Join us in conversation with Katie Seymour of the Georgia Council on Literacy and Putnam County Primary School for another extra special episode on literacy leadership!

Katie Seymour in Classroom Conversations

Join us in conversation with Katie Seymour of the Georgia Council on Literacy and Putnam County Primary School for another extra special episode on literacy leadership!

Georgia Council on Literacy meetings are available at the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement website:


Ashley Mengwasser: You there, greetings. Welcome to our weekly Meeting of the Minds Classroom Conversations, the platform for Georgia's teachers. This podcast series serves Georgia schools and communities by establishing a place for teachers to share and learn as we discuss, deliberate, and decide. Our weekly content is now called to order by presenting partners, the Georgia Department of Education and Georgia Public Broadcasting. And I, host Ashley Mengwasser, am your meeting chair. Yes, of course we have an agenda. This episode is another on the theme of literacy leadership. As we have general business to cover today, my only standing order is to conduct these proceedings in good faith and with a smile. Trust this formal meeting terminology will soon make sense. First, a little background for you. Earlier this year, Governor Brian Kemp signed two important pieces of literacy legislation into law, got to make literacy alliterative. House Bill 538 and Senate Bill 211 are on the scene in Georgia. House Bill 538 known as the Georgia Early Literacy Act is robust legislation crafted to get children reading on target to improve early literacy rates in Georgia. And its companion bill Senate Bill 211 established the Georgia Council on Literacy to oversee and implement that Early Literacy Act. The important work of that government appointed body is what we've assembled to report on today. So let's everyone be seated, now who is taking our minutes? Thank goodness we have appointed someone to say more, Katie Seymour. Katie works for Putnam County Primary School and Putnam County Charter School System as instructional coach. She's been with the school for 11 years and counting. Katie, you have the floor. How are you?

Katie Seymour: Great, it's good to be here.

Ashley Mengwasser: I'm so glad you're here. Have you ever done a podcast before, Katie?

Katie Seymour: I have. I actually just did one last week for our district.

Ashley Mengwasser: You did?

Katie Seymour: Was it in this kind of an environment?

Ashley Mengwasser: Not quite, not quite.

Katie Seymour: Well, we're glad to have you here today. If you think about it, Katie, you and I are kind of like a council on a council. We're people assembled, we are going to discuss the Georgia Council on Literacy. Is to a quorum, probably not at the Council on Literacy, but maybe today we can consider ourselves a full body? I think so.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay, cool.

Katie Seymour: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: We'll be a council on a council for this episode. It's fitting you're sitting here because you actually sit on the council yourself, right?

Katie Seymour: I do.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay. Tell me about your role and how you came to be on the Georgia Council on Literacy.

Katie Seymour: So, for the past six years, I have started this literacy initiative in Putnam County, and so this has been my work for a good deal of time. And when House Bill 538 came out, and I knew that Senate Bill 211 was going to implement the council, I just wanted to be a part of it. I had seen what difference it had made in Putnam County children, and so I wanted to be a part of it for Georgia. So I sent my resume and a letter of interest to the governor's office and received a phone call that I had been appointed, and I was ecstatic.

Ashley Mengwasser: Congratulations. Appointed by Governor Kemp.

Katie Seymour: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: I only ever sat on student council, so I'm very, very impressed by this. I'd say that you're a trooper to take on this role in addition to your usual educational responsibilities, but your husband is actually the trooper in the family. Tell us about your personal life.

Katie Seymour: He is. My husband, Corey Seymour is the post commander at the Capitol, and he's been on with the state patrol for maybe 12, 13 years now. We live in Madison, we have two kids, my son Corbin who's seven, and my daughter Eliza Kate is four, and they keep us busy.

Ashley Mengwasser: As kids do.

Katie Seymour: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love Madison.

Katie Seymour: It is such a beautiful place.

Ashley Mengwasser: Do you have a favorite restaurant or shop in Madison?

Katie Seymour: Yes, so we are actually just getting a lot of new restaurants, but it's hard to beat Town 220.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay, I'm going to put that on my list. And you're an actual bookworm-

Katie Seymour: I am.

