Ashley Dotson, Dean of Students

As Dean of Students at Ellis, Ashley Dotson has her finger on the pulse of student happenings in the Upper School. A former English teacher who moved into the Dean of Students role full-time this year, Ashley has a passion for literature, writing, and discussing books with anyone and everyone who will listen. Ashley taught the Class of 2017 their sophomore year and junior year and acts as an adviser for a handful of graduating seniors as well. Particularly close with the 2017 graduating class, Ashley reflects on her time at Ellis and watching the seniors grow into courageous, resilient young women.
Years at Ellis:Four
Title:Dean of Students
Education:B.A. English Literature, Penn State University; M.Ed. Duquesne University

What inspired you to become a teacher? And how did that transition into your new role as Dean of Students?
I wanted to teach English because talking about books all day seemed like the ideal career for someone who loves reading and writing. The Dean piece sort of just fell into place in the Upper School. I started out teaching English in the Upper School and was Dean for grades 9 and 10, then Dean for grades 9-12, before I transitioned into the role full-time this year. It really allows me to work with students and know girls from across the entire Upper School. Next year I will be getting back into the classroom too, I’ll be teaching an elective on the Modern Family.

Tell me about your connection to the Class of 2017.
This class is incredibly special to me, it’s going to be a hard graduation! They were the first class I had in the Upper School when I taught World Literature, and then my teaching assignment changed and I followed them to grade 11. When you have the same set of girls for two years in a row, you spend a lot of time together and get to know each other very well. And this class is not only nice to each other, they’re nice to their teachers. They care about each other in a way that’s really special. There’s a real feeling of family in this class that sets them apart. As a teacher who is so passionate about literature, to have this group of kids who genuinely wants to talk and learn is amazing. They are so receptive and open-minded which bonded us in the classroom and now outside of it.

After teaching in public high schools, why did you make the switch to Ellis? How has Ellis been a good fit for you?
I’ve only been at Ellis for four years and I have felt really connected to the School since my first interview. At Ellis, I am comfortable and invested in this community. When I taught at public high schools, I never had that moment where I looked around and felt like “wow, I’m changing the lives of these students.” At Ellis, I feel that way everyday. I am constantly amazed by the things Ellis girls are capable of —the conversations, the relationships—because they care as much as I do. At Ellis, students are engaged and enlightened. They’re so poised, they care about the world, and they don’t just talk about it—they do something about it.

Do you have a mentor? How has that relationship benefited you professionally? Can you tell me about him or her?
It is definitely Lauren Laschon. We are a lot alike in a lot of ways and work together so well. When I first started at Ellis in the Middle School, Lauren was the grade 8 Dean, and even then I recognized her as someone to look up to. She’s progressed so far in her career which is really impressive to me. Even though her role has expanded, there’s never a time when she’s not made herself available to me. She’s always there and willing to back me up. We have a shared vision for the Upper School and she enabled me to take the risk and have the confidence to move into the Dean role full-time. It’s to her credit that I enjoy this job as much as I do and that I’m happy to do it.

What lessons has working at an all-girls school taught you?
I believe wholeheartedly in all-girls education. The difference in what I’ve seen in girls here vs. girls in coed environments is staggering. It’s the way an Ellis girl is able to talk to adults respectfully, confidently, and passionately. I get the question a lot from prospective families—what about gossip and cattiness at an all-girls school? I tell them the girls here shut it down before we have the chance to. At Ellis, the environment of women helping other women empowers the girls and gives them a voice. I have watched them become women that I know are going to become role models themselves. Also, the conversations you can have in a classroom without boys are much different as well. At Ellis, I know the mission is to prepare, empower, and inspire each and every girl and that is my focus as an educator. I never knew the mission at public schools, but at Ellis we know it and we live it. This is what we’re about it. The mission statement is always my guiding light.

For the Class of 2017: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
Always consider perspectives outside of your own. You never know what someone is going through just by looking at them. My advice is that when you leave this space that you know so well, remember that in a room full of strangers you never know what someone is dealing with. Remember to be understanding and inclusive.

If you could interview anyone living or dead, who would it be and why?
J.D. Salinger. Catcher in the Rye was the first book I read that made me see how cool literature was. I loved Holden and Salinger’s writing style. He must have been a fascinating person.

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Organized. Patient. Friendly.

What is the last book you read? 
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

What woman inspires you and why?
My paternal grandmother. She is a first generation Italian immigrant and the kindest woman. Growing up, she and my grandfather were like a second set of parents to me. I would go see them after school and even if I said I wasn’t hungry, she’d put out an entire spread of food. She is the matriarch of our family and a lot of the things that bond us together are because of her and those Italian traditions.

What’s your favorite ’90s jam?
“Better Man” by Pearl Jam . I was totally into grunge—Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Hole.