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Thompson Center Summit on Early Literacy

February 8 @ 11:30 am – 2:30 pm CST

Over one third of Wisconsin students are unable to read at grade level and our state’s Black children have the lowest reading scores in the nation.  Reading below grade level brings both short-term and long-term challenges, from a lower chance of graduating high school to a higher chance of living in poverty.

Join the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership for a luncheon discussion with state and national experts on how Wisconsin can address our literacy crisis.

Slide Decks


Emily Hanford is a senior correspondent for American Public Media. Her work has appeared on NPR and in The New York Times, Washington Monthly, The Los Angeles Times and other publications. For the past several years, Emily has been reporting on early reading instruction. Her 2018 podcast episode “Hard Words: Why aren’t kids being taught to read?” won a public service award from the Education Writers Association. You can find all of her reporting on reading at apmreports.org/reading, including her podcast, Sold a Story: How teaching kids to read went so wrong (soldastory.org). Emily is based in Washington, D.C.


Dr. Kymyona Burk is the Senior Policy Fellow for Early Literacy at the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd). In this role Dr. Burk supports states pursuing a comprehensive approach to K-3 reading policy by assisting state leaders in building new or improving existing K-3 reading policies, with a heavy focus on supporting successful policy implementation. For ExcelinEd, she directly supports twenty-three states and Washington D.C. in what is called the Early Literacy Network, which includes state education agency literacy leaders. Since beginning her national work with ExcelinEd in 2020, Dr. Burk has worked with Advocacy Directors and policymakers to pass or strengthen early literacy legislation in fourteen (14) states across the country.

Dr. Burk most recently served as the Executive Director for the Office of Teaching and Learning in the Jackson Public School District (JPSD) where she provided the leadership and vision for all aspects of the JPSD’s instructional programs including curriculum, instruction, and professional learning. She is also the former K-12 State Literacy Director for the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE), leading the state-level implementation of the Literacy-Based Promotion Act (2013), which aims to ensure that all students are proficient readers by third grade. Under her state literacy leadership from 2013-2019, MS’s 4th graders increased 10 scale score points in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), improved to 29th in the national rankings, tied the national average for the first time, and was the only state to make significant gains in 4th grade reading.

Dr. Burk currently serves as a National Advisory Member for The Path Forward for Teacher Preparation and Licensure, an advisor to the Alabama Literacy Taskforce, and a member of the NCTQ Reading Expert Advisory Panel for Teacher Preparation Standards. She is also a former Board Member of The Reading League.

Dr. Burk’s experience also includes teaching, training, and coaching in the areas of reading, writing, and literacy. She has served as a school-based literacy coach, district Consortium on Reading Excellence (C.O.R.E.) Literacy Trainer, and teacher of reading and English on elementary, secondary, and undergraduate levels. She received a Doctorate in Early Childhood Education, Specialist in Secondary Education/English, Master of Science in Educational Leadership, Master of Arts in Teaching English, and Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Jackson State University.


Donna Hejtmanek retired after 41 years of teaching special education and serving as a reading specialist/ interventionist. She served as president of the Literacy Task Force of Northern Wisconsin, was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker in 2014 to Wisconsin’s Read to Lead Literacy Council, served as the legislative chair of the International Dyslexia Association and served on The Legislative Council Study Committee on the Identification and Management of Dyslexia in 2018, resulting in Wisconsin’s first dyslexia bill, Act 86, signed into legislation in 2019. Hejtmanek was awarded the Herb Kohl Teacher Fellowship Award in 2016.. Now, in her fifth year of retirement, she spends her days creating professional development opportunities for teachers and parents  on  her popular  International Facebook group, Science of Reading—What I Should Have Learned in College.


Mark S. Seidenberg is a Vilas Research Professor and Donald O. Hebb
Professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Seidenberg has conducted research on the nature of skilled reading, how children learn to read, developmental reading impairments, and the brain bases of reading, in English and other languages, for many years. He also studies how differences in spoken language experience, particularly the use of varieties of English that differ from the “standard” dialect, affect learning to read and the effectiveness of curricula, instruction, and assessment.

Seidenberg is author of the 2017 book, Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can’t, and What Can Be Done About It. His work focuses on finding ways to improve literacy outcomes, especially for children at risk for reasons such as poverty or developmental conditions such as dyslexia. His website is seidenbergreading.net.


February 8
11:30 am – 2:30 pm CST


Monona Terrace Community & Convention Center
1 John Nolen Dr.
Madison, WI 53703 United States
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