Breaking Down Barriers to Change Laws in Arizona with Emily Anne Gullickson
November 30, 2021
Breaking Down Barriers to Change Laws in Arizona with Emily Anne Gullickson

Arizona is a national leader in education reform, having recently passed one of the most robust education reform bills in the nation. The goal? To showcase that seat time does not equate quality learning. Instead, thanks to HB 2862, the state recognizes that instructional time can look vastly different depending on the students’ needs. Imagine that!

This and so much more was possible thanks to the work of Emily Anne Gullickson, CEO of A for Arizona, a nonprofit with a vision to build an education system that prepares every student to succeed in the global economy and contribute to local communities.

In this episode, we talk about the inequities in education today, how schools are taking the learnings from the pandemic and creating new ways to teach and learn, barriers to education because of student access, and so much more.

This is a refreshing conversation about an organization that’s making a big difference in lives and laws. It’s a must-listen for anyone who wants to create viable solutions to the challenge that is education today.


About Emily Anne Gullickson:

Emily Anne brings to A for Arizona a unique background of executive, advocacy, legal, and teaching experience as a Teach For America – Phoenix alumna. She is the founder and CEO of A For Arizona and also leads sister organization Great Leaders Strong Schools. Emily Anne was recognized by the Arizona Capitol Times and state Capitol community as Leader of the Year in Education and Best Activist in the State of Arizona, and was recently recognized in Arizona as Best Political Rising Star, Women Achievers of Arizona – Nonprofit Leader, and Breakdown Breakout for being one of the sharpest political minds in Arizona under 40. Nationally, Emily Anne serves on the PIE Network Leadership Council and was recently recognized amongst her peers as a finalist for Breakout Advocate of the Year and Gamechanger Policy of the Year.


Jump in the Conversation:

  • [4:03] Introducing Emily Anne
  • [5:08] Where school transformation began for Emily Anne
  • [6:12] Policy with good intentions – the impact on schools
  • [7:35] What would happen if we built policy around high performing, innovative schools in high poverty communities
  • [9:51] Expanding access for next-generation leaders
  • [10:27] Engaging businesses to improve access
  • [12:17] Bringing geometry to life
  • [13:25] HB 2862 – seat time flexibility and innovation
  • [17:09] Innovation zones
  • [18:53] Some schools are running with change
  • [20:56] Barriers to dismantle
  • [25:23] Benefits of micro-schools: the relationship aspect
  • [26:56] It doesn’t have to be either-or
  • [28:09] Barriers of transportation to student access – beyond the bus driver shortage
  • [33:53] how others can begin to engage the government and change laws
  • [36:46] What’s your biggest hurdle to serve families and how can you get past it
  • [40:30] Turbo Time
  • [45:05] What you need to know about educational policymaking
  • [46:36] Emily Anne’s Magic Wand
  • [49:53] Maureen’s Takeaways


Links & Resources:

Thanks for listening! Don’t forget to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Android. If you like what you heard, please leave a review on iTunes and share what you liked about the show.



Maureen O’Shaughnessy  0:03  

Hello fellow parents and educators. Thank you for joining me at Education Evolution, where we are disrupting the status quo in today’s learning models. We talk about present day education, what’s broken, who’s fixing it, and how. I’m Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your host and founder of education evolution, micro school coalition, and co founder of EdActive, I consult and train with schools and leaders who are fiercely committed to changing the narrative, reimagining the education landscape, and creating learning that serves all children and prepares them to thrive. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  0:49  

If you are new, welcome to the podcast. Please subscribe on our website to get it delivered to your inbox weekly. If you’ve been around a while, have you left a review?


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  1:08  

A for Arizona is a nonprofit that began in 2013 when former Arizona superintendent of public instruction, Lisa Graham Keegan, decided to flip the traditional approach to education policy upside down and see what might happen if they leveraged best practices from the business community to focus intensely on scaling what works in K 12 schools, who yes, we need businesses engaged in helping education meet the needs of all learners inside and outside the school building. Our EdActive Collective is likewise invested in this sort of teamwork. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  1:49  

Lisa was joined by today’s guest now Chief Executive Officer, Emily Anne Guillickson. The A for Arizona initiative set out in the spring of 2014. To learn from Arizona’s roughly 100 high poverty high performing schools who were quietly laboring and defying the odds. This makes such good sense. We need to find those who are closing the achievement gap and both learn from them and cheer them on. A for Arizona has a vision to build an education system in Arizona that prepares every student to succeed in the competitive global economy and contribute to their local community. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  2:35  

