Patricia Whitten, Class of 1974
First female and youngest general counsel of the Chicago Board of Education
Patricia Whitten has devoted her legal career to the practice of education law. She launched her career working in the Chicago Board of Education’s Law Department and went on to become the Board’s youngest and first female general counsel. After serving as general counsel for 11 years, Whitten joined Seyfarth Shaw for four years before moving to her current firm, Franczek Radelet, P.C. She has particular expertise in constitutional and civil rights, including educational equality and desegregation issues, labor and employment, vendor contracts, tax and finance, board policy and administrative matters, and legislative drafting and interpretation. Whitten has participated in a number of precedent-setting cases in the federal courts, including authoring friend-of-court briefs on behalf of school districts and education related organizations. She also serves as a member of the Ad Hoc Special Education Committee of the Illinois Association of School Boards and played a significant role in the development and drafting of the model procedures in 2009 that were adopted by most Illinois school districts in compliance with revised special education legislation and regulations.
Whitten has written numerous articles on school law and is a frequent speaker on the topic and the state and national levels. In 2011, she was the recipient of Chicago-Kent’s Professional Achievement Award.
What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
I was programmed in my family to be a doctor. We had doctors in the family. I was going to med school, but it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I started thinking about what else I would do. A family friend who was a lawyer and attended Kent talked to me about becoming a lawyer.
What were you like as a law student?
Very conscientious. Very scared. I was very determined to not get behind and graduate on time.
How did Chicago-Kent prepare you for your present success?
What is your greatest professional achievement?
Two things. One, becoming the first female, the youngest and the longest-serving general counsel at the Board of Education for Chicago Public Schools. And joining the firm I’m at now and becoming an equity partner there. Working with a really great group of people and having a successful practice still in the same field.
What has been the greatest challenge you faced in your career?
When I became the general counsel at Chicago Public Schools in 1981, the Board and the school system was going through tremendous upheaval at the time. There were financial crises, labor negotiations, and teacher strikes. It was a tremendous time of change, and I had to adapt to it.
What would people find most surprising about you?
That I’m an animal lover. My husband and I just adopted two yellow labs from an animal shelter that have now taken over our house. I’ve always had a lot of pets. Even horses.
What does it meant to you to be one of the Chicago-Kent 125 Alumni of Distinction?
Knowing other people who have graduated from this institution over the years, I’m honored to be in the same company, frankly. Whether they’re judges or hugely successful attorneys, I am humbled to be in that company.