Empowering Education with New Opportunities with Jon England
June 6, 2023
Empowering Education with New Opportunities with Jon England

Deregulating zoning and occupancy laws is crucial to support the growth of micro-schools, providing diverse educational options for students. But few know what steps to take or who to talk to.

This week on the podcast, Jon England of Libertas Institute shares how changing policies can help create new learning opportunities for students who don’t thrive in the traditional education system.

Jon highlights the limitations of the public education system and emphasizes empowering parents and teachers to explore innovative approaches in education. And we discuss the risks entrepreneurs face in challenging traditional norms and building alternative models to create a system that caters to individual student needs.

This thought-provoking conversation with Jon England calls for educational transformation through innovation, individualized learning, and policy change. Together, let’s create an education system that empowers students, supports teachers, and nurtures the unique potential within each child.

About Jon England:

Jon is the Education Policy Analyst at Libertas Institute. He is a fourteen-year veteran of public schools. He taught both fifth and sixth grades, receiving Weber District’s E+ Team Award. He proudly homeschools and micro schools his children with his wife.

Jon received his bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Utah and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Western Governors University. He spent time in the Marine Corps and separated as a sergeant in 2006.

During his time in public schools, Jon increasingly understood the importance of parental empowerment in education. This increased understanding led him to join Libertas to provide educational freedom for families. Jon enjoys spending time with his wife and five children traveling, skiing, and playing games.

Jump in the Conversation:

[1:48] – John shares his story of school transformation
[3:35] – Deregulating some of the zoning and occupancy laws to help support micro-school founders
[6:07] – The risks that entrepreneurs face in education
[7:00] – Why create more schools for children?
[9:44] – Breakout school for children with ADHD and autism
[13:05] – Every child has greatness and it’s our responsibility to draw that out
[16:46] – Where can we begin to be a part of policy change
[20:09] – Our common humanity is more important than politics
[22:45] – Turbo Time
[23:15] – What people need to know about educational policy
[25:47] – Jon’s Magic Wand
[27:03] – Maureen’s takeaways

Links & Resources



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 active, 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. 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
Hi Jon, it is so good to have you on Education Evolution today.

Jon England 1:11
Thank you so much.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 1:12
I’m so excited to be here. And listeners. today I’m chatting with Jon England, of Libertas. He is the Educational Policy Analyst. And he and Libertas work on legislation to make it easier for teachers to leave the traditional system and begin their own classroom or school. They address hurdles such as zoning and occupancy laws. And they work hard to reduce regulatory barriers. This is a valuable resource for educational innovators from all backgrounds. So Jon, we all know, that’s why we have this podcast and we’re having this conversation we all know, schools must evolve to serve all learners. Where did this story of school transformation begin for you?

Jon England 1:59
Well, it’s really quite interesting. So I’m actually a former elementary teacher and principal from the public system. And I just as a principle, especially, I noticed that the public system doesn’t fit every child, it fits a lot of children, but it doesn’t fit every single one. And so the idea of having parents be able to kind of choose what education they want, and being able to have models that fit that and empower teachers who maybe want to try different things has been something that just really appealed to me, as I started learning about micro schools and other education options that are out there. So I actually used to think I was a really innovative teacher in the public system out and I saw all these wonderful things that other teachers are doing outside of the public system that were just so just incredible and inspiring to me that it just really like, I don’t know what the right word is, like, started a fire in me, and reminded me of why I actually went into education, which was to help children learn and grow and meet their full potential.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 3:04
Absolutely. I am constantly inspired by the programs and schools I see out there. And by my guests on the podcast, it’s like, oh, wow, yes. So I’m with you, there’s so much possibility. So tell me what you’ve created.