Ashley Mengwasser: With the remaining time you have left.

Katie Seymour: What little time I have.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. How often do you get to read? Because you love reading so much.

Katie Seymour: You know, it's funny. Being a working mama is very hard to find time for yourself. So I try to carve out a little time at night when the kids are asleep and I get about an hour where I can catch up on any shows and mostly just read and relax for a minute.

Ashley Mengwasser: Do you read with a treat in hand? I like to know how people read.

Katie Seymour: Always.

Ashley Mengwasser: What's your treat of choice?

Katie Seymour: Chocolate.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.

Katie Seymour: Coffee. Coffee doesn't bother me at night. I can drink it at night, it never bothers me.

Ashley Mengwasser: I usually read with dark chocolate or a tea, or my favorite dessert like an ice cream sandwich, but that started getting on the pages, so I had to-

Katie Seymour: Absolutely, yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: ... I had to change that plan. What is your investment in literacy personally? Why do you care so much about this?

Katie Seymour: I started my career as a special education teacher in Newton County, and at that time I was teaching mostly 3-5th grade students. And I noticed that not only the students who are identified with special needs, but many of the general education students in those grade levels were struggling with reading. And I just couldn't in good faith move them on to the next grade without giving them everything I could to teach them how to read. And I remember back then I had a year where I had multiple students on my caseload who were not reading on grade level in fourth grade, and that was my mission. I think it started then was, what can I do, what can I find to implement to get these students reading? Even though we're past the marker of what they say you should be reading by third grade, I just felt like we shouldn't stop.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right. And one of the things that you say that's my favorite is, "This is my life." You eat, sleep and breathe literacy. Did you know you wanted to work in education from a young age?

Katie Seymour: I did. It's in the blood. My mom is a retired kindergarten teacher. She taught kindergarten for 30 years at the same school. My sister is an assistant principal, so we were kind of expected to follow in the footsteps. And I think I might've fought it a tiny bit in high school and pushed back a little, but I came back to my roots pretty quickly.

Ashley Mengwasser: Your story sounds like the royal family, honestly. Like royalty, it was in your bloodline, you had a little bit of hesitation, but the family wanted you to buck up and take on the role.

Katie Seymour: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's like a special kind of royalty, educators, I think. How does one become an instructional coach? I know when I was younger I wasn't even aware that that was a position within schools. Tell us about that.

Katie Seymour: I don't think that there were instructional coaches-

Ashley Mengwasser: Probably so, that would make sense. I feel like I really missed the boat on that.

Katie Seymour: Well, I became an instructional coach by really working with the coach that I had in Putnam County. Her name was Vicki Grody. She was an amazing coach, and she was a great partner in learning, and so we worked together a lot, and she really pushed me to take the step into thinking about instructional coaching. She knew that I loved researching and finding ways to meet children's particular needs, not just a one size fits all thing. And I was having a hard time doing that while filling my duties as a teacher. And she knew that was a passion of mine, so she really encouraged me to take the step and apply for the position that was actually hers, she retired, and I was able to fill her position when she retired.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay, so you were just kind of one foot in front of the other.

Katie Seymour: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: You followed the steps, and now you sit on the state's council on literacy.

Katie Seymour: That's a big step.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's a big step. Is there anything about council meetings and how they're conducted that might surprise us for people who don't routinely go to a council meeting?

Katie Seymour: Absolutely. So we've had one face-to-face, and we've had one, no, maybe two virtual. So they're not all in person. A lot of them are virtual, and now we've broken off into subgroups and working groups, so we have lots of small virtual meetings. But it is great now that we are post COVID era because we've all had experience with virtual meetings now, I feel like.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes, everyone's adapted.

Katie Seymour: Yeah, we're a little bit better with those.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay, good. And are there snacks at these council meetings?

Katie Seymour: Yes, there's always a really great lunch that is provided.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, perfect. Are they all day? Are they short meetings?

Katie Seymour: The in-person meeting we had down at Georgia Southern was all day, and then we had lunch, and we came back after and worked with some groups in RESA courses that were around the area.

