Lisa Shotts, Director
Lisa is an elementary school teacher during the day and Director of Gaining Ground the rest of the time. She has a passion for literacy and finding ways to bridge the inequities in education for students living in under resourced areas. Gaining Ground has been a life-long dream and with the help of the “dream team” of Gaining Ground’s Board has made this dream a reality.
Kirby Mackenzie , Assistant Director
Kirby is an elementary school librarian. She has 9 years of teaching experience and a passion for summer reading, teaching with an emphasis on social justice, and getting kids access to great books! Working with Gaining Ground has been an amazing way to marry all of these passions and she is so excited to see the amazing transformations that continue to come from this organization.
When she is not at school or passing out books to random kids in public places, you can find her watching Ellen, teaching yoga, rocking out with an indoor cycle class, or eating tacos!
Emma Thadani grew up in Oklahoma City. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009 with a Biological Basis of Behavior major and an Urban Education minor. After college, she joined Teach for America, which took her to Brownsville, Texas, where she taught 7th grade Life Science for three years with IDEA Public Schools. To develop a better understanding of public education in the United States, Emma completed a Master’s in Education Policy and Management at Harvard University in 2013. Emma now works as a Community School Coordinator at Union Public Schools, where she helps provide and coordinate programs, events, and wrap-around resources for families and students.
Rita Long earned her master’s degree in math and science education from the University of Tulsa. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education from Oklahoma State University. She began her career at Jenks Public Schools in 1991and served as a classroom teacher, gifted coordinator and curriculum resource instructor.
Long moved to Union in 2006 as an assistant principal for Rosa Parks Elementary before transferring to an assistant principal to McAuliffe in 2007. She served as McAuliffe Principal from 2008 until 2017, when she assumed duties for the new Ellen Ochoa Elementary.
Twytinna Gardner graduated from Oral Roberts University with a B.A. in Education and later received her Masters in Counseling Psychology from Southern Nazarene University, and is now a Licensed Professional Counselor with the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Ms. Gardner taught one year at Jenks East Middle School as the speech, debate, and drama teacher and one year at Oral Roberts University, as an adjunct oral communications instructor, before becoming the drama instructor at the 8th Grade Center, where she taught for nine years.
Ms. Gardner is a school counselor certified by the State Department of Education. She worked as the Focus and Intervention Counselor at the 6th/7th Grade Center. Ms. Gardner continues her counseling journey at Ellen Ochoa Elementary where she continues to have the opportunity to work with children, family, and staff, to make an impact on students' lives. She frequently uses books to help students learn to develop coping skills, empathy, and problem solving strategies. Ms. G states, " It's amazing to see the insight readers discover when they are reflecting on the lives of characters in a book. Before they realize it their insight into a character helps them gain personal insight and over time growth ensues."
Kerry earned a Masters Degree in Elementary Education from the University of Tulsa. She taught in Jenks for 24 years and retired in 2014. Her passion, whether within her classroom, district-wide initiatives, or professional development enrichment opportunities, has always been providing support necessary for all students to develop the literacy skills and confidence needed for success. Through Gaining Ground, she can help level the playing field for students living in poverty.
Jamie Zink is a native Oklahoman and has called the City of Tulsa her home for more than 20 years. Jamie graduated from Oklahoma State University in 1998 with a degree in Management Information Systems and spent nearly a decade working in the Information Technology and Energy sectors. Mrs. Zink and her husband of 18 years, Darton Zink, have two sons. Mrs. Zink is currently a Community Volunteer, serving as a Trustee, for the Jamie and Darton Zink Foundation, John Zink Foundation, John Steele Zink Foundation and Holland Hall Preparatory School.