Their work is built around elevating these educators voices, developing policy ideas and research to support and accelerate their investments in the life of every student. They’ve harnessed the power and influence of the business community through strategic partnerships with Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Arizona Chamber Foundation, Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Industry and their member organizations. They are pulling in all of the other big guns and collaborating. Yes, please. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  3:11  

A for Arizona has made their state a national leader in education reform. With business support, they have taken their goals to the legislator and passed one of the most robust educational reform bills in the whole United States. We all need to challenge structures that don’t make sense, like ours in the seat or seat time determining how well a student is learning and the related funding. What school laws and practices don’t make sense to you. Who could you work with to be a legislative voice for change? Let’s talk to Emily and now and learn more.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  4:03  

Hi, Emily, and it is so good to have you.


Emily Anne Guillickson  4:06  

Thanks for having me. I’m excited to talk all things K 12 education and everything else this morning.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  4:13  

Yes. And you are such an amazing inspiration because you are making things happen at a legislative level. And I this is an area I want to understand. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  4:24  

So listeners I’m jumping ahead. today I’m chatting with Emily and Gullickson. And she’s the CEO of the nonprofit, a for Arizona. And your organization is setting an example for the rest of the United States. you’re partnering with businesses passing bills in the state legislator a for Arizona is making a difference. And today we are here to get some pointers from you on changing laws and practices so that we better serve all learners. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  4:52  

So there’s so much that your organization is uniquely tackling that we can be learning from before I dive into to some of that, I really want to understand your story. I mean, we know school systems have to evolve to serve learners. But where did this story of school transformation begin for you?


Emily Anne Guillickson  5:12  

Ah, well, for me, I was the product of a one size fits all model. So I was getting in trouble a lot as a youth. And they didn’t have gifted programs back then. And so it my own journey looked very different. I spent part of my time growing up in Minneapolis and part of my time living in a rural unincorporated town in Wisconsin. And so you quickly see the differences in K 12, educational opportunities. And I really got on fire about how policies play a role on schooling, when I joined Teach for America, and I had no idea the difference that my students would make on my life. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  6:03  

So they are my, they’re my fire, even though it’s been a well over a decade. They changed my life. And you really got to see firsthand what poorly worded policy is, or policies with good intentions, but that were set by folks who haven’t been a teacher in a classroom, to see how it would would impact every child and school. So that’s where it kind of all began.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  6:34  

I love that. And I laugh we see in the news feed every now and then this law that back from 18, or whatever, where you can’t chew gum in public or weird stuff. And we laugh. But there are so many things on the books that are equally archaic, or nonsensical, and they’re impacting our learners. And that whole world of legislation is kind of scary for me, I get the schools, I get educational change. And we need to stop being afraid and tackle some of the stuff that is out of date, or these constructs that don’t work for all learners. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  7:14  

So I’m super pleased that you’re gonna help us today, and that you’re also helping our active collective in January, and just to figure out how we can influence these laws as the educators as the people that do know what’s going on in the classroom, and make it relevant. So I’d love to shift and have you just tell us about a for Arizona, what have you co created and what are you leading?


Emily Anne Guillickson  7:39  

Yeah, so our work is really rooted in what would happen if we build policy around high performing salts oriented, innovative schools that are getting success in high poverty communities. And the work really comes from our school leadership Collective, we have this amazing brain trust of public district, charter magnet, and private school directors and system leaders that really believe that every child can learn at the highest level. And all of their models look different. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  8:19  

However, they all have this core principle in place and make all of their decisions around providing an excellent education for every child. And so we really came out this work after watching all of the reports, Republican awarded Democrat awarded around how school improvement wasn’t working, and really wanted to take best practices from the business community around replicating what works, and focus on expanding excellence. really honing in on how do we get rid of regulatory handcuffs that are on our best and brightest? 


Emily Anne Guillickson  9:02  

And really ask them like what roadblocks are in your way from sustaining your great models? You figured out the secret sauce of how to educate Arizona kids really well, right, close the achievement gap. So how do we empower you to sustain your great models, but also grow your impact? 


Emily Anne Guillickson  9:20  

Here in Arizona, we haven’t necessarily been the ground for some of the big national CMOS to come in. And so we spoke to local leaders and said like, you figured out how to teach Arizona kids really well. And so how do we empower you to either expand or replicate or teach others how to do what you do so that more kids and families can have their needs met? So all of our policy work is framed around expanding access and opportunity for our next gen of leaders.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  9:59  

I Love that and and that you’ve bridged education of business. On your website, you make a really strong statement about the role of businesses you state. It has always been our belief that businesses have the obligation, opportunity and capacity to foster greater student achievement, build an educated workforce pipeline, and protect our future economic vitality. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  10:25  

So you’re doing it but how do educators begin to engage businesses to support this access? And this excellence for every learner?


