It takes a lot of ambition to get an idea off the ground, and knowledge to steer it to success. Read on to learn how the following people have played a part in forming decades of college dreams.
- Jim Nelson, AVID Executive Director
- Mark S. Tanner, Chief Operating Officer, Executive Vice President
- Robert Gira, Executive Vice President, Quality, Research and Communication
- Granger B. Ward, Executive Vice President
- Mary Catherine Swanson, AVID Founder
Jim Nelson is the former superintendent of the Richardson Independent School District. He served as a board member and officer for Ector County ISD in Odessa, Texas from 1984 through 1995, twice serving as board president. During that time he also served as a board member and in several officer positions for the Texas Association of School Boards, including state president in 1993.
In 1996, he was appointed to the newly-created State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), by then-Governor George W. Bush where he served as chairman until 1999, when he was appointed by Governor Bush as the Texas Commissioner of Education.
During his time as commissioner, Mr. Nelson managed the more than 800 Texas Education Agency employees who worked to implement state education policy for the approximately 1,100 Texas school districts. The agency's major challenge and achievement during his period as commissioner was the continuing development and implementation of the current Texas school accountability system, including the development of new assessments for grades 3-11.
While commissioner, he also served simultaneously as Executive Secretary of the State Board of Education.
In the spring of 2002, Mr. Nelson departed state service to become Senior Vice President of State and Federal Relations for Voyager Expanded Learning Systems in Dallas.
In the spring of 2003, at the request of the White House and Department of Defense, Mr. Nelson traveled to Baghdad, Iraq as a Senior Advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Education to assist with the rebuilding of the Iraqi school system.
He briefly returned to Voyager after his service in Iraq until the beginning of his duties as Richardson ISD Superintendent in the summer of 2004. In 2006, the district achieved Recognized status under the Texas accountability system for the first time in the district's history. More recently, it was named the outstanding large school district in Texas by the HEB Foundation. He joined AVID as Executive Director in the summer of 2006.
Professionally, Mr. Nelson was a member of the Texas Association of School Administrators and served on its Legislative Committee. He is a life member of the Texas Business and Education Coalition (TBEC) board of directors, and a board member for StandardsWorks, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization committed to improving standards-based education in American schools.
In addition, he also worked as a practicing attorney for 24 years.
He earned a degree of Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1972, and in 1976 earned a Juris Doctorate from the Texas Tech University School of Law.
He and his wife Karen have three adult sons and two grandsons.
As COO of AVID Center, Mark S. Tanner is responsible for overseeing the strategy development and execution, as well as the operations and administration of AVID, a national educational non-profit that assists students in realizing their college dreams. Typically the AVID student is the first in his/her family to attend college. AVID students have over a 90% acceptance rate to 4 year colleges and universities. AVID operates in 47 states and 15 foreign countries.
Mr. Tanner has an extensive business background having previously worked as Chief Financial Officer for: Pepsi International; the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, and Mrs. Fields Famous Brands. In addition, he was Vice President of Strategic Planning for two of the world's best known brands, viz., Pepsi Cola and Pizza Hut. Mr. Tanner also worked for 10 years for United Technologies Corporation where he led the corporate development function (mergers and acquisitions) wherein he completed over $1 billion of transactions.Prior to joining AVID, Mr. Tanner provided senior strategic and financial expertise to companies in transition as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) with Executive Interim Management (EIM) in New York City. Mr. Tanner was first elected to the Carlsbad Unified School District Board of Trustees in 2002 and reelected in 2006. He currently is serving his second term as Board President. Mr. Tanner has a B.A. from Stanford and an MBA from UCLA. He and his wife Ann have five children and three grandchildren.
Beginning his 18th year with AVID, Rob is responsible for overseeing AVID Center's National Programs, including curriculum, professional learning, research and communications, and quality. During his tenure at the AVID Center, Rob has led a variety of curriculum and professional learning projects, including the schoolwide Path materials, tutorial curriculum, critical reading, and leadership trainings. He is responsible for AVID Center's professional learning at summer institutes and oversees other initiatives, including equity, closing the gender gap, and acceleration for English Learners. Rob also leads AVID’s National Conference.
As a staff developer, Rob has provided instruction at AVID Summer Institutes for administrators as well as for AVID National Demonstration Schools, and has conducted tutor trainings throughout the U.S. Beginning in 1994, Rob created AVID’s journal ACCESS and has been its lead writer and interviewer. He is currently the lead contributor for AVID's blog Adventures in College & Career Readiness. Rob writes regularly about equity, student development, the brain, resilience, and school culture, among other topics.
Rob received his B.A. in English from UC Santa Barbara, a teaching credential from San Francisco State University, and his M.A. and administrative credential from San Diego State University. Before joining AVID in 1994, he was an administrator at two high schools in San Diego County, Rancho Buena Vista High School and Vista High School. He taught English in the Vista Unified School District for ten years.
Granger B. Ward is the Executive Vice President for AVID, Advancement Via Individual Determination. As AVID's Executive Vice President, Mr. Ward oversees all AVID divisions worldwide. The AVID system is now in place in more than 4,500 middle and high schools serving more than 400,000 AVID students throughout the U.S.A. and Department of Defense schools worldwide.
Mr. Ward's responsibilities also include the expansion of AVID Elementary, AVID's Higher Education program, AVID Demonstration Schools throughout the AVID world, and AVID Center partnerships with philanthropic organizations to generate grants and foundation work for AVID.
Through AVID Center - the non-profit agency that guides the international dissemination of AVID - Mr. Ward oversees implementation strategies and expansion for all school districts offering AVID programs. Additionally he supports AVID Summer Institutes, and contributes to the development of AVID Center's national legislative relations.
Mr. Ward was formerly superintendent of both the Manhattan High Schools in the City of New York, and the Grossmont Union High School District in San Diego. He attended public schools in New York City and received his B.S. from the State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, in Syracuse. His M.S. degree is from Syracuse University and his Administrative Credential from SUNY at Oswego.
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 Outstanding Alumnus.
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 44 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, CA. Tom's decision to enter teaching is Mary Catherine's proudest moment.