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Leading Literacy is a podcast co-hosted by Leslie Zoroya, Project Director III, and Mara Shinn Smith, Senior Program Specialist, at the Los Angeles County Office of Education. Join Leslie & Mara as they engage in literacy conversations that both inspire and instruct. Find us on Apple & Spotify!


LeadingLiteracy Episode 1 - Interviewing Leslie & Mara

Welcome to Leading Literacy, a new podcast from Reading Language Arts. In this first episode, we get to know Leslie and Mara and find out why they decided to give podcasting a shot.



Episode 2 - Spell Master Extraordinaire

Leslie & Mara are thrilled to chat with their dear friend and spell master extraordinaire, Donna Van Allen! If you've ever wondered what it's like to host a county-wide spelling bee, look no further. In this short episode, Donna shares tips for future spelling bee contestants and her experiences from over a decade as the  spell master for the LA County Spelling Bee. Is it possible to stump a spell master? Find out!



Episode 3 - Carolyn Strom

Leslie & Mara welcome Dr. Carolyn Strom - first grade teacher, turned reading specialist/literacy consultant, turned NYU Professor. Carolyn joins the podcast to discuss the pervasive gaps between research and practice and the importance of connecting the two for our earliest learners - whose brains are developing the most! You won't want to miss this lively conversation!

Click here to download a copy Dr. Strom's Family Playlist and Extension Activities.



Episode 4 - Natalie Wexler

Natalie Wexler shares her insights and thoughts with Leslie and Mara about her two books: The Knowledge Gap and The Writing Revolution. Join the conversation as Natalie discusses the importance of immersing all students of varied socioeconomic backgrounds, with content knowledge about the world and then linking that knowledge to explicit writing instruction.

Click on the following links to read Natalie Wexler's articles:

The Need for Explicit Instruction in Teaching Students to Write Well

Elementary Education Has Gone Terribly Wrong



Episode 5 - Emily Hanford

Leading Literacy is so excited to have Emily Hanford! Emily is a senior education correspondent at American Public Media Reports and a total science of reading rockstar! She's been working in public media for over 2 decades as a reporter, producer, news editor, and program host. She's won all kinds of awards and is one of our reading heroes. Be prepared to have your mind blown!

Click on the following links to read Emily Hanford's articles:

Hard Words

At a Loss for Words

What the Words Say



Episode 6 - Elizabeth Jimenez Salinas

Join Leslie, Mara, and Elizabeth Jimenez Salinas as they discuss the "superpowers" of being bilingual and practical strategies to implement in the classroom to help all English learners. Elizabeth brings her knowledge and experience from her days as a bilingual educator, advocate and consultant. Elizabeth is amazing!

Click on the following links to access the resources mentioned in this podcast:

Cognates Resources

Eradicating Learned Passivity

Homework Questions and Prompts for Long Term English Learners

Language Organizer

Reparable Harm Document


LeadingLiteracy Episode 7 - Jeff Share

Leslie and Mara are delighted to welcome UCLA professor, Dr. Jeff Share, co-author of The Critical Media Literacy Guide: Engaging Media and Transforming Education.  In a world full of “fake” news and information over-load, Jeff shares his passion and insights into the field of critical media literacy and how educators can help students analyze memes, verify sources, and investigate biases.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 8 - Louisa Moats

Leading Literacy is over-the-moon excited and honored to welcome THE Dr. Louise Moats.  Dr. Moats has dedicated her entire career to literacy education as a teacher, researcher, psychologist, graduate school faculty member, and author.  Dr. Moats was kind enough to drop in and have a chat with us about the importance of the science of reading.  You won’t want to miss what she has to share!


LeadingLiteracy Episode 9 - Maryanne Wolf

Leslie and Mara welcome Dr. Maryanne Wolf on Leading Literacy. Dr. Wolf is the director for the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. She is an author and advocate for children and literacy around the world. Dr. Wolf shares her knowledge and passion on how to help build “the reading brain” for all of our students.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 10 - Jessica Hamman

Leading Literacy welcomes Jessica Hamman, founder and CEO of Glean Education. Jessica has worked in education for close to two decades. She started Glean Education to empower educators with best practices to support struggling students. Jessica has much to share during our conversation, including her deep knowledge and experiences with dyslexia. You won't want to miss it!