Emily Anne Guillickson  10:36  

Yeah, so we incubated our organization for the first handful of years in the State Chamber and the Tucson Hispanic chamber. And they really were hearing from members that they did not have a highly qualified workforce talent pipeline, and realize that the usual approaches for engagement with K 12 schools wasn’t working. And so one of the things I always find fascinating as I engage with partners across the country is businesses are usually left to the side, except when we want grants. Yeah, or there’s tension around, like whose responsibility is there. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  11:20  

And some of our school leaders have really been intentional about bringing in business advisory councils that aren’t just in name only, but really asking them to the table because our CEOs and other employees want to volunteer their time. But it’s usually like read a book for 30 minutes with a child or give us a check, right. And there are so many more skills and talents and assets, and energy and alignment around visions and ways to collaborate. But we tend to not make those asks, and so you know, for our thriving business community here in Arizona, it’s just a no brainer to invite leaders to the table when they have so much to give back. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  12:10  

So as an example, even if you’re a classroom teacher, we have one school in the west valley that takes and brings their geometry class to life. And they’ve brought in folks from the construction industry to actually help their students apply their math and build whole playground structures. There are seven to 12 school, and they’ve built bleachers and cool shade structures and what looks like almost like treehouses, but on the ground for high school kids to hang out in. And they’re so proud of these structures, because they helped bring them to life. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  12:47  

But they really brought together industry and their students and their lesson plans, and really drove them. And that’s, that’s a small example. But there’s so many ways to engage, we just have to ask and lean in and recognize the mutual benefits.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  13:08  

I love that in those examples. That’s not, we don’t have to be experts. We don’t have to be politically connected. And just, hey, here’s something we can do. And kids who wouldn’t want to get to create something amazing and lasting for their campus and for the recreation. Tell us about House Bill 2862.


Emily Anne Guillickson  13:29  

Ah, my favorite. The wonky summary is this is all about seat time, flexibility and innovation. For those of you who don’t know what that means, dating back a century, we had these things called Carnegie units, where we really believed at the time that all students across the country should be learning the same information and same amount of time, same order of operation. And it was a great theory, but it’s stuck with us for decades. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  14:04  

And really, what we’re realizing is that kids learn at different paces. They come in with different skill sets, and our educators hands in particular, but also school leaders when it comes to schedules have really been tied because you can’t think in a personalized learning way when funding continues to be tied to this theory that a child sitting in a desk equates to learning, right. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  14:37  

And so our state legislature really led the way in a bipartisan way huge support in an otherwise controversial year. And Arizona legislators recognize the value of a lot of the regulatory flexibilities that have been granted during the pandemic and the urgency around making sure that those flexibilities could continue well after the pandemic, and it really enables us to rethink when, where and how learning occurs. It empowers schools to utilize learning spaces out of the four walls of the classroom. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  15:20  

We’re seeing things like evening night classes, so that students can do viable meaningful hands on apprenticeships during the day, or seeing night learning hubs in collaboration with nonprofits, where you can still get one or two hours of learning, apply projects and enrichment activity, but get that direct instruction from your teacher during the day. And I think it really is recognizing that our educators are hungry for this, our families, for this, and it’s not a mandate, we don’t really love mandates any version. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  16:02  

But it’s optional. So those who want to continue to do school exactly as they did pre pandemic, still have that regulatory environment to operate in, and the willing, who want to lean in, and maybe they did a school redesign during the pandemic, or have really embraced trying to shake up the way that they educate kids, realizing it wasn’t working for all kids pre pandemic, like, they’re really leaning into this, this new arena. And so it’s really exciting.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  16:36  

I love it. And we all know the number of minutes a seat is in a chair doesn’t have anything to do with learning and some kids need 10 times that and or one a fraction of that. And sometimes sitting and passively learning wasn’t the right way for that kid to learn. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  16:54  

Anyhow, I I love that you’re not saying everybody has to change, but those that found it, as you said earlier, to be regulatory handcuffs now are uncuffed. And and can create, I want to ask you because you would in a previous conversation you had talked about some states have something called Innovation zones, and 


Emily Anne Guillickson  17:16  

you’re gonna get me in trouble now.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  17:18  

That’s where we’re about being rebellious. Could you explain what those are? And I don’t think that’s what you guys are talking about when you take away some of these regulations?