Jon England 3:19
So what we’ve been doing on so again, you mentioned like we are a governing political Think Tank. So we work on all laws, and we recommend them to legislators, and then they work on those. And so we have been working on trying to deregulate some of the zoning and occupancy laws, which a lot of microscope founders have found across the nation. And trying to make that easier, because it can be a big barrier to entry for people who want to start a new microscope, you know, trying to navigate some of the city code. And ordinances can be really, really difficult. And so we want to make that as easy as possible so that we can have as many different options available.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 4:03
Can you give me an example of perhaps a situation or a barrier that you’ve taken on that’s had positive results.

Jon England 4:12
So we haven’t passed anything yet. We’re still still in the idea phase. Unfortunately, we did run a bill, this last Utah legislative session, but it didn’t make it out. But we’re going to bring it back. But some of the problems we’re trying to address involve specifically occupancy, for example, places that like a church that somebody wants to convert into a school, has classrooms already makes a lot of sense to convert it, but sometimes people have to go in and spend hundreds of 1000s of dollars to add things like sprinkler systems. And that’s, that’s a really difficult thing for a new micro school founder to do.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 4:50
I agree. And kudos to you for sticking with it. I think sometimes we you know, we’re aiming for the fence and we’re hitting and sometimes we don’t get in on the first step. But we’ve raised awareness, we’ve we’ve brought more people into the conversation. And more people means more potential for synergy. So good for you for saying, hey, it hasn’t gotten there yet. But we know what needs to happen. And so we’re coming back. And we’re gonna learn from how far we got the first time and, and build from there because I think changes is more challenging than people realize. And some people feel like if they don’t get it, it’s like, Well, I tried done. And I don’t hear you saying that at all.

Jon England 5:33
Yeah, no, we we definitely want to see this through. It’s something that’s really important to us, that Libertas to help out these these education entrepreneurs and see help them get up off the ground. So

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 5:47
and I love the word entrepreneurs, because I think sometimes we think an entrepreneur is going to open a tech company or design something, a really cool product. But anybody that’s looking at education differently, and creating something is definitely an educational entrepreneur, and they deserve that label.

Jon England 6:07
Oh, absolutely, absolutely. There’s, there’s an amount of risk that entrepreneurs take on and it’s no different in this education, micro school space, they, they do take on some risks and financial risk, you know, maybe they enter into a lease with the landlord or they pay a lot nine to renovate a building so that it complies with codes and and that’s what entrepreneurs do is they take risks to try and improve whatever it is that they’re working in. And that’s no different from micro school founder.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 6:34
Absolutely. And as one of those micro school founders who definitely even 10 years in, there’s still ongoing risks and, and ripples that are still hitting us from the pandemic and the teacher resignation crisis and everybody’s low energy. I am definitely a proponent of more educational options. Why does Libertas Why do you value more teachers creating their own schools?

Jon England 7:04
Well, here’s the thing, I have five kids. And I can easily tell you that no two of them are the same. And anybody who has more than one child in their home knows that. And, and so what I’m doing for my seven year old and his education with my what I’m doing with my wife, let me pause. So what I’m doing with my seven year old with my wife is very different than what I’m doing for my 14 year old and my 17 year old, they have different needs. And so having different options available for parents, is really one of the most important things I think we can do as a nation. And I think that the research supports that, across the board, parents want to be able to have an individualized education for their child that meets their needs.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 7:57
I completely agree. I always felt my heart was just warm when a teacher could really say, I know your daughter, and I know she needs this challenge. So can we try this? Or she just you know, she’s a little shy. So could I do the choir audition with her after school because I don’t want her to miss out on choir because she won’t audition in front of the other students. I value it so much when my girls get to be themselves and people meet them where they are. And that I think that’s the beauty of micro schools. When I’ve had 1000 kids at my school, I don’t get to know them. I don’t get to personalize we have to have systems in place to keep them safe. Where when we have 30 kids, we can like hey, let’s just stop her. Oh, cool idea. You want to do that? Let’s make a field trip to this place happen that we’d never thought about, but you’ve been studying it. I just feel like every child really deserves to be seen, heard and valued. And when a teacher comes in and says yes, I want to have a Chinese immersion school and creates that opportunity, or I want to have a stem robotics school. Programs are nice, but when we can do that for the bulk of their day, and kids can say heck yes, I’m all into robotics or Yes, I want to be multilingual. Then we’re a value add. And we’re honoring the kids. We’re honoring parents values, maybe somebody really like I am not a techie. I would love for my kids to have robotics and stem options that I would never be able to personally provide to them. So I can’t imagine any parents saying no, I want every kid to be able to fit into one structure.

