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Equity. Access. Excellence.

Mary Ellen IsaacsPhone: 512.232.2286

Dana Center Role

Mary Ellen is the director of Literacy First (formerly ACE: A Community for Education), which is dedicated to providing low-income schools with highly trained tutors to ensure that children advance to grade level in reading before third grade. Each year, Literacy First helps more than 2000 kindergarten through second grade students learn to read so they can read to learn.

The program was founded in 1994 by Dr. Uri Treisman (executive director of the Center) and Dr. Gay Sue Pinnell (Ohio State University) to train AmeriCorps tutors to deliver evidence-based literacy tutoring to young struggling readers. Literacy First currently operates in more than 30 low-income elementary schools in Central Texas.

Mary Ellen has worked with Literacy First since 1997, developing and administering this national service tutoring project. She brings over three 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