Cynthia Ellwood, Ph.D.

Cynthia Ellwood
Cynthia Ellwood, Ph.D.Marquette University

Schroeder Complex, 116F

MilwaukeeWI53201United States of America
(414) 288-6749

Clinical Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies

Cynthia Ellwood has been engaged to help reshape leadership education within the Masters and Doctoral programs in the Department of Educational Policy and Leadership. 

Dr. Ellwood most recently served as a Regional Executive in the Milwaukee Public Schools, where she oversaw 35 schools, elementary through high school, serving 17,500 young people.  In this capacity, she supported, supervised, hired and developed the principals of her region  She was responsible for developing a mix of high quality educational programs in the region, including starting a new high school, leading the transformation of low-performing high school into a school for creativity and innovation, as well as cultivating a wide range of school programs and initiatives in Milwaukee’s most diverse region. Ellwood also led the redesign and implementation of the district’s teacher growth and evaluation system.

Previously, Dr. Ellwood served as the principal of Hartford University School for twelve years; during this time, the staff, parents, and students dramatically transformed the educational program, climate, achievement, and enrollment in this high-poverty, predominantly African American elementary and middle school. In addition, during her 29 years in the Milwaukee Public Schools, Dr. Ellwood taught high school and served as the chief academic officer. Ellwood was a founding editor, with four others, of Rethinking Schools.  One of the most transformational periods of her life was spent supporting the Nicaraguan Literacy Campaign on the staff of the Sandinista-led Ministerio de Educacion. She was educated at Stanford University, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree, Masters in history and education, and a PhD in education.

Degrees Held

  • PhD – Education, Stanford University
  • MA – History, Stanford University
  • MA – Education, Stanford University
  • BA – Communications, Stanford University (Phi Beta Kappa)

Courses Taught

  • The Principalship
  • Instructional Leadership
  • Politics and Community in Educational Organizations
  • Master’s Capstone: Current Issues in Educational Policy and Leadership

Research Interests

  • Leadership for structural and social change
  • Equity and opportunity in schools
  • Race and class in school communities
  • Leadership preparation and development

Professional Experience

  • Regional Executive – Milwaukee Public Schools (3 years). Regional superintendent with responsibility for 35 schools serving 17,500 students, K-12. Hired, developed, supported and supervised principals; guided and supported all aspects of school operations, including teaching and learning, climate, human resources, finance, public affairs, safety, and facilities; developed new schools and school programs; led the re-design of the district’s teacher growth and evaluation system.
  • Principal, Hartford University School – Milwaukee Public Schools (12 years). With staff, parents, and students, transformed the educational program, climate, achievement, and enrollment in this largely Black elementary and middle school.
  • Director of Education – Milwaukee Public Schools (7 years). Chief academic officer with responsibility for curriculum, instruction, assessment, professional development, bilingual education, special education, funded programs, and community schools.
  • Teacher of English and Social Studies – South Division High School, Milwaukee Public Schools (7 years).
  • Founding Co-Editor, Rethinking Schools, an Urban Educational Journal.
  • Campaña Nacional de Alfabetización (Sandinista National Literacy Campaign) Support Staff - Nicaragua Ministerio de Educación (Nicaraguan National Department of Education), 1980.


  • $50,000 Spencer Foundation Small Research Grant (with Sharon M. Chubbuck), “Toward Dismantling Tracking and Systemic Inequity.” (Marquette University)
  • $15 million for the National Science Foundation Urban Systemic Initiative for district-wide mathematics and science reform. Co-Principal Investigator with UWM colleagues. (Milwaukee Public Schools)
  • $3 million from the Danforth Foundation for the Dorothy Compton Danforth Urban Teacher Fellowship (also known as the Compton Program) to recruit and train highly qualified middle school teachers in cooperation with Marquette University and Alverno College. (Milwaukee Public Schools)
  • $600,000 from the Joyce Foundation for the Assessing Learning Project, a collaboration of Milwaukee Public Schools and Alverno College.
  • $500,000 from the Joyce Foundation for the Leadership Academy, in cooperation with the North Central Regional Education Lab. (Milwaukee Public Schools)
  • $225,000 from the Danforth Foundation for Team Planning for Action. (Milwaukee Public Schools)
  • $100,000 from the National Science Foundation for the Urban Systemic Initiative Self-Study. (Milwaukee Public Schools)

Professional Presentations

  • Fiddling with the flame of disequilibrium: A study of distributed adaptive leadership toward systemic detracking. American Education Research Association (AERA), April 2016, Washington, DC.
  • Understanding we misunderstand: Disrupting cultural narratives in developing school leaders. American Education Research Association (AERA), April 2015, Chicago.
  • Interrogating narratives of race, class, and justice: Community mapping in preparing school leaders. University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA), November, 2014, Washington, DC.