Emily Anne Guillickson  17:29  

Yeah, a lot of those have limited the number of schools or systems that can participate, who have Yes, they have sort of a regulatory runway gang for which to lean into rethinking about what schooling looks like for a set number of schools. But one of the concerns that have been raised with us from other state partners is that when governing boards change, or when bureaucrats in charge of that process as to who gets to continue their models, decide no longer, then you really stunt the opportunity. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  18:12  

And for us, we had been considering leveraging an Innovation Zone A few years ago. But in the wake of the momentum we saw from some school leadership teams during the pandemic, to really embrace this opportunity to reimagine what learning can look like and what teaching can look like. redefining the role of a teacher embracing a different approach to even what that bell schedule can look like. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  18:40  

It was really urgent for us to make sure we didn’t put all schools back into that regulatory box and then tell a few of them, you select 20 have permission now to go back to what you were doing. And you know, some of the systems are doing total transformational change. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  19:00  

So one of our great partners, the Center for the future of Arizona has this personalized learning network and Mesa Unified School District. They are the biggest school district in the state of Arizona. And they are in this five year transition to a personalized learning model at every school, almost 40,000 students. And so what they don’t want to do is get three years into that and then be told, we no longer get to be a part of this Innovation Zone. And so for us, we were seeing leaders down on the international border in rural and remote communities in the suburbs and also in the urban core, who were really embracing these regulatory flexibilities and leaning into truly student centered models. Why would we want to hold them back? 


Emily Anne Guillickson  19:49  

So for us, we wanted to be bold, and really drive at innovation in a regulatory environment. That’s optional. For any school leader who really wants to lean into that, and one of the neat parts about the film is that your governing board could decide a single school is ready for this, maybe you just have a go getter principal, or it’s a cluster of schools where you have this collaborative approach across school directors, or could be a whole system system wide approach, like we’re seeing in Rio Rico and Newmont. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  20:26  

And so it’s really exciting about the possibilities. And we did not want to hold back those who wanted to lean in to better teaching and learning for the 21st century.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  20:39  

I love it. So the innovation zones can be brilliant, but they can change when political leaders change. And it’s for a set number of people and what you’re doing is changing the law to make these options available for all schools in Arizona. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  20:53  



Maureen O’Shaughnessy  20:54  

Got it. So see, time is definitely a barrier. What other barriers? Is a for Arizona looking to dismantle?


Emily Anne Guillickson  21:05  

Yeah, so one of the areas that we’ve taken on is around the talent pipeline. In 2016, and 17, we really took on teacher certification, because our school partners were saying, you know, a lot of times we’re having to retrain educators, when we get to them, you hear a lot about the teacher shortage, but a lot of our school partners have waitlists of educators that are itching to get in to their school environments, because the culture is so amazing, and they have great leadership. And who would not want to teach in one of these schools, right? And so really looked at different ways to recognize that you could get second career folks Grow Your Own that could result in an actual state issued certification. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  21:59  

And so now we’re looking ahead to we might need to do a similar approach to what we done four or five years ago with the principal and assistant principal shortages, about how can we sort of rethink pathways of really talented leaders, get them the skills they need, but also get them on the ground learning hands on? You know, in our teacher cert, reform solutions, over 3000 teachers went through this subject matter expert pathway, physics, classes, chemistry, biology, and again, we have this amazing wealth of experts in our state. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  22:42  

Down in southern Arizona, you are have home to IBM, Raytheon, super smart engineers, like best in the world. Why would we not want them to be able to have access to our classroom, we have folks who have taught at our military bases for years, who now as a second career, wants to be able to teach, say high school class. They have the skills, we just need to help them with some of the things like child psychology and things like that. But, um, we had this wealth of talent that wall untraditional is really empowering schools to add new advanced courses they’ve never they’ve never had before, right? 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  23:31  



Emily Anne Guillickson  23:31  

some of our schools because they’ve really upped the rigor in junior high, right? In order to keep students engaged and challenge their like, we never had to hire for a calc one teacher, a AP or IB, Anna, you need really great experts like this. And so now we’re looking at it from the other side of talent of recognizing that we do not have a bench right now. In the wake of the pandemic of exceptional leaders, the RE hit the ground running, and how do we enable our leaders to help train or incubate? 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  24:14  



Emily Anne Guillickson  24:15  

those leaders under their wings, because who wouldn’t want you to learn from the best, and those with the greatest results and outcomes for kids?


