BOA Profile

Mary Catherine Swanson


Founder and Member of Board of Directors, AVID (Credential '67)

Image of Mary Catherine Swanson

Mary Catherine Swanson taught high school English for 20 years. During that time she was instrumental in developing numerous award winning language arts programs. In 1980 she developed AVID, a secondary school program which prepares underachieving students for four-year college entry. Today 95 percent of AVID graduates enroll in college. Mary Catherine created the AVID Center in 1992 to support the in-school program.

Among the awards and recognition Mary Catherine has received are the A+ Award for Reaching the Goals of America 2000 from the U.S. Department of Education, the EXCEL Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Salute to Excellence from the American Association for Higher Education, the Headliner of the Year from the San Diego Press Club, Cable’s Leaders in Learning Award for General Excellence, a recognition of her innovative leadership, University of San Diego Remarkable Leader in Education, and University of California, Davis Distinguished Achievement Award.

CNN/Time Magazine named her America’s Best Teacher in 2001, and she was one of three 2001 recipients of the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education.  She is listed in Who’s Who in America, and has been the commencement speaker at numerous universities, earning three honorary doctorates.

Swanson is the only public school teacher ever to have won the $50,000 award for Pioneering Achievement in Education from the Charles A. Dana Foundation in New York. In presenting that award the Foundation cited her for “heeding the teacher’s calling at the highest level of professional dedication in developing AVID, an imaginative restructuring of the school day that has given thousands of students the skills, support, and guidance that they need to fulfill their potential – far too tragically overlooked - to prepare for a college education.”

Swanson’s contribution to American education has also been recognized by Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews, who wrote, ”I don’t know any single person in the country who has done more for our school children than AVID founder Mary Catherine Swanson.”

She has been married for 45 years and is the mother of Tom Swanson, a graduate of Stanford University and a history teacher at Del Norte High School in San Diego, California. Tom’s decision to enter teaching is Mary Catherine’s proudest moment.

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