After graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Joanna was selected as a 2007 Teach For America (TFA) Corps Member and was placed in the Glendale Elementary School District in Arizona. While in the corps, Joanna taught fifth and sixth grade and concurrently earned a Master’s of Education at Arizona State University.
After spending an additional year in the classroom as a seventh and eighth grade science teacher Joanna joined the Teach For America staff; on TFA staff she served as a Program Director, supporting and coaching thirty first and second year teachers. While serving as a Program Director, Joanna also took on additional responsibilities as a School Director for Teach For America’s summer institute and as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Missouri at St. Louis.
Joanna subsequently rose to become a Manager of Instructional Leadership and, ultimately, Director of Instructional Support. In this role, Joanna specifically supported teachers at five schools and developed a coaching model that included an emphasis on teacher practice that was implemented across 25 coaches.In 2015 Joanna joined Cleveland Public Schools (Cleveland, Oklahoma) as the Assistant Superintendent, Curriculum and Instruction. During her time in Cleveland, she was responsible for creating a comprehensive vision for student learning in the district, supporting principals in developing instructional leadership skills through classroom observations, feedback, and professional development, and managing the implementation of a 5-year strategic plan for a 1,700 student district in rural Oklahoma. During this time, she also participated in the 2015 cohort of the Rural School Leadership Academy and the 2017 cohort of the School Systems Leader Fellowship and was an instructor for Johns Hopkins University’s teacher preparation programs. Joanna earned her doctorate in Educational Administration and Curriculum Supervision from the University of Oklahoma in 2017 where she studied how instructional coaches build the psychological need for competence in beginning teachers. It was during this work that she developed a passion for ensuring that teachers enter the profession with high caliber professional learning experiences which has compelled her to become one of the TLI’s co-founders.
Chief of Staff
Marissa’s teaching experience ranges from kindergarten to early college courses. Most recently, she taught 5th grade in Tulsa Public Schools. Prior, she taught in her Teach For America placement school for three years in Arizona and also taught English as a Second Language in Michigan.
In 2011, Marissa joined the Hesston College (Kansas) faculty where she taught pre-service teacher preparation courses and collaborated with the English department to re-design developmental composition support. She also directed the First-Year Experience program and spearheaded the first community-wide reading program featuring author visits and academic events. She was given the distinguished faculty award in 2015. During these years, Marissa also worked for the Teach For America summer institute where she trained and coached beginning teachers entering high poverty public school systems. Marissa holds a Master’s of Education from Northcentral University. She is also a 2017 Yale National Fellow and an enthusiastic participant in the Tulsa Institute for Teachers at the University of Tulsa. Her research and writing has appeared in journals like Oklahoma English, Teaching English at the Two-Year College, and Language Arts in addition to popular press publications like Teachers & Writers Magazine, Education World, and Edutopia. Given her passion for teaching, learning, and adult education, Marissa was compelled to join TLI as the founding Chief of Staff. Her role includes long-range strategic planning, professional design and implementation, data analysis and reporting, and much more.
Director Leadership Programs
Nina began her career in 2009 at Jefferson Middle School in Southwest Washington, D.C. As a Teach for America corps member, she taught seventh and eighth grade English for two years with D.C. Public Schools. In 2011, Nina moved to New York City to join the Uncommon Schools network.
While teaching sixth grade Writing at Brownsville Collegiate Charter School, she also served as Curriculum Specialist, designing Writing curriculum for eight schools across the network. In 2014, Nina joined Bushwick Ascend Lower School as Dean of Instruction. In this capacity, she supervised and led grade-level academies, designed and facilitated professional development, and supported teachers with weekly coaching cycles and lesson plan feedback. In 2016, Nina continued her work for the Ascend network, moving to the district office to serve as Associate Director of Curriculum. In this role, she created Literacy curricula for Grades K-8, designed and delivered professional development to schools, and supported school leaders in curriculum, assessment, and instructional implementation. Nina is thrilled to join TLI in tackling the work of novice teacher and leader development. She strongly believes building the capacity of educators to affect meaningful change for student achievement. As TLI’s Director of Leadership Programs, Nina will work to support school leaders in developing instructional leadership, creating a strong culture of feedback, and driving academic success. Nina holds a Master’s degree from American University and a Bachelor’s degree from Brown University.
Manager Teacher Development and Partnerships
Rebecca Fine joined the Teaching and Leading Initiative as a teacher coach and Manager of Communications and Research in January 2020. Rebecca comes from a family of teachers, and began her own career in education as a 6th grade science teacher in Tulsa Public Schools and later taught 6th and 7th grade at Union Public Schools. After earning her master’s degree in educational policy studies focusing on race, class and gender disparities in public schools, she worked as the education policy analyst and KIDS COUNT coordinator at the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Rebecca brings her experience as a classroom teacher and her background in research and writing to her work at TLI. She received her bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Rochester and her master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Manager Teacher Development
Samantha Aponte joined the Teaching and Leading Initiative as a Manager of Teacher Development in July 2021. Samantha began her career in education in 2015 in Oklahoma City at Esperanza Elementary. As a Teacher for America corps member, she taught fifth grade English Language Arts for two years, before moving to Tulsa to continue her teaching career at Tulsa Honor Academy as a 5th grade teacher. In 2019, Samantha took on the roles of Literacy Specialist, Assistant Principal of Humanities, and later the interim Principal. In this capacity, she crafted and facilitated professional development, coached and developed teachers around literacy instruction and classroom management, and worked to align humanities curriculum and assessment for grades 5-8. Samantha brings her passion for learning and experience in coaching and curriculum to her work at TLI. In 2020, she received her master’s degree in Teaching, Learning and Leadership with a concentration in Reading from Oklahoma State University. In 2021, Samantha was selected as a recipient of the 30 Under 30 Changemaker Award for Leadership by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.