2008 Alumna Achievement Award (posthumous): R. Gaynor McCown ’83
The Alumna Achievement Award, awarded annually by the Alumnae Association, honors an alumna who is outstanding in her personal and professional accomplishments and a recognized leader in her field of endeavor. The honoree exemplifies the standards, ideals, and mission of Saint Mary’s College in its commitment to the value of a Christian liberal arts education. This year the award is given posthumously to R. Gaynor McCown '83.
Throughout her life, McCown fused her love of learning with her compassion for children and her belief that all children have a right to excellence in education. She came to Saint Mary’s from Mobile, Alabama. A government major, McCown traveled to Santiago, Chile with the Holy Cross Associates Program following graduation and, for two years, counseled families suffering from the effects of drug and alcohol addiction. After working for Catholic Charities in Chicago as a foster home caseworker, she enrolled in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, earning her master’s degree in 1987. It was at that point that McCown made a commitment to educating the poor. She signed on to teach science and health at one of the poorest public high schools in the Bronx. Her experience there became the driving force of her groundbreaking and influential work as an education policy maker and advocate.
In 1993, McCown became a White House Fellow and shaped a number of policies involving charter schools and the standards movement. She later returned to New York to assume the position of senior vice president for education and workforce development for the New York City Partnership and Chamber of Commerce. There, she focused on increasing the private sector’s role in public education and led Breakthrough for Learning, the first pay-for-performance system in the New York City Public Schools. After receiving her M.B.A. from Columbia University, McCown was recruited to be executive director of the Teaching Commission, a bipartisan advocacy group of leaders in business, government, philanthropy, and education, headed by Louis Gerstner, the former Chief Executive Officer of IBM. There, she focused on crafting and implementing reform agendas as a way to revitalize the teaching profession in the United States. She lobbied for higher teacher compensation, change in teacher preparation and training, and other reforms, firmly believing that “schools are only as good as their teachers.” In 2004, she was lead author of the Commission’s bipartisan report, Teaching at Risk: A Call to Action. Also that year, she was named a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
McCown resided in New York City until her death in 2006 from liver cancer at the age of 45. She is survived by her husband Jonathan D. Miller.
If you would like to interview someone regarding this award, please contact Gwen O’Brien, director of media relations at Saint Mary's College.