LeadingLiteracy Episode 11 - Teacher Roundtable

We have a very special episode of Leading Literacy - our very first teacher roundtable discussion! We are thrilled to welcome Xochitl Morales (K teacher, Los Altos Elem., South Whittier SD), Andrea Castaneda (SPED Autism Spectrum Disorder Mod/Sev. teacher, Lone Hill MS, Bonita USD), Ella Farinas (Instructional Coach & 6-8 AVID Coordinator, Washington STEAM Multilingual Academy, Pasadena USD), Curtis Duong (8th grade teacher, Garfield Elem., Alhambra USD), and Jenna Kamp (12th grade English teacher, University Prep. Value Charter HS). Listen in to hear their experiences and how educators are adjusting and coping during the pandemic. We are so proud of our hard-working educators and we couldn't be more excited to highlight these rockstars!


LeadingLiteracy Episode 12 - Ricky Robertson

Ricky Robertson stops by Leading Literacy to discuss the importance of student trauma and adversity and how it impacts their educational experience and outcome.  As a former teacher, Ricky provides a unique lens through which to serve students who have experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACES).  Currently as an author, consultant, and coach, Ricky supports schools and districts to develop multi-tiered social-emotional and behavioral supports that are both trauma-informed and culturally responsive.  Ricky is a co-author of the book, Building Resilience in Students Impacted by Adverse Childhood Experiences: A Whole Staff Approach.  You can learn more about Ricky and his work on his website:  www.buildingresilienceinstudents.com 


LeadingLiteracy Episode 13 - Margaret Goldberg

Leading Literacy welcomes Margaret Goldberg for a chat about all things science of reading, coaching, and evidence-based reading instruction.  Currently, Margaret is a first grade teacher in a Title 1 school in Oakland and has served in her district in a variety of literacy leadership roles.  She is the co-founder of The Right to Read Project, a group of teachers, researchers, and activists committed to the pursuit of equity through literacy.  Margaret has tons of knowledge to share!  Check out her amazing blog, reading resources, and infographics at https://righttoreadproject.com/ and on Reading Rockets https://www.readingrockets.org/blogs/right-to-read.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 14 - Thomishia Booker

Today on Leading Literacy we are thrilled to welcome licensed therapist, author, mother and advocate, Dr. Thomishia Booker. Dr. Booker is the author of three books and CEO of HeyCarterBooks. Her self-published book, "Brown Boy Joy" has been featured in the Netflix Family series, "Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices." Dr. Booker's background serves as a foundation for writing books focused on building self-confidence and pride among children of color. Be sure to drop in to listen.

Click on the following link to learn more about Dr. Booker: Meet the Self-Published Author Who Negotiated a Deal with Netflix

As mentioned in the podcast, learn more about Black Literacy Collective


LeadingLiteracy Episode 15 - Dr. Julie Washington

Leading Literacy welcomes UC Irvine School of Education professor, Dr. Julie Washington. Dr. Washington's research is focused on the intersection of literacy, language variation, and poverty. Her work pays a particular focus on understanding the role of cultural dialect in the identification of reading disabilities in school-aged African American children. We hope you enjoy this gem of a conversation as much as we did.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 16 - Dr. Kathryn Edwards & Leslie Zoroya

On this special episode of Leading Literacy, Mara interviews Leslie and Dr. Kathryn Edwards, the Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at LACOE. Leslie and Kathryn recently completed a year-long project in collaboration with UCLA and the Center for Powerful Public Schools and Riverside County Office of Education, on a document entitled, Supporting the African American Learner: A Guide for Transforming Beliefs, Systems and Practices for Black Students. Leslie and Kathryn's passion will inspire and motivate as they discuss how this document can be put into practice to ensure better outcomes for Black students. You won't want to miss it!


LeadingLiteracy Episode 17 - Francisco X. Stork

Leslie and Mara interview celebrated young adult fiction author, Francisco X. Stork. Francisco has a very interesting backstory as a young immigrant from Mexico and overcoming many obstacles to attend both Harvard University and Columbia Law School. Although Francisco worked many years as a lawyer, it was his true passion of writing that led him to success as an author of nine young adult novels. We are so excited to share this genuine conversation. 