Jon England 9:36
Yeah, and they don’t you we’re talking about a school that really, you know, you can form and fit around your child. I’m thinking of a school here in Utah, just north of Salt Lake. It’s called a breakout school. And this founder has created a school specific for children with ADHD and autism. And what they do is they spend How many hours outside every day allowing the children to learn in nature. And he’s he’s had great success with with helping these children, some of them have been labeled as you know, oppositional defiant, and that they come to the school and they’re able to go outside, you know, get energy out, linger on a topic that really interests them, rather than being asked to move on when they’re not ready. He’s just seeing this result in this growth and love of learning come back into their lives, which, which I am absolutely outstanding, and most of his students are boys because it tends to be part of them. But I mean, he lets girls come to but that’s just who tends to want that, or at least the parents do. And it’s just, it’s such an amazing thing to see something that can be so individualized, regardless of who your child is. So if they have a DD, or if they have autism, or maybe they have Down syndrome, there are options out there available for all of the students.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 11:05
I love that. And that example, is beautiful. And aside from having a challenge, my older daughter has ADD autism, aside from having a specific challenge. We know that nature is great right now we have a mental health epidemic. And nature is healing and it’s healthy. And right now, way too many of us humans in North American America are getting too much screen time. And a wonderful remedy is more green time. Kids don’t hop on their bikes and run and play and have as much downtime, and the safety of being out in nature, as my brothers and I had when we were young. So for him to say I want to create something to bring nature back in. I think it’s really important for the students, but I think it’s also important for the world, because how are we going to get people to protect ecology, if there’s no value of nature? Because yeah, I don’t I’m never outside, what do I care? What do I know? So he’s also creating people that have that connection, are going to be willing to advocate for more parks or things that can perpetuate others having the opportunity to be out in nature. So I see each of these micro schools having the potential to be that pebble dropped in the middle, and then the ripples are far beyond educating and helping an individual student. So to me, this is political without aligning with a political party. It’s saying we want to empower youth, align with their strengths, and help them thrive so that they can contribute, as adults are even now in the culture. So to me, this is big on so many levels. And obviously, for you to devote your time to this, you must be feeling that this is definitely really important, too.

Jon England 12:54
Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I it’s so important that we just have an education that fits every child, I think that’s something that’s so important. There every child has, has greatness within them. And we need an education that can help draw that out. And having different options is important for the different children there. And I think that’s why it’s just so important to to have these different options available.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 13:23
I love that I love that every child the greatness our obligation to draw it out, yes. And one size fits all, we’ll draw it out of perhaps the majority on a bell curve. But what about the rest of the students and our obligation is to also draw out their greatness. So what you’re doing is removing obstacles and changing policy, so that we can have more of these places that really value the kids and, and let them learn how they best learn.

Jon England 13:53
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Going back to that breakout school, he actually calls like their ADHD and their autism, their superpower. Because I, it’s typical of many students with autism, where they can get hyper focused, but they become experts in that area. He shared with me one story that a family was down at a dinosaur museum here in Utah, and they were walking around and this child was talking about the different kinds of dinosaurs, bones that you can find that article, and one of the paleontologists that works at this museum, was listening in, came up to the family and said, he knows more about the Antarctic dinosaurs than I do. And like he said, it’s this superpower that they have, but sometimes they can’t express that in in every educational option that’s out there. And so the fact that he has this school is just so amazing to me. And now this child maybe has a path forward of how can I enter society and support myself and follow something that I love right that maybe he wouldn’t have thought Have had he not had this option and opportunity.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 15:03
That is beautiful. And it aligns with this metaphor. I’ve heard that some schools are about teaching kids how to do school, right? And that sometimes for students, it feels like I am a fish being told I have to fly or I’m a bird being told I have to swim. You’ve missed out on who I am. You’re trying to get me to be something I’m not. And this is the opposite I love it’s like we see something that you are, this is amazing. We’re mirroring back that greatness that’s in them. And boy, that trajectory is so different from the kid that feels like I’m being told to be something I’m not.

