Board / Staff

Staff
  • Mary Ellen Isaacs, Ph.D. , Literacy First Director
  • Mary Ellen Isaacs, Ph.D.

    Literacy First Director

    Mary Ellen has more than 20 years of experience with Literacy First, and four decades of experience working in the field of reading difficulties as a teacher, diagnostician and program coordinator. She has a deep knowledge of both research and best practices in reading acquisition, and brings this expertise to shaping and growing our highly effective early literacy intervention program. Mary Ellen believes that learning to read is the right of every child, and has dedicated her career to ensuring children learn to read well, so they can read to learn. Mary Ellen’s favorite books from her own childhood are the Little House on the Prairie series. Some of her best memories are of reading aloud to her daughter, and their favorites were Blueberries for Sal, and Miss Rumphius.

  • Susan Buchanan , Co-Director of Education
  • Susan Buchanan

    Co-Director of Education

    Susan oversees the delivery of the Literacy First program in partner schools, including supervision of our literacy team who are responsible for tutors’ instruction and ongoing literacy training and support. Susan is also responsible for developing and piloting new ways to scale the Literacy First program for more children to be supported in developing early literacy skills. Susan has two decades of experience working with K–3 classrooms as a teacher and reading specialist, and is a certified Reading Recovery teacher with extensive training in early literacy and instruction. Susan has also worked as a primary language arts specialist for the Austin Independent School District, where she developed curriculum and conducted professional development trainings. Susan is an avid collector of children’s books. When asked what her favorite picture book was, she was unable to provide a title because that would be like asking who was her favorite student – they all are!

  • Jennifer Jones , Co-Director of Education
  • Jennifer Jones

    Co-Director of Education

    Jennifer oversees the K-2 program in Literacy First partner schools.  This includes developing and maintaining relationships with partner school districts, supervising and supporting Literacy First program coordinators, and working with the staff to ensure that the program meets its mission and goals.  Through cognitive coaching, Jennifer engages staff in program improvement and quality assurance. She ensures that planning is tactical and strategic through ongoing and annual program evaluations to determine the need for updates or changes.  Jennifer has thirty years of experience serving as a classroom teacher, Reading Recovery certified teacher, and early literacy intervention coach. She spent ten years in Socorro ISD, State and Federal Programs, as a Title I Specialist where she was the homeless and foster care liaison and coordinated various programs supported with Title I funds.  While in the classroom, “Read Alouds” were a favorite way for Jennifer to convey her love of books to children. “I’ll Always Love You” by Hans Wilhelm, is a personal favorite, but is a tearful, tough read because of her deep love of dogs.

  • Rachel Mallernee , Development Director
  • Rachel Mallernee

    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.

  • Jason Buckingham , Senior Academic Program Coordinator
  • Jason Buckingham

    Senior Academic Program Coordinator

    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!

  • Gabriela Garcia-De Avila, M.Ed. , AmeriCorps & Operations Coordinator
  • Gabriela Garcia-De Avila, M.Ed.

    AmeriCorps & Operations Coordinator

    Gabriela has over 10 years’ 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.

  • Sarah Lowery , Development Specialist
  • Sarah Lowery

    Development Specialist

    Sarah collaborates with Development leadership on donor relations and stewardship, gift processing, marketing and communications, and event planning and coordination. Prior to Literacy First, she worked for several nonprofits in the Madison, WI area. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Community and Nonprofit Leadership program. Sarah joined Literacy First as a Development Specialist in October 2017 after relocating to sunny Austin. Her favorite children’s book is Roald Dahl’s The Minpins, which helped inspire her love of travel, adventure, and the outdoors.

  • Logan Marconette , Recruitment & Outreach Coordinator
  • Logan Marconette

    Recruitment & Outreach Coordinator

    Logan served as an AmeriCorps Member with Literacy First for two years before joining the team. He is excited to help others find their passion for service and foster an environment of inclusiveness in the program. His main responsibilities are recruiting new AmeriCorps Members and supporting the Operations team. He is a big advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and wants to dedicate his career to helping everyone feel important and equal. His favorite childhood book series is “Peter and the Starcatchers” by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. He loves the creative twist on the origins of Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and Neverland.

  • Monica Ortiz , Bilingual Academic Program Coordinator
  • Monica Ortiz

    Bilingual Academic Program 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.

  • Anique Reese , Senior Academic Program Coordinator
  • Anique Reese

    Senior Academic 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 actually 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.

  • Sebastian Wren, Ph.D. , Senior Academic Program Coordinator
  • Sebastian Wren, Ph.D.

    Senior Academic Program Coordinator

    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
  • Helen Watkins, Community Volunteer (Board Chair)
  • Ellen Arnold, Arnold Public Affairs
  • Elizabeth Bayer Morgan, Long-View Micro School
  • Kara Belew, Texas Public Policy Foundation
  • Anna Bodine, Harrell Investment Partners
  • Tabatha Brown, Community Volunteer
  • Ricardo Guerrero, Dell EMC
  • Jackie Mata, Texas Capital Bank
  • Julie Shields, SAS
  • Tricia Traeger, Literacy First Alumnus
  • Claire Wiygul, Benchmark Bank
  • Cory Wolf, Community Volunteer