Click here to learn more about Francisco and his work.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 18 - WriteGirl L.A. Founder:  

Keren Taylor 

In this must-listen episode of Leading Literacy, Leslie and Mara have a wonderful discussion with Keren Taylor, Executive Director and Founder of WriteGirl L.A. Keren shares her journey in developing and expanding WriteGirl into a nationally-recognized writing and mentoring organization aimed at helping underserved Los Angeles teens discover and express their creative voices. Join this inspiring conversation and you'll catch yourself smiling right along with us! 

Learn more about WriteGirl L.A.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 19 - L.A. County Poet Laureate: Lynne Thompson

Leading Literacy has the honor and privilege to welcome L.A. County's 2021 Poet Laureate, Lynne Thompson. Listen in and get to know Lynne and the unconventional path that led her to this special role. Enjoy! 

Read more about Lynne on the Los Angeles Public Library website.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 20 - Dr. Katie Novak & Mirko Chardin

Leading Literacy is super thrilled and honored to welcome Dr. Katie Novak and Mirko Chardin to the podcast to talk about their new book, "Equity by Design: Delivering on the Power and Promise of UDL." Katie is a world-known educator, college professor, author, and has done extensive work around Universal Design for Learning. Mirko Chardin is also an educator and founding head of a school in Massachusetts as well as a hip-hop artist. Katie and Mirko both bring their authentic selves, knowledge, and passion around social justice, equity, and UDL. This conversation elevates the pairing of: will and skill. Your equity-educator-self will LOVE this episode!

Click here to learn more about Katie and Mirko, their work, and their latest book.



LeadingLiteracy Episode 21 - Dr. Maria Murray

It is our pleasure to welcome Dr. Maria Murray to Leading Literacy!  Maria is the CEO and President of The Reading League and has served as an associate professor at the State University of New York at Oswego.  For over 10 years, she has taught courses related to literacy assessment and intervention and is extremely passionate about the prevention and remediation of reading difficulty.  You won’t want to miss this fun and insightful conversation about The Science of Reading: A Defining Moment and being a Lone Nut in the world of evidence-based reading instruction.  We are definitely not worthy to have Maria on our little podcast, but at the same time we can’t wait to share it with all of you!


LeadingLiteracy Episode 22 - DeJunne' Clark Jackson

Leading Literacy welcomes DeJunne' Clark Jackson, Vice President of Program Development for the Center for Development and Learning. DeJunne' shares her insight and expertise as an educator, advocate, and parent. It is through these unique lenses that drives DeJunne's work and passion around equitable access for both struggling students and teachers. This episode both informs and inspires and we know you'll love it as much as we did. Enjoy!


LeadingLiteracy Episode 23 - Ruth Baskett

Leading Literacy welcomes LACOE's very own English Learner Project Director, Ruth Baskett. Ruth is both hilarious and knowledgeable in the world of quality English learner programs and services. Join us as we discuss pressing needs for our English learners, the mystifying disconnect between English learner and early reading advocates, and looking forward to the Dual Language initiative in California. We hope you enjoy this lively conversation as much as we did.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 24 - Kymyona Burk

Leading Literacy welcomes Dr. Kymyona Burk to the podcast. Currently, Dr. Burk is a senior policy fellow from ExcelinEd where she supports states and leaders with comprehensive K-3 reading policies. Dr. Burk also served as the former state literacy director at the Mississippi State Department of Education where she helped to lead a statewide literacy improvement campaign. Thanks to Dr. Burk's efforts, Mississippi was the only state in 2019 to make gains on the NAEP assessment! Join the conversation as Dr. Burk shares Mississippi's policies, efforts, and journey towards statewide literacy improvement. Such a great listen!


LeadingLiteracy Episode 25 - Todd Collins

On this episode of Leading Literacy, we are thrilled to have Todd Collins as our guest. Todd is a board member of a California school district that has had a "reading reckoning." Todd's advocacy work prompted him to launch the California Reading Coalition, which is a group of educators, advocates, researchers, and policy makers who are committed to improving reading outcomes for all California students. Enjoy this lively chat!


LeadingLiteracy Episode 26 - Chris Ann Horsley

We are excited to introduce you to Chris Ann Horsley, Director of Elementary Curriculum at Bonita Unified School District. As a district and school site leader, Chris Ann has played a pivotal role in helping her schools become the number 1 ranked district on the California Reading Report Card. Listen in on this insightful conversation as Chris Ann discusses the fundamental systems she set in place to help her students and teachers succeed. This a good one. Enjoy!


