It wasn't until she was already in Ann Arbor, attending law school at the University of Michigan, that Shannon Kimball knew she wanted her work to revolve around education.
A class on higher education law helped kindle a love of the "legal and policy issues related to schools." That interest narrowed specifically to public schools after Kimball worked for a law firm early in her career that had a large public school district for a client.
It caused her to reflect on her education in Atwood, a town of less than 2,000 people in the northwest corner of Kansas, where she spent most of her childhood living with her family on a struggling farm. She said she was part of a graduating class of 34.
Address: 257 Earhart Circle
Education: Bachelor's degree, Kansas University; Juris Doctor, University of Michigan
Family: Husband, Jason, and three children
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"I realized how strongly I felt about the importance of public schools and that opportunities be available to all students," she said. "Rich, poor, no matter where you are.
"We had a really small school. I was able to achieve a lot in my life because I had such a strong education from those teachers."
Kimball, 41, is seeking her second term on the Lawrence school board after winning a seat in 2011 and spending this school year as the board's president.
Since finishing law school in 2000 (she also received a bachelor's degree at Kansas University), Kimball said she spent much of her career working with schools for private firms and the Georgia Department of Education. But her current position as the face of a school board is not what she would have predicted years ago.
Around the time she moved back to Lawrence in 2008, she made the "pretty difficult" choice to step away from her full-time career to focus on her family, which by then had welcomed in two of three children. She is married to Jason Kimball, a physician at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
Kimball said she still wanted to be involved in some way. It started with serving on a district task force to evaluate the consolidation of elementary schools. Several months after that group made its recommendations, she was on the ballot for the school board.
"I never imagined that I would run for public office in that way," she said. "I am so glad I'm doing it. Life changes a lot, especially after you have kids. It changes a lot in a good way."
While in Georgia, Kimball said she worked mostly with charter schools. She is not a proponent of charter schools, but they are popular in Georgia, she said. She evaluated their applications — reviewing curricula, instruction models, technology and helping them receive access to programs.
She said much of that is what she does now as a board member, and her four years of experience will be essential to the district with budget cuts expected from the state government.
"The policy environment right now at the state level is so difficult," she said. "And having a solid understanding of what our goals are, where we started four years ago, and where we want to be four or five years from now, is going to be vitally important in the discussion we'll have to have around our budget."