Rita M. Gardner,

President and CEO

Rita M. Gardner is the President and CEO of Melmark, and leads operations and management of Melmark service divisions in New England, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas. Prior to her appointment as President and CEO in 2015, Ms. Gardner served as Executive Director of Melmark New England, based in Andover, Massachusetts, which she co-founded in 1998. She also founded Melmark Carolinas in 2018 and a second New England day school in 2022. Ms. Gardner and Melmark New England were honored to be named on The Women’s Edge list of the Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts for six consecutive years from 2018 to 2023. Ms. Gardner was honored with the CBIZ National Women Transforming Business Financial Strength Award, as well as the CBIZ Overall Winner Award, in 2022. Ms. Gardner received the Excellence in Autism Award presented by Mental Health News Education in 2024.


She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst® (BCBA), a trained public health professional, and has devoted over 40 years of her professional career to the field of community-based services for children and adults with the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), intellectual and developmental disabilities, acquired brain injuries, severe challenging behaviors, and medical fragility.


Ms. Gardner is an accomplished and persistent legislative advocate. Her public policy work has positively impacted services for individuals diagnosed with autism and developmental disabilities throughout the United States. She advocates for professional behavior analysts, being one of the citizen writers of the Massachusetts Behavior Analyst licensing legislation. Ms. Gardner also serves on advisory committees with the Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC) and Advocates for Autism of Massachusetts (AFAM). She is a founding Board member of the National Council of Autism Providers (CASP). Ms. Gardner also serves on the Advisory Board of the Virginia Institute of Autism. She was on the Governor’s Autism Commission under two Governors in Massachusetts and is the past President of the Board of Directors for the Massachusetts Association of Approved Private School (MAAPS). Ms. Gardner also serves on the Pennsylvania Advocacy and Resources for Autism and Intellectual Disability Board of Directors.


Ms. Gardner has co-authored numerous books, written book chapters and peer-reviewed articles for professional journals, and made a number of presentations on topics including women’s leadership, women in behavior analysis, program expansion, organizational behavior management, special education, adult services, board development, and more recently managing programs during the COVID-19 pandemic and leading COVID-19 vaccine education program town halls at local, regional and national levels. She is considered an Organizational Behavior Management expert in applied human service settings.


Ms. Gardner earned her Master of Public Health degree from Boston University’s School of Public Health in the School of Medicine, majoring in Behavioral Sciences and Health Services Administration.