Dawn M. Ellis and Associates, LLC

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Dawn M. Ellis Biography

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DME President Dawn Ellis harnesses over twenty years of experience to improve work that serves the public good. Areas include education and social services; community, economic, and leadership development; corrections and social justice; innovation and virtual learning; creativity, culture, and recreation; as well as access and inclusion.  She facilitates planning, research, professional development, and organizational change. Her clients develop their own capacity to lead dynamic, learning organizations.  Her work empowers people and affects policy at local, state, and national levels across the U.S. and abroad. 

National Research

Connecting research and policy, Dawn Ellis served as the staff researcher for the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) during the late 1990's under the Bill Clinton Administration.  In this role, she served on the lead team with agency heads and thought leaders to develop Creative America: A Report to the President, helping shape national cultural policy and private sector partnerships.  PCAH invited Dawn to lead the research for Gaining the Arts Advantage: Lessons from School Districts that Value Arts Education, touted as the first national study on American school districts and arts education. During this project with the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Arts Education Partnership, Dawn facilitated national education, youth, and arts service organizations to collaboratively design an investigation to help the field learn from promising practices.  Still in circulation, the research informs a host of initiatives across the county, including national community audit tools developed by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' Alliance for Arts Education Network, a U.S. media campaign by the Americans for the Arts, and school district resources from the Arts Education Partnership.

In the early 2000's, the Ford Foundation invited Dawn to analyze research, study gaps, and facilitate the foundation's development of new funding strategies to bridge their work in education and access with their support of arts, culture, and media. As a result, the foundation invested in over a decade of initiatives supporting urban education reform and arts integration, research, and communication, policy, and program development strategies in the U.S. and abroad.  Later, Dawn led the research team and authored a work commissioned by Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley governmental agencies, now called Designing a Learning Community: A Handbook for K-12 Professional Development Planners.  This public book and resource aid those designing teacher professional development by sharing lessons learned from promising practices across the country. Recent work includes bridging research and practice for the Educational Theatre Association, helping this national service organization spearhead and translate research to better serve the field.

State Leadership

Dawn facilitated the Arts Education Leadership Network Initiative for the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) in the early 2000's.  She designed professional development systems and partnership frameworks, facilitated strategic planning, development of a field leadership structure, content benchmarking for self-assessment tools, and provided reflection processes for leaders from all the U.S. states and territories. In 2004, Dawn led a statewide needs assessment team in Tennessee. The resulting 2005 report, Ready, Set, Grow!, led the state to craft a top rated U.S. Department of Education grant for the Value Plus Schools education reform initiative. The resulting 2011 evaluation report finds the high poverty schools involved in this reform effort make significant academic gains in math, science, language, and social studies, closing the achievement gap.

Dawn's work with Rhode Island began in the late 1990's, advising a Governor's Task Force to structure learning around the student.  Her suggested framework inspired a new paradigm for a statewide coalition to reorient education policy towards more individualized approaches, honoring student learning in the home and community as well as at school. Rhode Island continues to change accountability and proficiency systems to support personalized, student-centered learning. Similarly, 2009 and 2013 work in Alabama facilitated a statewide coalition among agencies, school leaders, policymakers, and the cultural community, kickstarting their ongoing development of new structures to support creativity, innovation, and career and college readiness in all students.

Whether through planning, professional development, grant development, or advice, Dawn has supported statewide work in over a fifth of the U.S. states, including California, Wyoming, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Hampshire, Alabama, and Tennessee.  Dawn worked as Director of Education Programs at the Vermont Arts Council during the Howard Dean Administration.

Dawn stays involved at home as a policymaker and leader. In 2015, Governor Peter Shumlin appointed Dawn as one of five Commissioners leading the Vermont Human Rights Commission, a quasi-judicial body promoting full civil and human rights in the state while protecting people from unlawful discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations.  In 2016, Dawn will advise the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and the state Farm to School Network as a member of the Farm to School Metrics and Evaluation Team. She also served as one of the youngest appointed state arts council members in the 2000's and represented Vermont as an at-large delegate to a national presidential convention in 2012.

Innovation and the Economy

In her role as the Vermont representative to the New England Connections Fund, a committee focused on the economy and technology, Dawn brought indicators from her research for the White House to the nascent field of the creative economy. Her contributions supported the joint investigation by The New England Council, New England Foundation for the Arts, and Mt. Auburn Associates, which published landmark work defining and measuring the creative economic sector in 2000. This sector continues to emerge as a critical component in the fabric of a healthy economy. As part of planning for the information economy, Dawn facilitated top level public and private leaders among the business, education, cultural, and community development sectors in Alabama in their work to find common ground to help innovation flourish in their state in 2013.

While a state education director, Dawn supported a variety of partners in Vermont's early innovative use of technology in learning through the Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP)/ Technology Opportunities Program (TOP) grants of the U.S. Department of Commerce in the late 1990's.  This resource continued the evolution of Vermont online learning communities of teachers, professionals, and students centered on creation, responding, and improvement of student work-in-progress

Examining the business sector, Dawn investigated creativity across business and economics, developing a literature review for Harvard's Project Zero in the mid-1990's.  In her early career, through an educational program of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, Dawn worked in the creative department for the international public relations firm, Young and Rubicam NYC, developing copy, visuals, and product line for clients including NYNEX and Johnson & Johnson. Winning the Thomas J. Watson Scholarship, Dawn worked in the communications department of IBM at its Federal Headquarters Division in Bethesda, MD.  An inaugural alumna of the leadership training program, Emerge Vermont, Dawn plies 21st century mobilization, campaign tools, and social media to engage and build coalitions.