Jon England 15:39
Exactly, exactly. And so Libertas, we want to have as many of these options available for every student, because, you know, breakout school might not work for every child that might, it works for some, but doesn’t work for everyone. And so let’s have other options that come out, maybe there are ones that are centered around edtech. Because kids love tinkering and putting things out there and seeing how they work. That’s an amazing thing. I have a nephew who would love that, you know, the types of things that I think allowing and helping remove barriers to have as many options available as we can, that I think are is just really exciting to me.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 16:17
Agreed. So I have to mention, the P word kind of terrifies me as a career educator and school leader, policy change policy. I mean, Where can those of us that are daunted by this whole idea of policy and government and procedures? Where can we begin if we really want because without policy change we are we are all handcuffed in so many ways we’re shackled and limited. Where might somebody that is kind of like Yikes, that’s scary. I don’t know anything about government and, and laws and policies, what might be a couple of ways that you could encourage people to be a part of that policy change.

Jon England 16:59
So what I would do is there are think tanks similar to Libertas, across the country. And they come from all political backgrounds. And so whatever you’re passionate about, there’s probably some kind of a political group that also feels that way. So you could get involved with them. If you like what Libertas is doing, there’s a group called SPN, the state policy network, go to spn.org, you can find different political groups that are similar to what we’re talking about today, that you could join and talk to you and be like, How can I be involved? Because that is one thing. On the policy side, it’s one thing for me saying, Hey, I’m an education analyst. And I’m here to talk about this, and I come across as an expert, but in the legislature, they actually really do want to hear from the people whose lives are affected by the laws they’re trying to create. And so you know, being able to work with your policy network, and that you’re the policy team that’s in your state, and just say, hey, you know, how can I help? Oh, you have a really cool story, can you come to the legislature on this day, tell your story in two minutes, that’s usually about how long it is, it’s not a long time, but be able to tell your story and help these legislators understand how the laws that they make, impact them. And I think that’s, that’s one amazing way that you could get involved. Or you could even just start small and go to your city council. That’s another great way that that you can get involved because, honestly, most people don’t go to city councils. And it’s an empty room that they’re, they’re making these decisions. And so they think it’s a good idea, but they’re not getting that feedback that that comes from conversation, when people are there and listening. And so just and so just start small find find something like that. So that’s what I would recommend.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 18:48
I love that and, you know, wanting to be more engaged in policy and not knowing where to start I, I found a Seattle, again, I think but think tank, they work on policy, on social emotional learning. And I’m all for us looking at kids as more than a math computer or an essay writer looking at their holistic needs. And I love they email me stuff and say, Hey, you can just forward this letter immediately to your legislator, you can tweak it, they’ve written drafts out, I don’t have to know what’s being discussed in the legislature. What I you know what I have to do, I just, they make it so easy for me to get involved. And otherwise, I think it’d be really scary. And if ever anybody ever said Oh, go to the Capitol, and it’s like, no, I don’t. But I think that a lot of the folks out there working with policy that there are these these groups that can make it easy for you and, and even just telling your story. Everybody has a story. That’s easy. That’s not something you have to prepare for. And, you know, just going in and saying, Hey, this is my truth. This is what’s happening with my kids is beautiful. So I appreciate you saying, hey, work with somebody that’s an organization that’s already doing this align with your values, your belief, your Polit takes, and there’s there are people out there to help you.

