Meet the Members of the Early Literacy Council

By Karen Babbs Hollett, Director of Teacher Training and Support

Early Foundations and Literacy is one of five key priorities in Tennessee Succeeds, the department’s new vision and strategic plan for the next five years. The department believes that building skills in the early grades will contribute to future success, and it is committed to a series of ambitious and impactful initiatives. To help guide our work, and to ensure that the voices of Tennessee educators drive our decision making, the department has formed the Early Literacy Council.

The purpose of the Early Literacy Council is to advise and support the department’s literacy work, with the end goal of strengthening K-3 literacy instruction and increasing the number of students reading on grade level by the end of third grade. The council will specifically draft a report for the commissioner with recommendations related to the definition of third grade reading proficiency, assessment tools for K-2, changes to reading standards for teacher preparation, feedback on teacher training and coaching needs, and how to build early literacy foundations into all services that the state provides to children.  The council is composed of 15 members and includes teachers, instructional coaches, principals, district leaders, and university professors.

Given the significance of their work, it is important to meet the insightful and dedicated individuals who serve on this council:

Dr. Rachel Peay Cornett

Rachel is a K-5 academic interventionist for Rutherford County Schools, where she previously taught first grade for eight years.  She earned her Ph.D in Literacy Studies from Middle Tennessee State University, where she currently serves as an adjunct professor.

“Getting literacy right for our youngest learners is challenging but imperative work.”

Ronald Hughes

Ronald is an elementary principal in Hamilton County. He has served as an elementary school principal for 23 years and in 2014 was recognized as the state’s Principal of the Year. He has extensive experience leading professional development for teachers and school leaders.


Jennifer Jordan

Jennifer is the director of literacy and instructional interventions for Lauderdale County Schools, where she previously served as the director of special education. She has experience as a special education teacher, behavior specialist, and currently works as an adjunct professor at Union University.


Tiffany Hogan

Tiffany is a literacy coach for Johnson City Schools. She has spent 11 years in early literacy education working as a kindergarten teacher, first grade teacher, and K-5 reading interventionist. She is a National Board Certified teacher and has served as a Core Coach with the department since 2013.

” I am certain we will gain new information and insights as we reflect as a group of dedicated educators whose common goal is to improve early literacy education of all students, preparing them for college and the workforce.” 


Dr. Tamera Lipsey

Tammy is the director of literacy for pre-K through fourth grade for Metro Nashville Public Schools. In addition to pioneering MNPS’ reading clinic model, she also worked as a reading recovery site coordinator. She has taught courses in literacy as an adjunct professor at Tennessee State University, Lipscomb University, and Texas A&M University.

Dr. Tracy McAbee

Tracy is an elementary principal in Polk County Schools. He has 15 years of classroom teaching experience and in 2013 led his school, Benton Elementary, to Reward School status. In addition to his Ed.D, he earned a reading specialist degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

“The idea of having an early literacy council at the state level is groundbreaking and demonstrates that having all children reading on grade level by 3rd grade is a top priority for Tennessee!”

Dr. Anne McGill-Franzen

Anne is a professor of education at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville where her research and teaching focuses on literacy. She also served as a professor at the University of Florida and the University of Albany. In 2011 she was elected as a member of the International Reading Association’s Reading Hall of Fame.

Kerri Newsom

Kerri is a first grade teacher in Dyersburg City Schools. She has extensive experience partnering with the department, where she has served on the K-5 English language arts standards review committee, the Tennessee Teacher Advisory Council, and worked as a Core Coach. Last year she represented Northwest Tennessee as their Teacher of the Year.

“Teaching children how to read is the greatest reward I could ever receive. I am very excited to begin this journey so that I can be a part of moving our Tennessee students forward in becoming successful readers.”

21233111748_0056c745ff_oDr. Deborah Rowe

Deborah is a professor of early childhood education at Vanderbilt University, where she has worked since 1986. In 2010 she received the International Reading Association’s Research Award for research conducted in the area of early literacy acquisition and instruction. Prior to her appointment at Vanderbilt, she taught kindergarten for five years.

Janet Sexton

Janet is the supervisor of reading and English language arts for grades K-5 in Knox County, where she oversees large-scale teacher professional development focused on literacy. She has taught pre-K, first, second, third, and fourth grades and also served as a literacy coach for six years.  In addition to this, she also served a three-year term on the board of the Tennessee Dyslexia Association.

Christy Grubb

Christy is a kindergarten teacher in Sevier County Schools, where she has received Outstanding Teacher of the Year honors. She has taught kindergarten and first grade at Sevierville Primary School for 21 years. Mrs. Grubb has led literacy-focused professional development for her school, her district, and across the state.

 Adrianne Sublett

Adrianne is an instructional literacy coach for grades K-5 in Shelby County. She has experience teaching a range of elementary grade levels and has also coached teachers in grades K-8. She is a member of the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) and the National Education Association (NEA).

“My life’s work centers on fostering a passion to learn through exploration and research. I am excited to serve on the Early Literacy Council because these seeds must be planted and nurtured early on.”

Dr. Penelope Thompson

Penelope is the instructional coordinator and pre-K director for Lebanon Special School District. She has experience as an elementary school principal and also taught first and second grade for 15 years. She earned a Ph.D in literacy, with research conducted in the area of early childhood reading and writing.


Autumn Turner

Autumn is the director of teaching and learning for pre-K-6 for Warren County Schools. She has also served as an elementary school principal, an instructional coach, and a special education teacher, all in Warren County. She currently sits on the executive board of the Children’s Reading Foundation of Upper Cumberland.

Mary Pitner

Mary is an elementary principal in Bedford County. She has experience teaching all grades K-5, served as her district’s supervisor of elementary curriculum, and was Middle Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year in 2012.

“I believe that a strong foundation in literacy skills in the early years is the best way to ensure success in all areas for all children throughout their school career.”


The Early Literacy Council will kick off their work together Oct. 16-17, with future meetings in December, February, and April.