It is no accident that so many business, civic, and political leaders are attorneys by trade. In this series, we will highlight dynamic leaders who are using the tools they gained through law school to impact the world and show you the inherent value of learning to think like a lawyer. Today’s feature is on Emily Anne Gullickson.

WHAT IS YOUR MISSION AND WHAT DO YOU DO?

A for Arizona is a project of the Arizona Chamber Foundation in partnership with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Our goal is to see a rapid expansion in the number of students attending Arizona’s highest quality schools, with a focus on high-performing schools serving low-income students. As the Senior Program Director, Emily Anne Gullickson’s work focuses on building relationships with low-income ‘A’ school principals and superintendents and serving as a liaison and connector to help ‘A’ schools access quality talent pipelines, facilities, instructional resources, and partnerships necessary to continue serving the highest-need student populations and growing their student enrollment by at least 10% each year.

WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?

As a former middle school teacher in Phoenix, I have seen firsthand the role education plays in opening doors and providing opportunities for students to succeed in life. Arizona’s robust school choice environment and open enrollment options gave many of my former students access to exceptional programs they would not have otherwise been able to attend. Be it International Baccalaureate coursework or a robotics team, a rigorous bioscience program or an arts-focused charter school, my students who accessed quality schools are currently pursuing advanced degrees or careers that will help them break the cycle of poverty. Conversely, far too many of my students who did not have these meaningful opportunities ended up dropping out of school, falling prey to the gang life, or even passing away far before their time. Their faces and stories drive my daily work.

When we first started our work at A for Arizona in 2014, only 1 in 9 low-income students in Arizona had access to an ‘A’-rated school. Through intentional plans, partnerships, and a united commitment to serve more students at the ‘A’ level, Arizona stands—for the first time—on the verge of having more low-income students in ‘A’-rated schools than in ‘D’ or ‘F’. By shining a light on what’s possible, more school leaders have committed to not only teach kids at an exceptional level, but to serve more students and to teach other school leaders to do what they do.

HOW DID YOUR LEGAL TRAINING AND/OR LAW SCHOOL EXPERIENCE PREPARE YOU TO TACKLE THE SIGNIFICANT ISSUES YOUR ORGANIZATION IS TACKLING?

The University of St. Thomas School of Law gave me the training necessary to be a voice for the under-represented – in this case, fantastic low-income school leaders who are beating the odds with daily intentional decisions – even when it has required going against the status quo, because it’s the right thing to do. My schooling pushed me to look at the ethical implications of each case, to see whose voice was not represented, and to seek solutions that could impact the greater good. This ability to analyze the landscape and think outside the box with a lens of equity in conjunction with my teaching experience has served me well as we have pushed for some first-in-the-country reforms, especially around results-based policies.

Very few, if any, education advocacy organizations in the country have made an intentional decision to focus solely on growing excellence rather than bolstering failure. My legal training to analyze facts and to develop and weigh numerous options has been essential for our ability to unite low-income district and charter school leaders around a common cause of sustaining and growing excellence to help more Arizona students get a great education.

To learn more about Emily Anne Gullickson, follow her on Twitter!


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