Board & Staff

Staff
  • Claire Hagen Alvarado, Ed.L.D. , Literacy First Director
  • Claire Hagen Alvarado, Ed.L.D.

    Literacy First Director

    Claire was named Director of Literacy First in March 2022, bringing to the role two decades of experience and leadership in the Texas education and literacy space, as well as a passion for growing multilingual readers. First and foremost, Claire is a teacher who believes in the power and importance of reading across languages. She earned her Master of Education in Language and Literacy Studies from the University of Texas at Austin and her Education Leadership Doctorate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Claire served as Language Arts Supervisor for the Austin Independent School District and as the Statewide Early Childhood Fellow for the Texas Education Agency. Her current favorite children’s book is Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales because of the way her 6-year-old reads it with wild expression.

  • Rachel Mallernee, CFRE , Development Director
  • Rachel Mallernee, CFRE

    Development Director

    Rachel joined the team in October 2014. A Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), she brings a wealth of development and management experience. Her successful career includes positions at the American Cancer Society and The Arc of the Capital Area. Rachel is a Board member for the Austin Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and serves as AFP’s President. Rachel’s favorite children’s book is Corduroy, which is a story about a little bear that isn’t quite perfect, but finds the perfect friend to love him just as he is.

  • Gabriela Garcia-De Avila, M.Ed. , AmeriCorps Project Director
  • Gabriela Garcia-De Avila, M.Ed.

    AmeriCorps Project Director

    Gabriela has over 10 years of experience with Literacy First. As a first-generation immigrant from a civic minded family, her passion for service lead her to serve as a bilingual AmeriCorps tutor. She is now responsible for AmeriCorps and Operations coordination. Gabi is passionate about her family, friends, and helping others. She is also a passionate food connoisseur! Her favorite children’s book is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

  • Jason Buckingham, M.Ed. , Director of Innovation Projects
  • Jason Buckingham, M.Ed.

    Director of Innovation Projects

    Jason has 20 years of experience with Literacy First and over 20 years of experience working in the field of literacy as a Literacy First tutor, teacher, RtI specialist and program coordinator. In his work with Literacy First, he is responsible for training, supervising, curriculum development, publication and leader development. Jason is a certified Master Reading Teacher, and is currently a graduate student in Language and Literacy studies at UT Austin. Jason has loved Ferdinand by Munro Leaf since he was a kid. Ferdinand is a great model of a gentle way of being and remaining true to yourself!

  • Calista López , Development Associate
  • Calista López

    Development Associate

    Calista joined Literacy First as a Development Associate in August 2022. She collaborates with Development leadership on donor relations and stewardship, gift processing, and event planning and coordination. She also supports grant leadership by coordinating the development, administrative management, reporting and closeout of grants. Before joining Literacy First, Calista worked in Development and Operations for The Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation. She is a Rio Grande Valley native and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied history and English. Calista’s favorite children’s book is Tonight on the Titanic by Mary Pope Osborne, which sparked her passions for time travel (AKA history), libraries, and cultivating empathy by reading fiction.

  • Cristina López, M.Ed. , Senior Program Coordinator
  • Cristina López, M.Ed.

    Senior Program Coordinator

    Cristina joined the Literacy First team in November 2019. She has 16 years of experience in the field of education. Prior to her current role at Literacy First, she worked as a bilingual elementary school teacher, student teacher facilitator, instructional coach, and elementary literacy curriculum specialist. Cristina has worked in public and charter schools, and has trained and supported novice and veteran teachers in literacy intervention and core reading and writing instruction. Cristina is originally from the Rio Grande Valley (San Juan, Texas) but has lived in Austin for 21 years. Cristina is a true Longhorn! She attended the University of Texas at Austin where she received her undergrad degree in Bilingual Education and her graduate degree in Language and Literacy. Her favorite children’s book is I’ll Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.

