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Equity. Access. Excellence.

Mary Ellen IsaacsPhone: 512.232.2286

Dana Center Role

Mary Ellen Isaacs is the director of Literacy First, which is dedicated to ensuring that all students develop reading skills that allow them to realize their full potential with regard to education, economic opportunity, civic engagement, and personal development.

Literacy First was founded in 1994 by Dr. Uri Treisman (executive director of the Center), his colleagues at UT-Austin, and Dr. Gay Sue Pinnell (Ohio State University) to train AmeriCorps tutors to deliver evidence-based literacy tutoring to young struggling readers. In addition to managing a highly effective AmeriCorps program, Literacy First provides school partners a variety of support services, with a particular focus on achieving racially equitable outcomes for growing readers, including 1:1 literacy interventions, teacher and staff training, instructional coaching, data-centered advising, and bilingual and culturally relevant reading resources and interventions.

Mary Ellen has worked with Literacy First since 1997, developing and expanding the program. She brings over four decades of experience working in the field of reading difficulties as a teacher, diagnostician, and program coordinator. Mary Ellen has been the director of Literacy First since 2002 and is responsible for all aspects of the program.

Before Joining the Dana Center

Prior to receiving her Ph.D., Mary Ellen worked as the coordinator of the Mt. Sinai Hospital Center for Learning Disabilities and as an educational diagnostician at Duke University Developmental Evaluation Center. Her dissertation research focused on phonemic awareness development and its relationship to reading and spelling in first grade.


Ph.D., Curriculum and Instruction (Language and Literacy Studies), The University of Texas at Austin

M.A., Learning Disabilities and Communication Disorders, Northwestern University

B.A., Psychology and Spanish, St. Olaf College