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.

  • 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.

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

    AmeriCorps Operations Manager

    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 , 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!

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

    Senior Academic 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.

  • 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. Logan 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 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, Tenet Leadership, LLC
  • Anna Bodine, Harrell Investment Partners
  • Jackie Mata, Texas Capital Bank
  • Tricia Traeger, Literacy First Alumnus
  • Claire Wiygul, Benchmark Bank
  • Cory Wolf, Community Volunteer