  • Monica Ortiz , AmeriCorps Coordinator
  • Monica Ortiz

    AmeriCorps Coordinator

    Monica has been with the program for 8 years. Monica is responsible for supporting and supervising AmeriCorps members. Monica is a lead K–2 intervention trainer for Spanish- and English-speaking members. Monica’s favorite book is Jump, Frog, Jump by Robert Kalan, the first book she remembers reading on her own in English. As a young learner, Monica struggled in reading because Spanish was her first language. Much like the students we tutor, it took time for her to learn how to read and write in both languages.

  • Leah Pagano , AmeriCorps Recruitment & Outreach Coordinator
  • Leah Pagano

    AmeriCorps Recruitment & Outreach Coordinator

    Leah joined the Literacy First team as Recruitment & Outreach Coordinator in August 2022. She recruits strong AmeriCorps members to guide the students served by Literacy First on their early literacy journey. Leah studied History & Secondary Education of Social Studies at Syracuse University and served for two years in AmeriCorps before earning her M.Ed. in Special Education from The University of Texas at Austin. Before joining Literacy First, Leah taught high school social studies in Austin. Leah’s favorite children’s book is The Giver, centered around the importance of remembering the past.

  • Anique Reese , Senior Program Coordinator
  • Anique Reese

    Senior Program Coordinator

    Anique has 22 years of experience in the field of education. Prior to her current role at Literacy First, she worked for 19 years as an elementary school teacher, reading specialist, and literacy coach. She has mentored student and novice teachers and partnered with professors at The University of Texas at Austin to model classroom community building and literacy instruction. Anique has also trained and supported teachers and specialists in literacy intervention and core reading and writing instruction. Anique was born in France, but she has lived in Austin for most of her life. Her favorite children’s book is The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco because it deeply resonates with her French roots.

  • Whitney Wallace , Senior Program Coordinator
  • Whitney Wallace

    Senior Program Coordinator

    Whitney joined the Literacy First team in August 2021. She has 10 years of experience in the field of education. Prior to her current role at Literacy First, Whitney worked as a classroom teacher, a reading interventionist, a district testing and data coordinator, and an early childhood specialist at the Texas Education Agency. Whitney has spent the majority of her career supporting and coaching teachers in reading instruction and reading intervention. Whitney is originally from Oklahoma and moved to Austin in 2014. She received her undergraduate degree from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota and her graduate degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Texas at Tyler. Her favorite children’s book is Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.

  • Sebastian Wren, Ph.D. , Director of Research and Development
  • Sebastian Wren, Ph.D.

    Director of Research and Development

    Sebastian has more than 20 years of experience working in education in both practice and research settings. In addition to school and district administration, Sebastian has dedicated much of his career to the area of systemic school improvement with an emphasis on universal literacy achievement. Before joining Literacy First, Sebastian worked for the Austin Independent School District and the Southwest Education Development Laboratory (now American Institutes for Research). He has also held adjunct positions at both The University of Texas and Texas State University. As a Literacy First supervisor, Sebastian oversees the daily operations at approximately six partner schools by supervising the AmeriCorps members working at those schools. In addition, Sebastian leads the data collection, data analysis, and program evaluation for Literacy First. Sebastian also serves as a member of the City of Austin Early Childhood Council, offering advice to City leaders about policy related to families with young children. Sebastian did not learn to read at a young age, and so he did not really have a favorite “children’s book” per se. Late in elementary school, he fell in love with the collected works of James Herriot, and was inspired to become a veterinarian. This fantasy continued until Sebastian joined the Explorer Scouts in middle school so he could follow a large-animal veterinarian on his rounds. That pretty much ended his veterinarian ambitions.

Advisory Board Members
  • Marisol Foster (Chair), Webber Family Foundation
  • Ellen Arnold, Arnold Public Affairs
  • Jackie Mata (Former Chair), Community Volunteer
  • Elizabeth Bayer Morgan, Long-View Micro School
  • Sheena Moore, Texas Domestic Slave Project, The University of Texas at Austin & Literacy First Alumnus
  • Claire Morris, CapStar Lending
  • Juan Tornoe, Cultural Strategies