Education Reform

Education has always been a key part of Dawn's story.  Parents and teachers fostered her early love of learning.  As a child, she taught overflow students for her piano teacher.  Upon moving to Vermont, Dawn taught K-8 music in a rural public school and started an integrated arts music program for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities at the Baird School, part of the Howard Center for Human Services. Her work today as President of DME integrates an education sensibility as the firm cultivates sustainability in clients by building capacity and capability.

Dawn supports systems change in schools.  Her consulting with Vermont's Burlington and Winooski school district stakeholders aided the Partnership for Change coalition in thinking boldly and causally while developing a logic model plan to guide its efforts to center learning around each individual student.  In 2011, the two district coalition received a Nellie Mae Education Foundation commitment of around $3.5 million to support high school transformation over the next three years, with further support in 2015. In 2011, the first public elementary magnet school focused on sustainability worked with Dawn to develop Learn, Share, Grow, Show, funded by a neighborhood Community Economic Development Office grant. The catalyst of raised garden beds and public and educational outdoor gathering spaces, bike racks, and resources supported development of social capital across class, bringing new American and families in poverty as well as middle class families. 

As a master education designer and teaching artist, Dawn teaches across the United States.  Work ranges from professional development in Delaware to facilitating an inaugural leadership track at the Connecticut Higher Order Thinking (HOT) Schools institute.  For instance, in 2010 Dawn coached Wyoming educators in schools, communities, and museums to use partnerships to address access challenges; sponsor University of Wyoming's Art Museum won a 2010 regional award for this institute. Experience in access, diversity, inclusion of people with disabilities, and continuous improvement led to her coaching educators, administrators, school leaders, and teaching artists from around the world in VSA institutes across the U.S.. 

Access, Diversity, and Inclusion

Dawn is equally comfortable in rural and urban communities.  Beginning in 2008, Dawn led external research and strategic planning efforts to support Ford's Theatre Society from its decision to include education in its core mission through recent developments of national educational programs, services and a Center for Education and Leadership.  Ford's taps the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and National Park Service site of his assassination to deepen people's understanding of history and inspire them to use leadership and oratory skills to change their own communities. Program collaborations focus in part on students and teachers in urban and rural areas who lack access to such opportunities, ranging from Anacostia (DC) to Independence, Missouri.   From 2011-2013, she served as the critical friend researcher for national and local education programs of the international Vermont Studio Center located in rural Johnson, Vermont. 

Dawn's commitment to inclusion spans her career.   She served as executive director of the statewide Very Special Arts Vermont (now VSA Vermont) in the early 1990's. By developing innovative ways to address the needs of individuals, families, and communities served by social services, Dawn catalyzed partnerships that thrive today.  Services continue, from work with homeless and recently arriving refugee children and families to programs that integrate adults with developmental disabilities into the community and connect them with services. With an access commitment, she weaves voices closest to the need and least often heard into DME field work.  In juvenile justice, Dawn’s technical assistance with the partnership of the Ferris School for Boys, a level five maximum security education facility, and Delaware Theatre Company improved work integrating creativity and media education in the school's rehabilitation and career efforts.   Whether addressing geographic, socio-economic, physical, mental, or age barriers, Dawn helps clients build partnerships to better open the doors to society for all people.

Scholarship and Service

Dawn holds a Masters degree from Harvard Graduate School of Education in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy, with leadership and economics study at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Her English Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University focused on theatre and poetry. 

As a founding editorial board member of the peer-reviewed The Teaching Artist Journal, Ellis helped design protocols to encourage practicing artists to reflect on their teaching practice.  Service projects include coaching arts leaders for Americans for the Arts, reviewing grants for various state and national panels, serving on the board of the Latin Grammy-nominated Delaware Symphony Orchestra, and supporting Title One schools as they develop mentoring systems. 

Dawn advised the development of MusicanCorps, an Aspen Institute think tank initiative to develop a "peace corps" for musicians, now hosted by The Center for Music National Service.  She served as a final juror for the first national teaching artist awards, hosted at California's Montalvo Art Center in Silicon Valley.


As a multidisciplinary artist, Dawn performs, writes, and works in various visual media.  As the first artist-researcher in residence at the Vermont Studio Center 2012- 2013, she developed works in word, Strappo monoprinting, and clay, as well as other visual and performing arts media.  Dawn brings this creative background into DME's work, resulting in innovative, effective solutions that tap various ways people interact with content, ideas, and each other. As a performance artist, she associates with the New England Performers Artist Retreat in Brattleboro, VT and Amherst, MA. Ensemble stage work includes theatre with Montpelier, VT's Lost Nation Theatre, Ice Fire Productions of Waitsfield, VT, and Green Candle Theatre Company of Burlington, VT. Dance includes performing with Tony award winning Bill T. Jones and the Arnie Zane Company and choreography for Lost Nation Theatre and Garage Theatre, predecessor to Green Candle.

Over the last fifteen years, Dawn performed large choral works with chamber and full choral ensembles of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra under Robert DeCormier and Kate Tamarkin, the Choral Arts Society and the National Symphony Orchestra under Norman Scribner and Leonard Slatkin, and the Delaware Symphony Orchestra under Paul Head and David Amado. Singing a cappella, she toured the U.S. and Asia with various groups, including Whim n’ Rhythm and Out of the Blue of Yale, which she co-founded, serving as its first musical director.

In clay, she studied with Hunt Prothro and has affiliated with various collaboratives such as Vermont Clay Studio, The Clay Studio at Absolam Jones Center in Delaware, Glen Echo Pottery in Maryland, and Burlington City Arts Clay Studio. Dawn is an alumna of the S.P.A.C.E. artist collaborative in Vermont.