so school districts can implement them locally without loss to their evidence-based funding.
“This is a position where I can inspire people to give school board members the tools they need to govern their local districts with excellence,” said Small. “We educate and train our member school boards to give their kids and communities the resources needed for a quality public education.
“Having an equitable quality public education opens a lot of doors for students to make educated choices for themselves, their families, and their communities.”
Marla Khan-Schwartz is a freelance writer in the Twin Cities