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Laura Lee McGovern

Chief of Staff, Uncommon Schools

When Laura Lee McGovern was an undergraduate at Harvard University, she knew she would eventually pursue a career in public service—and ideally in education. However, she felt it was important to learn the real-world skills necessary to make an impact. So she began her career as a management consultant at a newly launched consulting firm where she gained traditional strategic and analytical skills as well as insight into how to launch an effective organization and actively build organizational culture. After four years as a consultant, Laura began working for the New York City Department of Education as the Director of Analytics for the Office of Student Enrollment Planning and Operations. She enjoyed the role, but “wanted to have more ownership over an organization and feel more connected to the work on the ground.”

Laura was confident that she wanted to eventually lead her own charter school. But again, she felt it was important to build up her toolbox. She enrolled in the MBA program at Harvard Business School in order to gain additional leadership skills. While there, she simultaneously discovered Uncommon Schools, a network of high-performing charter schools beginning to scale, and Education Pioneers.

“I thought that a placement at Uncommon Schools through the EP Fellowship program would be the perfect combination. It would allow me to learn from an organization with stellar charter school leaders, while being part of a larger EP cohort of passionate individuals who were committed to doing good work together.”

Laura’s perfect scenario came to fruition. As a member of the 2006 EP cohort, she was placed at Uncommon Schools in New York City where she worked on two major projects over the summer. First, she designed a data dashboard to measure school performance. This was particularly important as Uncommon was just starting to scale and replicate their model. Second, she designed the school inspection process, which is the process that Uncommon leaders use when visiting a school, collecting data, and figuring out how to help the school build on its strengths and improve. Laura would turn her EP placement into a career at Uncommon that now spans 17 years.

After her Fellowship, Uncommon hired her as a founding Co-Director of Operations for their second middle school in Brooklyn, Kings Collegiate. Laura spent the end of her second year of business school working part-time with Uncommon to launch the new campus, including helping with the recruitment of staff and students. After she graduated from HBS, and joined the school full-time, she immediately hired an EP Fellow to help the school be successful in its founding summer and has since watched Uncommon take on new EPs year after year, as it has grown from five to 53 schools.

“EP’s role as a partner for Uncommon has been so valuable because our organization lives and breathes on the strength of our talent,” Laura says. “The fact that EP is helping to attract, train, and source great talent into the education world is tremendous. I feel thankful and grateful that EP exists.”

Since 2013, Laura has been the Chief of Staff for Uncommon Schools and a member of Uncommon’s Executive Team. Her responsibilities include: overseeing organizational strategy, growth, and portfolio management; working as a right-hand thought partner to the co-CEOs and running the Executive Team and Uncommon Board; and overseeing home office teams like Strategic Initiatives, Alumni Impact, and Legal Affairs. Over the past decade, she has led almost every Home Office team at Uncommon, from recruitment and marketing to media and external affairs. 

“Before EP, I knew in theory how I felt about education, but in practice, that sense of love and pride that I have in my students came as a surprise. I never predicted how they would become the driving force behind everything I do,” she says. “The highlight of my year is every time I go back to Kings Collegiate, the Uncommon school I co-founded, where four of my founding 5th graders are now teachers working for the Principal who was originally their 6th grade math teacher, and seeing their talents in action and love for their students.”

Laura gives a lot of credit to EP for her development. “Education Pioneers was a formative experience. EP pervades the way you think and see the world,” she says. “The types of discussions and professional development I gained and the fact that there was a cohort of us placed across areas of need throughout public education, situated me within the larger landscape of education reform in a way I wouldn’t have experienced outside of EP.”

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