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  24:24  

I really appreciate that. You’re rethinking that whole piece and my micro schools, private nonprofit, private schools in Washington State. Teachers don’t have to have certification. And so I’ve had a medical doctor who wanted a part time job, teaching math and applying the concepts and explaining career stuff in on the way. I’ve had so many amazing teachers, because we don’t have to have people that have gone through state certification. And we do we got a retired Microsoft person who was in and doing robotics and stem with our kids. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  24:57  

So private schools have already been able to do that in many states, just look at talent, and we can teach classroom management. They bring in so rich and robust of a background. So I’m glad that you’re challenging. This one, one size fits all learning isn’t good for kids. It’s not good for teachers in training. I want to also ask you, I remember in a previous conversation, you said, you were looking at the barrier of transportation. Can you just tell us a bit about that?


Emily Anne Guillickson  25:30  

my favorite topic. Well, first, I’m glad you plugged micro schools. They’re on fire in a great way here in Arizona, public and private. And so we have 1000s of families that are embracing those smaller learning environments and educators, right. Many of them have attracted currently certified teachers, but also non traditional leads, who really are excited about driving it student agency. So I’m glad you talked about it.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  25:59  

You know what now I have to plug it just a little. We have 13 full time teachers, we have a one to six student ratio, we have kids doing sixth through 12th grade multi years with teacher stigmata years. The thing about small, even I’ve done this in a school within a school and a high school of 2000 kids. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  26:17  

The thing about small communities within or separately, is the relationship aspect. And when kids feel seen, heard valued, they are so safe, so ready to learn. And right now the anxiety of the pandemic, the what’s going on and all that pressure, our kids are so loved up and they still feel the anxiety. But small means teachers get connections and and they get to teach kids instead of content matter. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  26:45  

You know, so small is so relational, I just really wish, whether it’s within a big school or separate public private, that we built more learning communities, because when we value humans, everything falls into place much easier. So I had to add to your


Emily Anne Guillickson  26:59  

and I and along that line. Now I think it’s so important for those who are listening, it doesn’t have to be either or right we’re seeing some really amazing Public Schools lean in to adding enhancements with micro school classrooms, even if it’s just a few times a day. They’re off site in nonprofits, local businesses. Some of them are even in the same wing of their school. But they’ve totally flipped what furniture looks like, and really giving students that arena where it’s really good fit. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  27:33  

Does it mean it’s perfect for everyone? No. But those systems that are really embracing that this is a hunger for even hundreds of their families are seeing better student enrollment retention, better student attendance, huge gains in academics like a lot of the micro schools that we partner with 18 months to two years worth of growth. It’s unheard of. So yeah, I plug for school and interfering. I’m looking at what are those values? So that ties us to transportation? 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  28:11  



Emily Anne Guillickson  28:12  

love. So we all know that transportation barriers have been real for many families for a very long time. And although national headlines are drawing to the bus driver shortage right now, we are not limited to that, right? When we think about barriers to cost, huge declines in ridership, inefficient routes that were limiting parents ability to make a choice, even within their same school district, right, where you’re told sorry, you’re not on the route. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  28:46  

Mm hmm. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  28:47  

Barriers to safe and efficient public transit. These barriers have existed for a long time. And for us, these were eliminated and exacerbated during the pandemic. And we did focus groups with parents and also with our school leaders and system leaders, not just to focus on the problems, but more importantly, to focus on the solutions. One of the things that our education reform brain trust can sometimes be guilty of is that we drive out like a single solution, or like, here’s the problem. Here’s your three part playbook. Right. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  29:30  

And for us, some of the ideas that were brought up by parents but also school leaders that drove in together and linked in, were so inspiring, right? It was things we would not have come up with on our own around really viable solutions that could save schools dollars, that could cut ridership time in half that could create instead of like, you know, everyone has that bullying experience that happened on the giant yellow schools last Friday. So instead, how do you create some of these smaller learning hub type experiences in transit, right.


Emily Anne Guillickson  30:09  

And so we’re really excited. A for Arizona has an expansion and Innovation Fund. And we won a competitive bid with the state of Arizona to oversee this effort to modernize the way that we transport K 12 students. And it has been so exciting. You’ve had cities apply, nonprofits apply 74% of our applicants or rural and remote. So anyone who wants to tell you that innovation is only in the city is wrong. We’ve been so inspired by folks who have never been given permission. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  30:51  

Again, this goes back to our bigger Emperor’s on a theme, right is that the Willinger out there, it’s just when you’ve never given them the runway, or you never empowered them to really drive at community based decisions that had parent input, or business leader input. And to really take these brilliant ideas and run with them, then they never get off the ground, right? Unfortunately, although there’s billions of dollars into K 12, we’re still very risk averse as to Yes, feeding these really bold solutions as to what could be possible for kids and families. And so we are thrilled with this new opportunity. Our finalists for this first round will be announced on November 8. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  31:42  

And it’s exciting. It’s really inspiring. And we know that we’re going to continue to get forward thinking solutions. And we hope that it can inspire other states. Because the bus driver shortage is not going away. Right? Like we’re not going to be able to compete with the Amazons of the world, by poaching up CDL drivers. And so we’re really excited about the possibility there. And then how do we protect it so that moving forward, we can have multiple options on the table, so that every family and every school has a viable way of transporting their child?