LeadingLiteracy Episode 27 - Elsa Cardenas-Hagan

Leading Literacy can't wait to introduce you to Dr. Elsa Cardenas-Hagan! Elsa is a Bilingual Speech Language Pathologist, who has spent decades working with and advocating for multilingual learners. As a multilingual student herself, Elsa discusses the importance of cross-linguistic relationships, teacher knowledge, and the deep value of research to effectively support all our students. Elsa is a bright light and leader in the multilingual learner community and her book Literacy Foundations for English Learners is a must have. There's no denying the genuineness of this conversation - enjoy!


Keep listening

LeadingLiteracy Episode 28 - Deidra Mayberry

Deidra shares her journey to learn to read and how she both masked and compensated for her lack of reading skills and the toll this took on her both emotionally and physically. You won't want to miss her inspirational story and how she's now changing lives through the gift of literacy and joy. Enjoy! 


LeadingLiteracy Episode 29 - Claude Goldenberg

On this episode of Leading Literacy, we're thrilled to speak with noted reading researcher and language expert, Dr. Claude Goldenberg. Dr. Goldenberg is a Professor Emeritus in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University. A native of Argentina, his areas of research and professional interest have centered on promoting academic achievement among language minority children and youth. Claude is a noted author of three books and scores of articles related to early reading with special emphasis on literacy and English Learners. He's been on the editorial boards of various literacy, academic, and professional journals Claude is not only a distinguished expert in the field of education, but a former classroom teacher and an all-around great guy who's passionate and dedicated to this work. Sit back and enjoy our conversation with Dr. Claude Goldenberg. 


LeadingLiteracy Episode 30 - Jana Echevarria

Leading Literacy welcomes Dr. Jana Echevarria, Professor Emerita at California State University, Long Beach. As an educator, Dr. Echevarria has taught all grade levels in both general and special education settings, as well as in ESL and bilingual programs. She is a founding researcher and creator of the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, or SIOP Model, and has dedicated her career to effective literacy instruction for English learners. Listen in as Dr. Echevarria shares her extensive knowledge and passion around equitable instruction for English learners, students with disabilities, and all students. We know you're going to love this episode! Enjoy.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 31 - RLA's Secondary Education Team: Leslie Zoroya & Jessica Sullivan

On this episode of Leading Literacy, Mara sits down with two special guests to discuss an issue that has not yet been addressed on the podcast. As part of this discussion, Mara welcomes RLA's Director and Leading Literacy co-host, Leslie Zoroya, and secondary ELA Coordinator, Jessica Sullivan. Enjoy this insightful conversation as we delve into the issues facing older, struggling readers and talk about how the science of reading applies in a secondary setting. You are going to love this episode! We're a hoot!


LeadingLiteracy Episode 32 - Donalyn Miller

On this episode of Leading Literacy, Leslie and Mara welcome award-winning author, teacher and professional development leader, Donalyn Miller. As if that were not impressive enough, Donalyn is also a wonderful, down-to-earth literacy advocate that exudes a passion for learning and helping teachers find ways to engage students in finding a love for reading books. Settle in for a fun conversation where Donalyn shares her thoughts about being known as "the book whisperer," and using classroom libraries as a co-teacher in the classroom.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 33 - Sonia Cabell

You are in for a real treat on this episode of Leading Literacy as Leslie and Mara sit down with Dr. Sonia Cabell, assistant professor in the School of Teacher Education and the Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University. As a former second grade teacher and literacy coach, Dr. Cabell has focused much of her research and work on early literacy instruction and the prevention of reading difficulties. She recently co-authored a book titled, Literacy Learning for Infants, Toddlers, & Preschoolers and is also an advisor for The Knowledge Matters Campaign. Listen in as Dr. Cabell discusses practical ways educators can develop students' oral language skills and the importance of building knowledge with our earliest learners. Enjoy!


