A pediatric critical care nurse for 37 years and former chair of Knox County Board of Education during four of 12 years service on that board, Karen Carson was nominated for The Lizzie Crozier French Award by former Knox County Schools superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre Jr.
Perhaps McIntyre’s words reflect how Carson, whose service as District 5 school board representative included Farragut Schools, earned the “Lizzie” — awarded to a woman displaying outspoken leadership, courage and strong advocacy of women’s causes — as announced during a ceremony at annual East Tennessee Women’s Leadership Council Summit Friday, June 9, at Airport Hilton in Alcoa.
“Karen Carson is indeed a thoughtful and outspoken leader. She believes that educational opportunity is the key to the advancement of women, and she is perhaps the greatest advocate and activist for quality education I have ever met,” McIntyre stated in his nomination. “Carson has demonstrated her commitment to our children and our community through difficult times, and has relentlessly advocated for continued educational improvements, even in the face of vocal pushback from some quarters.
“… Her vision, passion, and determination have led, for example, to a four-year high school graduation rate in the Knox County Schools that has increased from approximately 78 percent in her early years on the Board to over 90 percent when she stepped down,” he added.
“Carson has been an advocate, role model and mentor to hundreds of women … [she] taught them leadership lessons, the importance of doing their homework and communicating with their constituencies, and how to powerfully speak publicly to an issue with passion, candor, and poise.”
According to ETWLC, a “Lizzie” awardee is “an outspoken leader who publicly supports the advancement of women; demonstrates unwavering courage in the face of difficulty; works boldly and consistently toward positive and lasting change and supports and empowers other women through her work.
“It was quite a surprise and quite an honor,” Carson said.
Carson was one of three finalists in the award’s first public nomination process, along with Julie Ezold, a senior researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Dr. Dianne Ezell, a research engineer also with ORNL.
Nominated for the honor May 7, along with Ezold and Ezell, “That actually came as a total surprise, too,” Carson said. “I’m still involved in volunteer stuff that I enjoy doing. A lot of it’s been just talking one-on-one with people; I’m really trying to encourage some women to consider running for local office. I think we need a little bit more balance in some of our local offices.
“So I just spend some time with different organizations, making sure that they know that I’m certainly not an expert in campaigns, but I can share my thoughts on how you make that decision” to run, she added. “Try to encourage women to step out.
“I think some of them could be excellent leaders and it would benefit our community to have more balance there.”
In regard to schools, “I still work with the state PTA and their regional director for the past six months just trying to get involved and help some local units,” Carson said. “Keep their parent organizations going.”
Carson continues her service as a pediatric critical care nurse at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, where she’s served the past 28 years.
Elected for three terms on Knox County Board of Education, Carson served from 2004 to 2016.