Ashley Mengwasser: I think most folks need to spend about a quarter-hour on the web exploring funny city council meetings. Have you ever done that?

Katie Seymour: I have not.

Ashley Mengwasser: I just googled council meetings to see what would come up, and city council meetings, they're absolutely hilarious little bites, especially out of context, people get wild. And I know that's a totally different vibe, but I'm going to start going to my city council meetings, I think.

Katie Seymour: I don't know that the literacy council meetings are quite that entertaining.

Ashley Mengwasser: Probably not that wild. But the best part about a city council meeting in your area is that anyone can speak. And so that's where you get the good dialogue, I tell you.

Katie Seymour: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: If you were to create a council on anything, it could be personal to you, it could be professional, what would it be? Katie's council on what?

Katie Seymour: Well, okay. Professionally, I would love to have a council of experts with executive functioning skills. Executive functioning. These are the skills that we don't necessarily teach, but we expect students just to have. Working memory, organization, attention and focus. All of these topics and skills that students need in order to be successful in anything that we are asking them to do, but yet we are not teaching them, and we're not working on those skills. So I would love to hear the experts to see what we can do to help students in those areas as well.

Ashley Mengwasser: That is brilliant. Anything in your personal life?

Katie Seymour: Unless we can make a council to find more hours in the day.

Ashley Mengwasser: I was thinking the same thing.

Katie Seymour: That would be-

Ashley Mengwasser: I was thinking the same thing.

Katie Seymour: ... absolutely perfect.

Ashley Mengwasser: I am all about a day that is structured around what feels good and is better for balance, than how much you can squeeze in. And I know this is hotly debated, there are 24 hours in a day, some people use them more productively. I'm one of the ones who needs the productive time and the relaxation time. I would love it if work ended at 4:00 and then everybody was just being free in the evening.

Katie Seymour: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: I think that would be the best. Well, as instructional coach, a big part of your job, Katie, is bringing in the new. There is sometimes a feeling of friction when we learn new things. I want us to consider this quote from playwright George Bernard Shaw who says, "You have learned something that always feels at first as though you have lost something." It's the cognitive dissonance of acquiring wisdom, I think, because we have to part with our enduring beliefs and age-old practices, and acknowledge that maybe we could be doing things in a better way, which is sometimes hard. How does that philosophy of something gained, something lost play with the literacy movement?

Katie Seymour: Yeah, I mean, as an instructional coach, my job is to research what else is out there. Are we giving our students and our school the best of what we can? And so we've had some growing pains, and I think everyone in the state who is growing with this literacy initiative has either gone through this or will go through this. And what I feel like is great about educators is we are lifelong learners. And so if we are committed to constantly learning, and we're able to see if there's a new way to reach students in this generation that we didn't know about or haven't used before, then we should go ahead and do the research and be willing to step out on a limb and try something new.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right. The friction isn't bad-

Katie Seymour: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: ... is your answer.

Katie Seymour: ... absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: That letting go is integral to new growth. Thank you for waxing poetic with me, Katie. Now onto our topical discussion, if you'd like, on the Georgia Council on Literacy. What are the roles and responsibilities of this council? Can you just give us an overview?

Katie Seymour: Sure.

Ashley Mengwasser: Thanks.

Katie Seymour: So, the council's primary role is to work with the DOE to implement the components of House Bill 538. And those components are, create a list of approved universal screeners, and those are screeners that will be given from kindergarten to third grade, three times a year. We'll also look at the list of approved curriculums and progress monitoring interventions, and districts will be able to pick from that list. And so we'll kind of work with the DOE to make sure that those things are done.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's a tall order, which takes a team. Tell us about your team. What's the makeup of the council?

Katie Seymour: So, it's really a diverse group. I was really impressed that they wanted teacher input. And so there are a lot of teachers on the council. There are teachers, there's superintendents, there are general assembly members, there's a dyslexia expert, and some experts in birth to five. So it's pretty diverse. And each of them were appointed by either the governor, lieutenant governor, or the speaker of the house.

