Great Leaders Strong Schools Founder and President Emily Anne Gullickson to Depart Organization

Community Leader Kevin Youngblood Named New President

Phoenix, AZ — Great Leaders Strong Schools announced today that Founder and President Emily Anne Gullickson has departed the organization to serve as the Deputy Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Virginia under the Governor Youngkin Administration. Gullickson founded A for Arizona, the 501(c)3 sister organization, in 2014 with former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan to fulfill an acute need in the state to replicate excellence and create the policy conditions needed to rapidly expand access for students and families to attend high performing learning environments in low-income communities.

Longtime business leader and community entrepreneur Kevin Youngblood has been named President of Great Leaders Strong Schools, as well as CEO of A for Arizona. Youngblood has a distinguished career centered on educational equity, innovation, and mentorship. Katie Dauphinais has also been promoted to Executive Vice President and will oversee the organization’s policy and advocacy efforts as well as advance the broader work and organization forward.

“Ten years ago, I had a bold vision to address the systemic failures of our antiquated education system,” said Emily Anne Gullickson. “At the time, thousands of families were stuck on wait lists for learning models that could best meet their needs while over a quarter of a million students were trapped in a failing school with low expectations and waiting for access to a great teacher to unleash their potential. There were no organizations in the state focused on tackling the policy conditions to better invest in and replicate Arizona’s proven models delivering for children and families, with a focus on those successfully serving low-income and rural communities. We decided to flip the traditional approach of solely focusing on school improvement and learn from the state’s roughly 100 high poverty, high performing school principals and entrepreneurial leaders who were quietly laboring and defying the odds.

“Over the last nine years, we have created the policy conditions to fuel excellence, empower edupreneurs, and meaningfully tackle access, pipeline, and regulatory systems barriers to get students and families into the model that works best for them,” continued Gullickson. “Although my departure is bittersweet, I am proud of the work we have done on behalf of Arizona students, families, and the exceptional edupreneurs from Yuma to Show Low. Kevin has been a personal mentor of mine for years and has an established track record of innovating, building, and leading successful organizations. I have no doubt A for Arizona is about to level up with continued achievements and innovative solutions to deliver for more kids and families under Kevin’s leadership.”

Under Gullickson’s leadership, A for Arizona successfully advocated for nearly a dozen first-in-the-nation laws around assessment choice; expanding teacher and principal talent pipelines; seat time flexibility and innovative school design regulatory freedoms; K-12 transportation modernization; eliminating open enrollment barriers; and advising on the nation’s leading school-level financial transparency portal. The organization launched the Expansion & Innovation Fund in 2018 and has awarded nearly $50 million in seed funding to 118 grantees that have formed a diverse portfolio of small learning communities, solutions to modernizing K-12 transportation, and innovative learning models aimed to boldly reimagine education.

“I am honored to be named Chief Executive Officer of A for Arizona and President of Great Leaders Strong Schools as the state faces new challenges for students, families, and educators,” said Kevin Youngblood. “A critical aspect of this work is ensuring every child and family has access to high-quality learning environments that best meets their unique needs now, not years from now. There is no reason that any child in Arizona should have anything less with the robust menu of education options and innovation underway. A for Arizona has done tremendous work over the past decade to fight against the status quo and provide entrepreneurial school leaders the freedom to innovate and implement programs and models that ensure their students succeed. I look forward to leading this mission critical work forward and reaching more students throughout Arizona.”

As CEO of A for Arizona, Youngblood will lead the organization through this transition, managing the organization’s Expansion & Innovation Fund, robust policy agenda, and School Leadership Collective. In addition, Youngblood will serve as the President of Great Leader Strong Schools which engages in advocacy and political activity supporting candidates who are champions of K-12 innovation. 

Youngblood is a driver of new school innovation, recently leading development within the Arizona microschool movement and founding Calvary Christian School in Carl, Georgia in the 1980s before education options were widespread. He co-launched the Grand Canyon University Canyon Ventures Program, which assists start-up founders from ideation stage to one million in revenue in the shortest period possible and led as the Entrepreneur in Residence from 2019 – 2022.

Youngblood has an extensive executive and innovator background as founder of Odysseyware, Inc., educational software which was created to diagnose and prescribe learning challenges for at-risk youth in public district and charter schools.

Youngblood’s community engagement includes serving most recently as Chairman of the Local First Arizona Foundation and as a governing board member for ASU Center for Entrepreneurship and Chairman of Pinnacle Forum – Arizona Chapter. Earlier, he served in United States Marine Corps Reserves in Operation Desert Storm earning 8 medals and commendations. Youngblood was also a city councilman and mayor of Carl, Georgia. He and his wife of 37 years live in Ahwatukee. They have three adult children and one grandchild.


About Great Leaders Strong Schools
Advancing policies and cultivating leaders who advocate for providing all K-12 students access to high-quality schools and learning opportunities that are close to them, with a priority on students in high-poverty communities.

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