LeadingLiteracy Episode 34 - Susan Lambert

We're excited to have Susan Lambert on this episode of Leading Literacy. Susan is the Chief Academic Officer for Elementary Humanities at Amplify and she's also the host of one of our favorite podcasts, Science of Reading: The Podcast. Susan's been a classroom teacher, school administrator, and district level leader who has remained focused on creating high quality learning environments using evidence-based practices. She's a lover of knowledge, a passionate podcaster, and utterly devoted to helping bridge the gap between literacy research and classroom practice. Enjoy this amazing conversation with fellow podcaster, Susan Lambert.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 35 - Lee Herrick

Leading Literacy had the honor and pleasure of chatting with Lee Herrick, California's Poet Laureate.  Lee was awarded this title by Governor Newsom in November of 2022, and as a resident of Fresno, he brings to this position his diverse perspectives and passions as a father, professor, and poet.  As the first Asian American to serve in this role, Lee hopes to bring together poetry with social justice and civic engagement during his term.  Lee has a deep connection with California, its residents, and the varied experiences our great state has to offer, which is captured in his work.  So, sit back, get comfy, and enjoy this rich and delightful discussion with California’s Poet Laureate, Lee Herrick. 


LeadingLiteracy Episode 36 - Shelley Blackwell

Hey all you spelling word-nerds out there! On this episode of Leading Literacy, we get to share all the buzz on one of our favorite topics - spelling instruction. As a queen of the spelling bee world here in L.A., Leslie is super excited to introduce you all to Dr. Shelley Blackwell. Shelley is a licensed speech-language pathologist and MTSS Literacy Support Interventionist in the Olathe Public Schools District in Kansas. She's got some wit and wisdom around spelling instruction that will make all kinds of spelling sense. So, buckle up and enjoy this conversation.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 37 - Kareem Weaver

Hey, educator friends! OMG! This episode of Leading Literacy is one of our best ones yet! We had a chance to sit down with Kareem Weaver, educator, and literacy advocate from Northern California's Bay Area. If you want to know how to light a fire in your district or school site around evidence-aligned literacy instruction AND you believe that learning how to read is a civil right, then this episode has your name written all over it. Kareem also talks to us about his new documentary, The Right to Read. So much goodness! Enjoy!


LeadingLiteracy Episode 38 - Sabrina Causey & Jessica Reid Sliwerski from The Right to Read

Hello friends and welcome to Leading Literacy! On this episode we are excited to delve further into The Right to Read documentary. (Small aside, if you haven't listened to our previous episode with Kareem Weaver, please do. OMG, it's so good!). Today we continue to have a blast of a chat with the new teacher featured in the film, Sabrina Causey, and her coach, Jessica Reid Sliwerski. We get to spill the hot tea on all the behind the scenes work of the film and hear how Bri's class is doing now. Jess launched a company called Ignite! Reading as a result of her participation in this project. It's so exciting! Can't wait for you to join us in this amazing conversation with fellow educators.

LeadingLiteracy Episode 39 - Trisha Tucker

Hi friends! On this episode of Leading Literacy, we have such an amazing guest. Dr. Trisha Tucker is the Head of the Writing Instruction in the Thematic Honors program at the University of Southern California. However, in this episode, we will not be talking with Dr. Tucker about writing, instead, we are focusing on a subject that she is very passionate about: book banning. She unpacks the issue in a way we've never heard before and really helps break down how to address concerns that arise in schools and districts with respect to removing access to books. Settle in, everyone - you're going to love this one!

LeadingLiteracy Episode 40 - Debbie Anderson, L.A. County Library Assistant Director of Education Engagement

On this episode of Leading Literacy, we talk about the roles of libraries. I know, this sounds kind of boring, right? Well, my listeners, this episode is awesome! Our guest is Debbie Anderson, the Assistant Director of Education Engagement for the L.A. County Library System, and WOW! We had not idea libraries had so many resources available! In 2023, Debbie was selected to receive the Sullivan Award for Public Library Administrators Supporting Services to Children and after listening to this episode, you'll understand why. You'll definitely want to hook up with your local library after listening to all the great things that Debbie has to share. Be sure to head on over to the L.A. County Library's main website at https://lacountylibrary.org to check out all of the amazing resources and locations!

LeadingLiteracy Episode 41 - Tracy White Weeden

Hey there, educator friends! On this episode of Leading Literacy, we have the pleasure of introducing you to the wonderful Dr. Tracy Weeden. Dr. Weeden has held lots of varied positions in education and is currently the president and CEO of Neuhaus Education Center. As you listen to this episode, you'll see why Tracy is regarded as an inspirational leader and relentless advocate on behalf of all students to achieve academic excellence. She talks with us about the real-real on how to help educators build their knowledge and set up the systems necessary to ensure student success. Dr. Weeden has a special gift of relaying her message with both urgency and compassion that you'll feel it in your mind,heart and soul. We can't wait for you to meet her!