Ashley Mengwasser: I got you. And how many members are on this council?

Katie Seymour: I'm not sure that I remember that.

Ashley Mengwasser: Is it more than 20?

Katie Seymour: I think so.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay.

Katie Seymour: Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah, okay so it's a pretty large group. We're pulling a lot of different mindsets from different works.

Katie Seymour: And all over the state.

Ashley Mengwasser: And education, that's really important. But there are four working groups, I understand.

Katie Seymour: The first working group is birth to five years old, and I know a lot of people in education are probably thinking, "We are not even reading then. What does birth to five have to do with literacy?" But it actually has everything to do with literacy. So we have a lot of experts in that group that are linguistic experts or experts in prenatal care, so they're working to improve skills for that age group. And then we have the K-3rd working group, that's the group I'm in.

Ashley Mengwasser: K-3.

Katie Seymour: K-3.

Ashley Mengwasser: That would make sense.

Katie Seymour: Yes. And we are doing all of the components that we talked about, looking at different curriculums that are being used in other states. We're also giving feedback on how we can best support the literacy of different subgroups. So, minority groups, students that speak another language, or anybody in a rural community or low socioeconomic status. The third is professional development. So there are two components that we're working on with the professional development group. The first being, how do we train the teachers that are already in the field with this new research, knowing how much they already have on their plate?

Ashley Mengwasser: Right.

Katie Seymour: They're working all day, and their plates are full. So what's the best way we can get this out to them? And then the second part being, how do we get to teacher prep programs to train teachers before they enter the workforce with this new research that we know?

Ashley Mengwasser: That seems pretty comprehensive. And what's group four?

Katie Seymour: And group four is the community outreach. So that's improving communication with all stakeholders, because it really is going to take a village to make this work.

Ashley Mengwasser: And you are all meeting monthly, you said? Pretty much monthly. You get a report once per year?

Katie Seymour: Yes, once per year. We'll give a report by October 31st. I think it is each year, but we'll meet once a month as a group and then the working groups meet a couple more times virtually, usually.

Ashley Mengwasser: To get their specialized piece done.

Katie Seymour: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: And the actual implementers of House Bill 538, would that be the Department of Education?

Katie Seymour: That's right. And we had some local general assembly members who actually created the bill. And so it is exciting to have them on the council as well, because they're very invested in seeing this come to fruition.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right. Well, since literacy is your life, I know you're gung ho about this experience, let's cast vision from your mind's eye, Katie. What contributions to public education do you envision that this council can provide in connection with the Georgia Early Literacy Act, House Bill 538?

Katie Seymour: I mean, major impacts to public education. If we want to impact students' education, we have to make sure they have the firm foundation needed to be successful in not only their school career, but in their lives. And I'm not sure that there's another piece that we could devote our time, resources, and money to that is more important than our children and making sure that they're successful for their future.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes, absolutely. So we're going to look at contributions and literacy, we want to see that literacy rate go up.

Katie Seymour: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: Do you think we're going to see students who have an affinity for reading more?

Katie Seymour: I hope so.

Ashley Mengwasser: I hope so too.

Katie Seymour: I tell my teachers whenever we started this, you don't learn to ride a bike by watching someone else ride a bike. You learn to ride a bike by getting on it and falling down, learning from your mistakes and getting back up. And then you love riding a bike.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.

Katie Seymour: And reading is a little bit of the same journey. It's a struggle to begin with, but then it becomes such a joy once you have it.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's an awesome metaphor, I love that one. How has the Georgia Early Literacy Act, House Bill 538 impacted literacy instruction in your school or your district so far? I know it's still kind of early, but-

Katie Seymour: Yeah. So we actually started this journey about five years ago.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, you've been at it. You've been on the bike a while.

Katie Seymour: We have been on the bike a while. My administrative team actually all came on at the same time. And so I won't ever forget, I was a brand new instructional coach, and my principal, Dr. Fenecia Rogers, sat me down and said, "Katie, I need a five-year literacy plan."

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh boy.