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  32:18  

Yes, everything you’re talking about is more options, empowering people to come up with more options, more routes to get where kids need to go. And I think that I really appreciate that it isn’t, you’re you’re fighting that tendency to have a playbook of solutions. Rather, you’re having a list of options and letting the communities create them themselves, because they know their community best and what the challenge is and what the resources are.


Emily Anne Guillickson  32:43  

And our legislators were brilliant in making sure that the guardrails were wide enough that they still of course, student safety is number one, but they also recognized the different enhancements or solutions that might be put on the table depending on geographic terrain, or the level of open enrollment at a school, the sophisticated technology currently in use or not, and where people might want to go with that. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  33:16  

And so it’s really something to watch, you know, for those tuning in that are really kind of our social justice warriors. This is the giant elephant in the room that no one’s want to talk about, right? Because the reality is there are 1000s and 1000s of families, millions when you look at the nation, who are have real choices, right? But we also know choices, not choices. You can’t get there. And so if you really want to even that playing field, we have to talk about transportation.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  33:50  

I love that and we don’t. Yes. So, Emily, and you’ve given so many specific examples of actions that a for Arizona is taking to really challenge existing laws and structures. How can others that are passionate about eliminating school barriers? How can they begin to make change in laws and in funding, engage the government? I mean, that’s pretty daunting. Where would you recommend somebody begin?


Emily Anne Guillickson  34:24  

Well, number one, we like to challenge our leaders and say, like, what is the biggest problem or hurdle? And the answer for many organizations is solely funding. But some school systems around the country have close to $30,000 per pupil, and still are not seeing great results for students. And so funding of course, is an important element in the conversation, but it can’t be the only barrier, right and so what One of the things that we’ve challenged, especially our school district partners is like, what? Giant, like rock on your back? Could we try to lift off of you? Right, that would either make you more nimble, or have more flexibility, or more autonomy. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  35:20  

And I think so often, the reaction is like those who are doing well put more rules, or restrictions on others, instead of really having that Honest, honest dialogue of what if removed, would really enable us to flourish. Right. And so we’ve done whiteboarding exercises. So if you’re like, Okay, I’m going down, this is a lot like start with that brainstorm of, of what is one of our biggest pain points, and it might be at your local level, it might be something with your governing board, it might not be at the state level that you have to get engaged on. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  36:05  

Back when I was a classroom teacher, we had lastin. First out, just because we were younger educators, regardless of the impact we had on students, we were reduced first. And the state of Arizona has since changed that law. And it was really mobilized by a lot of young, talented educators who had the data to support, you know, we’re growing students by two years, we should not be the ones that are first to be let go of our jobs. And here’s the evidence to support it. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  36:41  

And so I think that’s the biggest one is like, what is that biggest hurdle in your way of doing great teaching, or having a meaningful impact on more kids and families that you want to serve? And then how do we help get you there? Right, there are a lot of people that focus on the problems, but not then the solution part, right? So if if you got out of this regulatory box that you’re in, what could really unleash you, right? And that takes some serious design thinking work. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  37:20  

So we leverage our startup community, immensely here in Arizona, they force us to think and look at solutions in totally different light, and challenge us to not go with the first answer or the easiest answer. But to really step back and think through, what do we really want to achieve? And what are the different paths that could look like to get there? And that’s led to some of our best policy solutions?


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  37:54  

Those steps sound very doable. And yes, what is that pain point? And then solutions and design thinking, we ask our students to do that. And that means a lot of research, and then prototyping and trying it, and then iterations. So I think we want just like our students one and done, hey,


Emily Anne Guillickson  38:16  

and even at your school site, we’ve seen some really forward thinking teachers who have pitched to our expansion Innovation Fund, there’s other viable outlets like ours around the country. And they’ve said, you know, let me try it. And if it works, we could scale this to all of our other school sites, right. And so there’s just a different approach, when you’re coming at it with like, I want to be bold, here’s what I want to track. Here’s what I think can be achieved, instead of some of the usual sort of like, teachers lounge banter, right of the darker side, by schooling. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  39:02  

