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Principal & Chief Learning & Innovation Officer

Dr. Marla M. Dean is a national leader and expert in K-12 education, early childhood education, health equity, homelessness, economic justice, whole-child approaches, and two-generation policy and practices. She has a TEDx Talk entitled 2Gen Policy and Approaches: a pathway out of poverty.


During her tenure as a nonprofit CEO at Bright Beginnings, a DC nonprofit that employs 2Gen practices to support children and families experiencing homelessness and housing instability, Marla stewarded the construction of a 19,000-square-foot facility using a new market tax credit (NMTC), paid off the construction loan three years early, doubled the annual revenue, raised the average salary of staff over 35%, added a fatherhood program, and led the organization through the worst periods of the COVID pandemic. 

Through her firm, Dean’s List Consulting, Marla leads and provides strategic advice to the Health Equity Fund, a $95 million fund at the Greater Washington Community Foundation keenly focused on three catalytic opportunities for change:

  • Developing an economic justice and health equity agenda.

  • Advancing policy, advocacy, and system change that addresses the social and structural determinants of health.

  • Seeding disruptive and innovative projects that model and trend toward economic mobility, strategic economic participation, and community wealth building.


Additional clients include Ascend at the Aspen Institute, the National Association for the Education of the Young Child (NAYEC), Child Care for Every Family Network (CC4EFN), Bellwether Education Partners, New Hope Housing, GOODProjects’ Black Justice Institute - Black Leadership Fellowship, and AsylumWorks. Marla is a skilled trainer and facilitator who provides confidential forums for both nonprofit chief executive officers and childcare directors to enrich their leadership, solve real-world problems, and provide mutual support in leadership circles.


Currently, Marla is the national board chair for the birdSEED Foundation, an organization dedicated to ensuring Black and Brown homeownership in cities with rapid displacement; board chair for Philanthropy DMV, the membership organization for funders and foundations in the Greater Washington Region; and board member for the District of Columbia Early Learning Collaborative (DCELC). 

Marla has served on numerous non-profit boards, District government councils, commissions, taskforces, and transition committees. She serves as the chair of both the DC Mayor’s inaugural Commission on Poverty and the Ward 7 Education Council., as well as a member of the DC Council's Early Childhood Educator Pay Equity Taskforce.  Additionally, Marla has received numerous awards and recognitions, the most recent being East River Family Strengthening Collaborative’s 2023 Empowered Women Award.

Dr. Marla M. Dean has more than 30 years of teaching, coaching, leadership, nonprofit, and executive experience. She is a former English and government teacher, assistant principal, middle and high school principal, turnaround principal, and chief of schools in District of Columbia, Maryland, Michigan, and Virginia, as well as a nonprofit executive and CEO.

She has served as the Eastern Region Program Manager for the Delta Research and Education Foundation’s Delta Teacher Efficacy Campaign (DTEC) and on the 2017-2020 DCPS Strategic Advisory Committee. Marla previously served on Mayor Bowser’s inaugural Thrive by Five Coordinating Council,  as well as the Low Income Investment Fund’s (LIIF) New Market Tax Credit Advisory Board.

Marla attended The University of Michigan for her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and her Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning. She holds an Education Specialist degree from Michigan State University in Educational Leadership. Marla completed her doctoral studies at University of Pennsylvania in Educational Leadership and Organizational Theory.


Marla is a member of the 2020 Class of Leadership Greater Washington and a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Marla is a native Detroiter. She currently lives in the southeast quadrant of Washington. Most importantly, she is a wife to Steve, a juvenile probation officer, and mother to Aaron, a filmmaker who graduated from Morehouse College and lives in Atlanta where he works for an international marketing agency.

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