Katie Seymour: And I looked at her with a deer in the headlight eyes like, what did I get myself into?

Ashley Mengwasser: It's like strategic planning.

Katie Seymour: Absolutely. So that's what we did. We sat down and we looked at all of the components of 538. Basically we just didn't realize that that's where the state was heading at the time. So we changed many of our instructional practices, our curriculum, our interventions, and we picked one thing a year to focus on. And what I'm excited about with 538 is we are learning even more now. So now we've started the groundwork and now we can take what the state is offering and make it even better for Putnam County.

Ashley Mengwasser: And broaden it.

Katie Seymour: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes, very good. Well, instructional coach, Katie, what advice do you have for the districts out there and the leaders who have just started on their science of reading journey? It's a long one. You and I spoke about how it's been going on for decades.

Katie Seymour: That's right. I mean maybe over four decades now. Some people say five. It's a journey. And I think my biggest piece of advice is to sit down and create a plan. If you're just getting started, if you're brand new to this literacy journey, I think the best thing you can do is start by doing the research. So what is out there? What do we need to be teaching students? And everyone knows the buzzword, science of reading. But the science of reading is so much more than just a body of research. It is a collaboration of many sciences. So the state is actually going to be putting out some information. We've actually gone through many rural districts through the Georgia Rural Education Initiative, and they are training several districts in the LETRS program very similar to Orton-Gillingham.

Ashley Mengwasser: L-E-T-R-S?

Katie Seymour: L-E-T-R-S, that's right. Many of these trainings are similar in the fact that they train teachers to teach from phonemic awareness, phonics, all of the pillars of literacy. So my suggestion would be start by doing the research. Make sure that you have in place at the primary levels or through third grade instruction that meets each of those pillar areas. And then what are you going to do for students who don't get it the first time through tier one? So-

Ashley Mengwasser: Have a plan.

Katie Seymour: ... have a plan for interventions, and not only one intervention. I think that's where some districts go wrong. They think that if I put a phonics intervention in, then that will meet the needs for all students. And we actually made that mistake several years ago.

Ashley Mengwasser: So, you know.

Katie Seymour: I know, I have been there. And we put all of our eggs in this one phonics basket, and we realized that our students still weren't reading on grade level. And so what we had to do was then find what area does each student need and intervene in that area, not just a one size fits all. So start small, pick one of those areas, start implementing one, and then make notes for the next year of, what goals do you have to move forward?

Ashley Mengwasser: The next year, great point. This is change that happens slowly over time, and has to be tracked and manage.

Katie Seymour: That's right. You cannot get all of this perfect the first time, and really talk with your districts about what lens are we looking through to identify progress. If we expect milestone scores to just jump up there immediately, that's not going to happen with this. We need to be looking at what we're implementing and monitoring those things. So are phonic skills improving? Are our comprehension skills improving? Are we reading more on grade level? Those pieces are going to impact our state test eventually, but for right now, change the lens and the focus of how you're monitoring progress.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes. And the Georgia Council on Literacy meetings, these aren't open for public participation, but I think the public can access the meeting minutes. Do you happen to know if there's a feed? If there's a video feed?

Katie Seymour: Yeah, there actually is. I believe it's going to be on the state website. They'll put where in the minutes will be up, and they'll actually put the link to the meeting, they can participate in the meeting as well.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, perfect. Oh, that's excellent. I found some meeting minutes online, so I was wondering. So our audience can track this progress along with you.

Katie Seymour: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: Beautifully represented Katie, thank you so much for being here. As the Council on Literacy is reported in the news and strides are made, I know we'll be thinking of you. "We know her," that's what I'll be thinking. Thank you for your work and insights.

Katie Seymour: Thank you.

Ashley Mengwasser: Great job. I motion to adjourn. But before we dissolve this body, know that supporting your work in classrooms, in schools, is why we are all here. You're a great leader in a time where literacy leadership is so needed. This chair is now leaving her chair, but I'll be back in it next week. I'm Ashley for Classroom Conversations. Goodbye for now. Funding for classroom conversations is made possible through the School Climate Transformation Grant.