And so, you know, very few people turn folks away when you’re really leaning into viable solutions that are full of hope and possibility for kids and families.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  39:17  

I love that. Yeah, it’s easy to lament. But how exciting


Emily Anne Guillickson  39:22  

and I want to give a plug to the viola education fund their national and they give grants to teachers, right now they have a grant that’s open, it’s $2,500 or $10,000. Like that can go a long way just to get an idea off the ground and implemented that then can gain traction from your governing board or others. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  39:44  

And so, again, I think sometimes, or could attract a local match right of someone that wants to take advantage of the fact that you’re bringing in some, some national dollars to seed innovation. And so, those dollars can really long way, we’ve seen some amazing work for under $25,000. And it’s then carried into multiple school years. And so that’s where taking that time to rethink, you know, what would be that game changer in my own classroom or in my school, it really adds up.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  40:23  

Love that. And we’ll put the Vale Education Fund link in the show notes. So thank you. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  40:29  

I’d like to shift gears and get to know you a little bit. I think it’s great to understand organizations, but it’s fun to know the person, the CEO here behind the organization. So I have a couple of turbo time questions for you. So, Emily, and what’s the last book you read?


Emily Anne Guillickson  40:47  

I highly recommend a fine line by Tim de Roche. I’ve reread it. So I’m kind of cheating. But it’s all about. It’s nerdy. But it’s all about laws and policies that dictate where kids are allowed to go to which schools. So it’s hard to believe that there are still some states where you can get arrested for trying to take your child to a school outside of your like, zoned school district. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  41:18  

And so we love open enrollment here in Arizona. But the inequities of the system, that that ties back to with redlining, housing policies, it’s a good read. And it will certainly light a fire under you. And it may motivate you to check out what your open enrollment practices look like in your own state. Not one to read on like the beach on a vacation, but definitely can light a fire under you.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  41:50  

Awesome. Two inspirational folks who’d love to meet?


Emily Anne Guillickson  41:55  

Okay, well, I was so so used in history teacher. So my answers really go back to that, um, I absolutely loved nerding out on the LEED African American female mathematicians that were involved with NASA during the space race. So Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, to me, like embracing your brilliance and disrupting the status quo for the greater good. So many lessons, I wish I could ask questions all day, about what that was like. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  42:36  

And then although she’s no longer alive, I wish I could go back in time to speak with Katherine Graham, the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, so many things I would love to ask her about, about that. Taking on gender barriers, as a young female CEO, to me, she led so courageously was bold, really leaned in and really paved the way for for other females to become leaders and major companies, but also for leaders like me, right to be able to break through some of those historical barriers in a shorter period of time. So,


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  43:23  

absolutely, Boy, that’s a name. Now I want to look up. How about a TED Talk that inspires you?


Emily Anne Guillickson  43:30  

I’m a super fan of Brene Brown. So yeah, one of her older TED talks, but the power of vulnerability, especially in a world where people want to suggest like the not enough culture, as a young leader, right. And she just so speaks to the importance of like, knowing your gifts and talents, that you belong, that you are enough, and then really leading with courage, and vulnerably. Right, and being able to dare greatly, which is what we have to do in the policy arena all the time, and also potentially fail totally publicly, right? 


Emily Anne Guillickson  44:15  

I am very human. And, and my team knows that. You know, I strive every day to show it the best I can but I am definitely flop falafel. Not last night, right? Um, being able to embrace like that we are doing our best. And that’s enough. You know, it’s, it’s a good thing that I come back to all of our books are also great, but this concept about it’s so counterintuitive that like vulnerability and authenticity, then it’s like a better leadership trait than like this. Don’t Eric Stone Cold leader. Absolutely. So count countering that narrative. Yeah,


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  45:07  

yes. What’s the biggest thing you wish folks knew about educational policymaking?


Emily Anne Guillickson  45:12  

You need really thick skin, Armadillo skin. Um, and then I guess it would be like, less is more. I think so often people lead to put, like more rules and more things on the books and ask yourself, Does this really need to go into the state legislature? Or is this more like a rule or a local policy? That could be sad? 


Emily Anne Guillickson  45:43  

Because I think so often. Like, we’re all about creating that flexibility and autonomy and like getting roadblocks, and regulatory handcuffs out of leaders way to then see what happens for kids and families and communities. But so often, it’s I’m assuming that like, if you’re going to embrace policy solutions, you have to be adding, right, like putting more on instead of removing? 


Emily Anne Guillickson  46:09  

Yes, I said, there’s a lot on the books that really ties people’s hands like you should not have to have full time employees, by the dozens just to complete, like various reporting requirements, right, like, how do we, huh, is some of some of that, that we’ve embraced over the last few decades. So?


