Meet Chicago’s newest student school board member: Kenwood Academy’s Kate’Lynn Shaw

Kate’lynn Shaw, a 16-year-old girl, raises a microphone to her mouth and smiles at a school board meeting. Behind her are the Illinois, Chicago and American flags, stood up on poles. A woman to her right, sitting down, looks at her and smiles.
Kate’lynn Shaw gives a speech at Wednesday’s Chicago Board of Education meeting, where the board inducted her as its honorary student member through next school year. Shaw is a rising junior at Kenwood Academy High School. (Courtesy of Chicago Public Schools)

When Kate’Lynn Shaw first ran for student council in eighth grade, she said her peers knew her as an energetic kid on Zoom. Now back in the classroom — and with years of experience as class president — she’s excited to expand beyond her school walls, this time as an honorary Chicago school board member. 

The board inducted Shaw at Wednesday’s meeting. Though she cannot cast votes, she will represent students at the board’s monthly meetings and will serve on a district-level student committee through next school year. 

“I hope that my presence marks a new era,” Shaw said at Wednesday’s meeting. “I hope that my passion leads you to listen more, but most importantly, I pray that my voice, my presence, and my passion act as a vessel for CPS students and their families who yearn to be heard.”

Shaw is a rising junior at Kenwood Academy High School in Hyde Park, and she has attended Chicago Public Schools since she began her education. Along with her student council experience, Shaw also hopes to bring her skills from debate. 

Kenwood’s Assistant Principal Sherry Ball said that Shaw is an excellent choice for the role.

“She has just been taking her student voice and the leadership that she has at Kenwood by storm,” Ball said. “She has a really nice pulse on what students are thinking, what they’re feeling and she’s going to be very thoughtful and how she brings those issues to you guys and gives you her opinions.”

Ahead of her term, Chalkbeat spoke with Shaw about her leadership experience and priorities.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What made you apply to be the honorary student board member?

Being on the debate team, that makes you think about politics or policy on a level of not only these made-up scenarios, but also what you can do for yourself in your school as well. 

When I heard about the honorary school board member application, and I looked up the importance of it and the magnitude that it held for students — not only in Chicago, but also to Illinois in general — it made me want to apply so that I can be that voice. 

I’m someone that’s very outspoken, and I believe in the voice of students. And if that could be one way that I can contribute and say thank you to all the CPS students or even the CPS families that have helped me throughout these years, it will make me happy.

You said you’re pretty vocal. What are some issues that are particularly close to your heart or important to you?

The redistribution of funding within CPS has been a really big topic, especially in the last couple of years where we see schools such as my schools, or Hyde Park or King demand for more money, demand for equitable funding.

Another thing that I think is really important is student voice. A lot of time, we see students be pushed to the side because we’re not 18 and older. But when it comes to the kids that we’re teaching, we should give them every single moment to be able to express what they want in their school — whether that’s curriculum, whether that’s how you respond to certain policies and legislation that is going on within CPS.

What are you hearing from your fellow students in terms of their priorities? 

Student voice and funding. Another concern I’ve seen is safety. The safety in our school is really important, and having kids comfortable with what those safety plans are is also very important. So are we talking to students about how they feel about [student resource officers]? How do they feel about having officers in their schools or even the idea of having security guards in their schools? What does that look like and how do we make those plans so that kids are more comfortable?

We’re headed into a period of turnover. Are there any priorities that you would like Mayor Brandon Johnson to have in mind when he’s thinking about school board appointments?

I would like him to think about who has the students in mind when they make decisions, and how they have relationships with students. Have they ever had to be in the room with students and hear their opinions? Or even if they’re comfortable with hearing those opinions. 

What would you say your leadership style is?

I believe that you can never be a leader if you don’t have other people also becoming leaders with you. I believe that every person should be able to get a voice, and I don’t believe in fully controlling situations where a leader would “control.” I believe that to be a leader, you have to know when to help others and also when to uplift them. 

You’re involved with your student government and your debate team. Tell me why you got involved with those activities.

My first year running for student council was eighth grade. It was online, and everybody kind of knew me as the very energetic person who was on Zoom, who really commanded the conversation and who knew what she was talking about. And so I ran because not only did I think that my peers would be supportive of me running, but also as I became more in touch with my school, even online, I knew that I wanted to be more involved and I wanted to help others get involved.

The learning experience has helped me be able to voice my peers’ concerns in a way that can actually resonate with admin and I can be a true liaison for students. 

When it came to debate…I loved arguments. I thought that the idea of policy or policymaking was really interesting. And I also liked the idea of things like critiques, understanding the fundamentals of why we’re talking about it, and the issues that go into policymaking.

Being an honorary school board member, you also get $1,000 toward your college education. So I was wondering if you have any ideas of what you might want to do post-high school.

I want to major in chemical engineering and also Afro American Studies at Yale University. I love [Yale Professor] Elizabeth Hinton, I’ve read her book like, three times. Aside from college, I want to be able to kind of be a voice for students, even after I leave. 

Of any career, I want to firstly be someone that other people can talk to and learn, someone they can look at and be educated by, and I want to be helpful to people. So even before I get into postsecondary education, I want to make sure I make that mark on students, one of those being that I want to also be a debate coach. 

Max Lubbers is an intern for Chalkbeat Chicago. Contact Max at mlubbers@chalkbeat.org.

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