What Led to Readorium-Harriet Isecke’s Story

Q) What was your position in Hackensack?  Director of Elementary Ed?  for how long?  and how long before that did you teach?  and where, and what grades?

A) My teaching career began in NYC during the Vietnam War.  I taught in Howard Beach and in Harlem before moving to NJ and teaching in the Hackensack Public School System.  I taught elementary grades, Title I students, and gifted students.  I developed and taught the school’s technology program and won the N.J. State Best Practice Award for Infusing Technology into the Curriculum.  I was also listed in four different editions of Who’s Who Among American Educators.

In 1997, I was selected by the Hackensack School System to form a professional development team with two other teachers. Our charge was to transform the system’s literacy instruction to make it more effective.  During the next 5 years, we helped the school system switch from basal readers to “Balanced Literacy” and state test scores zoomed from 18% passing to 81% passing.  I then became the Director of Elementary Education.

Q) When did you retire?  When did you write the children’s books?  Was it six minutes after you retired??  How many?  Give me some titles – how did they sell? etc., etc.

A) I retired in July 2005 after serving in public schools for 38 years.  I wrote my first two books, Good Alphabet Snacks, and Gross Alphabet Snacks just before I retired, and they were accepted for publication in Sept. 2005 by Childcraft.  After I wrote my next picture book, The Horrible Kirk McCruel (which was about bullying), Childcraft asked if I would do a picture book series for them.  I wanted to delve more into childhood angst and wrote, Always the Last Pick (about an unathletic boy), Clap for Me (about sibling rivalry), and Who Needs a Baby? (about a child’s misgivings about having a new child in the family).  Childcraft was bought out by School Specialties Company, and these books are now sold by School Specialties and on Amazon.  I then started writing nonfiction books for students and instructional guides for teachers that were published by Teacher Created Materials and Shell Publications.  One of the readers theater sets I wrote based on Shakespearean plays won the Association of Educational Publishers Distinguished Achievement Award. My publications covered a myriad of topics, from differentiated instruction in math and science, to books on Pete Seeger, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Women’s Suffrage.  My latest instructional book, entitled, Backwards Planning: Building Enduring Understanding through Instructional Design is sold through Teacher Created Materials.

Q)Were you also speaking at conferences after retirement and before the grant?

A)I began a professional development business immediately after retiring from public education and worked with districts across the country. I was hired by several school systems to provide continual coaching and professional development, and I presented workshops on literacy instruction at state, national, and international conferences.  I was also the national speaker for two book companies.  While I was doing this professional development work, I was also writing books and instructional materials for students and teachers.

Q)I remember something about how the grant happened – something online about someone wanting a partner in the application?  Please go over it again . . . and details of the grant, i.e., what were you going for and how did you come to it – how many got it – how long was it for – how did you continue after the money ran out?  (You bought out the partner?) – How long have you been doing this now, and what is the current status, i.e., making the materials, office staff, marketing, etc. – and, of course, the very prestigious award.

A) In 2009, my son called because he saw a Craig’s List Ad that he thought might interest me.   A person was looking for someone to write a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Grant sponsored by the US Department of Education.  I had done quite a bit of grant writing as Hackensack’s Director of Elementary Education and was intrigued with the idea.  I wanted to do something that had the potential of transforming literacy instruction nationwide, and that would make rich content accessible to struggling readers. I had become increasingly concerned about the widening of the achievement gap, since the most common way of addressing the needs of students with poor reading skills was to water down curriculum for them, and not address the root causes of the problem.  I knew that a researched-based on-line solution could target individual needs, provide actionable data for teachers, and thus be a powerful tool for all involved in education.

Different SBIR grants are offered by all departments of the US Government and are open to businesses with fewer than 500 employees.  What I didn’t know at the time I applied, was how few were granted.  Our company, Mtelegence,  was one of 14 companies nationally (out of hundreds that applied) to receive Phase I grant funds to build and field test a prototype.  Our initial program, Readorium, was geared for students in middle school.  I don’t think I slept at all that first summer, and neither did my team.  We built a system that taught nonfiction strategy lessons and had science books with text and support systems that automatically adjusted to each student’s individual skill levels as they read.  The prototype was very successful and the kids who read 10 or more books in the field test gained over a full year in reading comprehension.   We were told that 7 of the 14 Phase 1 awardees would receive a full development grant, and we were indeed one of the 7 to receive the full grant.  The middle school program was so successful that we won a third SBIR grant to develop the program for students in grades 3-5.

Readorium has been used by over 8,000 students in 86 schools, and we are growing! Readorium won the 2016 National CODiE Award for Best Reading/English/Language Arts/Instructional Solution!, was a 2016 ED Tech Digest Cool Tool Finalist, and received a Trendsetter Award for innovative content by the Software and Information Industry Association. Readorium is also recommended by the National Science Teachers Association.

Q)What is the future?  Why is it so important?

A)Scientific advances and electronic networks are permanently changing the global landscape at an incredible pace. Without a doubt, our kids will encounter enormous challenges in this uncertain future. How can we prepare them to solve problems we cannot even anticipate?  What do we need to teach our students now that will help them meet future challenges throughout their lives?  Literacy is one of the most important foundational skills for success in school and in life, and it is an important means of lifelong learning.  The best way to prepare students for the future is by helping them become confident, competent, and motivated readers. We need to equip our students to read information critically and analytically so they do not just believe everything they see and hear. Reading develops the mind, improves understanding, and enhances the imagination.

Readorium is the only program on the market that pairs reading strategy lessons with full science chapter books, enabling students at all skill levels to comprehend the same rich information through reading.  It is an effective way to help close the achievement gap.

Once I get into it a bit, I’ll call and we’ll talk – OK?


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