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  46:30  

Absolutely. And I’d like to end our Education Evolution interviews with a magic wand moment. So Emily, and I am bestowing you with a magic wand. What would you wish for, in terms of Paul policies across the nation, which hopefully means across the planet? What would you wish for, for educational policies that for our youth?


Emily Anne Guillickson  47:03  

Well, we would have a system with multiple transit options, so that children could go to whatever learning model or environment or multiple learning models or environments where they would best thrive and flourish and be able to create the greatest value in our in our community. You know, it is not lost on me that this generation that’s currently in our K 12, schools, will be the bulk of the workforce by 2030. And they are our next local and state and national and international leaders, and CEOs, and managers, and directors. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  47:54  

And so rather than leading with fear, you know, being able to lean into possibility, because that’s where I find my greatest hope there are so many brilliant educators, how do we let them be on leash? Because they have amazing ideas for what schooling can look like? What learning environments can look like? How do we really empower them, and also a system where parents are really viewed as allies and assets? Yes, in an intentional way. 


Emily Anne Guillickson  48:39  

We’ve seen this at many schools in Arizona, but not all approached that yet of realizing that like parent input on what kind of school or learning model they want matters and some really lean in and deliver and do whole redesigns and others aren’t quite there yet. And so I think moving forward, is recognizing the collaborative approach.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  49:04  

Absolutely. Wow. Mic drop. Emily Anne, thank you for your amazing hard work for all that you’ve done to create and grow a for Arizona. And for the example you are setting for our nation, of rethinking all of these policies, collaborating, leaning in hoping your work is is so important, thank you,


Emily Anne Guillickson  49:29  

thank you so much. It’s such a pleasure. And anyone who’s listening feel free to reach out. We love to support folks that really want to embrace this new approach to schooling and and really empower every child to be successful. So thanks again Maureen thrilled to be here


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  49:57  

Emily Anne and A for Arizona. are the real deal. Making education equitable for all takes collaboration between schools, business and legislators. A for Arizona is doing just that. Leaders from various types of schools learn and share together in the brain trust, guided by the goal to expand access and make sure all students are learning. This goal allows for laws that provide more options for all students, instead of innovation zones with limited access that might come and go based on state leadership. A step up to universal inclusion. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  50:39  

The lens of barriers to remove promotes design thinking and exploration of possibilities instead of grumbling about what is this a for Arizona methodology is a brilliant and productive shift of focus, talent pipeline for school leaders and teachers transportation that works for all seat time updated to quality of learning. Love how a for Arizona is breaking down barriers and changing laws to meet the needs of today’s learners. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  51:14  

Be sure to check out their website to hear about the expansion and Innovation Fund finalists. How great that a for Arizona is seating bold, forward thinking solutions. Breaking innovation down to three questions is wonderful and adds so much clarity. Here are the three questions that Emily Anne used I just want to repeat them so that they sink in. One, what’s the biggest hurdle? And let’s get past funding which isn’t a deal breaker in many innovations to what giant rock could be lifted from your back to help you flourish and brainstorming pain points and gathering data to support a different approach. And three, who can help us get there? And Emily Anne suggestion to you startup community members who are so good at looking beyond the first answer. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  52:10  

The result of answering these three questions can be viable solutions full of hope and Vela could help with the funding. Then we just need our thick skin to push for change, and less as more in terms of rules at the state level that might limit flexibility and autonomy at the local level. With those two components, we can reach Emily Anne’s magic wand ed policy wish a system with multiple transit options so kids can get to the school that best serves them so that this book of the 2030 workforce can be thriving and create the best value for the community. let’s unleash our brilliant educators and collaborate intentionally with businesses and parent allies to make educational policy change happen. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  53:13  

Thank you to Emily Anne and A for Arizona. And thank you for being a part of the Education Evolution.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  53:30  

I know how challenging it is to make changes inside your own school or community. I spent years traveling working with schools around the world on creating learner centered programs and it always struck me on how much schools were able to get done with the right tools and guidance. If you’re ready to make changes like this in your school, or to start a new school, let’s talk and put together an action plan. Visit for a free 15 minute call. And let’s see if we’re a good fit for more work together.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  54:14  

Education evolution listeners, you are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen heard, valued and thriving. We need you Let’s go out and reach every student today. Leaving a rating and review for this podcast lets others know that you find it a value and it gets in the earbuds of more educational leaders like you. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  54:42  

Thank you listeners signing off. This is Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your partner in boldly reimagining education


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