Jon England 20:03
Absolutely, absolutely. And I think we just need more conversations around these types of things. And, you know, in this role, I’ve actually met people that I probably wouldn’t have across the political spectrum, and we’re able to find things that we agree on. And, and that’s the beauty that I’ve found really in this is that, I think too much, you know, people with opposing political ideologies, or something was pitted to get against each other as enemies. But really, we’re more the same than we are different. We all As parents, we all want what’s best for our children. And we all want an education that fits them, we want them to come home excited about learning. So and and how we do that might be different from one another. But being able to at least come from that same place. And knowing that they come from that same place is such an amazing way to at least talk about the items because then I don’t look at somebody who thinks differently than me as the bad guy. Because they just have a different way of trying to solve the same problem that that we’re we’re coming up with and or let me pause, they have a different way of solving the problem that we’re discussing. And it it’s a beautiful thing to have those open conversations, because we’re all fallible human beings, we all make mistakes. And if we think that it’s our way or the highway, that’s usually not the best for everybody.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 21:24
I agree. I think our common humanity totally is more important than our religion, politics, whatever. And as a fellow elementary teacher, early days, I loved that story of Stone Soup, you know that yeah, making soup and cut the pod cut the water. But you’re going to add, oh, you’re going to add, oh, carrots, you’re going to add potatoes, and like, yeah, I have a heating water, I have nothing until everybody brings their perspectives. And then together, we have this soup that we would have never been able to do alone. So I really think that working together on policy change, we are creating that amazing soup that that synergy is really important. And, and together we can do so much. And it’s about our common love and concern for our youth. It’s not about these outside labels.

Jon England 22:16
Exactly, exactly. And I’ve loved that aspect of this is just really getting to know people who, who do care deeply about their children, and but they might want a little bit different something from the education system than I do. And I think that’s a place where we can work together is, hey, let’s create as many options as possible so that you get what you need for your family. And I can get what I need for my family.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 22:40
Absolutely. Jon, I like to pivot and really get to know the person behind the organization. Could I throw some turbo time questions at you?

Jon England 22:52

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 22:54
Awesome. What’s the last book you read?

Jon England 22:57
So I’m actually currently reading The Anatomy of peace, which is an amazing book about coming together and treating people like, like humans instead of objects.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 23:06
Oh, my gosh, just what we’re talking about a common humanity. I’m gonna have to check it out. What is the biggest thing you wish folks knew about educational policy?

Jon England 23:18
That they should be involved? They should be asking these questions. I want them to be active consumers rather than passive receivers of education. That’s why I hope that people would do

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 23:29
big difference between the two. Yes. And I feel like we get scared and often become passive receivers, or we’re just hoping somebody else out there will magically take care of things. Like, yeah, how about a pet peeve of yours?

Jon England 23:42
I don’t like it when people demonize another human being. I think everybody comes at any problem with from a sense of trying to do good. And I think we should view that across the board. Even if I disagree with somebody, I still think that they’re trying to solve problems.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 23:59
Agree, assuming best intentions. give so much grace, and hopefully they’re giving that same grace back to us. Yep. Yes. What’s one passion you bring to educational policymaking?

Jon England 24:11
I want every parent to be able to choose the best education for their child. That’s my passion. That’s what I want to see. And I think we’ll see a better outcomes for more children if we do that.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 24:25
And parents are the experts. They’ve had the first five years they have 18 hours of the school day each day. So yeah, for them to get to choose. And they’re so invested.

Jon England 24:36
Absolutely. Yes. We want the best for that child more than anybody else.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 24:41
Yes. How about your favorite thing or fun fact about Utah?

Jon England 24:47
My favorite thing about Utah is how much there is to do outside. In the summer, I can go hiking in the mountains in the winter, I can take my skis and go skiing down those same mountains. And it’s just amazing. That’s that’s my favorite thing about you. Just being able to get outside, we have five national parks, that you can go and explore and see amazing, just different geographic and geological formations. And it’s just so amazing.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 25:12
Yes. And what is something that most people don’t know about you, Jon,

Jon England 25:18
a lot of people don’t know that I was in the Marine Corps. So I spent the first few years of my life in the Marine Corps I got out in 2006, at the age of 26. And then I went right into education and finished that up and entered that at 28. So the Marine Corps is what most people don’t under know about me.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 25:37
Wow. Talk about a career pivot. Yeah, absolutely. Jon, I like to conclude the interview with a magic wand moment. So I’m taking out that Education Evolution magic wand, and handing it to you. What would you wish for in terms of educational policy, with this magic wand and your wish?

Jon England 26:01
I would remove as many barriers as possible for people to start a new school. That’s what I would do, I would make it as easy as possible to start them whether it’s out of their home, or finding a building that maybe isn’t an education, occupancy, but business occupancy. And that’s what that would be the one thing I would do for anybody who’s trying to start schools because I think we do need a lot of options, and to provide for other for a wide variety of students.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 26:34
Agreed, Jon, thank you, to you and Libertas, for really being those advocates and helping influence educational policy so that we can have more options for our wonderful rainbow of learners?

Speaker 2 26:49
Yes, absolutely. I’m so excited to be on and it was such a great conversation.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 27:03
Funny that so many of us education, revolutionaries feel uncomfortable addressing policy. We know that policies with far too much frequency, create a one size fits all system that truly does not fit many of our learners. It’s just that it’s so daunting to be a part of changing those policies. Luckily, we have others who help us make that happen. Libertas and Jon are one resource to help with policy change. A for Arizona has made wonderful bipartisan policy changes and continues to raise the bar. As they lower barriers. I’ll put a link to their podcast interview in the show notes, as well as a link to their website. In Episode 128, I was able to talk with Jordan, of Committee for Children. And he works in this nonprofit that focuses on fostering the safety and well being of children through social emotional learning and development. As Jon says, There are many think tanks and policymaking agencies out there. Find one that aligns with your passion and values and get involved. Even getting on their mailing list is a wonderful start. I appreciate that. While Jon has strong political and personal perspectives, he’s looking at creating more learning options. From a humanistic perspective. We can all rally around serving our youth, demonizing others only slows down the important work we have to do. I’m also putting a link to the breakout school in our show notes. They are inspirational.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 28:51
Jon’s Magic Wand of removing barriers is important. I almost didn’t have my micro school become a non public agency that could work with public school districts, the amount of bureaucracy paperwork, audits, inspections by the fire department and health department. All of these demands were very overwhelming to our small school with finite resources. But I’m really glad that we hurdled these barriers and have been able to serve some students who are funded through their local paws. But I’m really glad that we’ve hurdled these barriers and have been able to serve students who are funded through their local school district. Please consider taking Jon’s suggestions and finding a policy think tank that aligns with your values and beliefs and signing up or going to city council. Start small, but get started. As always, thank you for being a part of the education evolution.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 29:59
I know how challenging it is to make changes inside your own school or community. I’ve spent years working with schools around the world on creating learner centered programs. And it always struck me 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 own school, let’s talk and put together an action plan. Visit educationevolution.org/consult for a free 15 minute call. And let’s see if we’re a good fit for more work together. Thanks again for listening. To support the education evolution, subscribe so it lands in your podcast app and gets out to more decision makers. Then rate and review it. For more information in shownotes go to educationevolution.org. Education Evolution listeners, you are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen heard, valued and thriving. We are in this together and we need you. Let’s go out and reach every student today. Thank you for listening, signing off. I am Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your partner in boldly reimagining education.


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Leading Like a Teacher with Miriam Plotinsky

This week on the podcast, we’re welcoming back author and educator Miriam Plotinsky. She’s sharing about her latest book, Lead Like a Teacher, and talking about what school leaders can do to build more trust and a more collaborative school environment.

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