Imagine going through life having difficulty understanding written words. Not only would you probably miss out on enjoying my fabulous blog posts (ha ha), but you’d also miss out on great works of art and have some trouble navigating day-to-day life.
Kathryn Starke is here to make sure that that doesn’t happen to American youth.
Kathryn is the founder and CEO of Creative Minds Publications, and her overarching goal in life is to bring the gift of reading to children all over the country! She’s managed to turn her long-held interest in education into a fantastic success story through a lot of hard work, ambition, and a desire to help others live the best lives they can. I was very happy to interview her for this column – read all about her story below!
Tell us about your business in as much detail as you can. What is it that you do and who are your customers?
I am an urban literacy specialist, author, and the founder/CEO of Creative Minds Publications, LLC. Creative Minds Publications is a global literacy educational company. We create children’s books and reading educational resources to motivate children, support parents, and inspire teachers to love literacy at home and in school. In my position as an urban literacy specialist, I travel nationwide to help teachers teach language arts (reading, writing, and word work.) I have helped urban elementary schools successfully turn from failing to full accreditation in one school year. I serve as a guest author and keynote speaker at schools, organizations, and community events. My first children’s book, Amy’s Travels, just turned 10 this year. It is in its second edition, third printing, and is used in homes and schools in over 26 countries on 6 continents. My recent release, Tackle Reading, kicked off this fall. Tackle Reading is a book complete with tips, guidance, and stories provided by 45 contributing writers including NFL athletes, literacy leaders, authors, celebrities, and educational organizations. Our customers include readers of all ages, elementary and middle school students, teachers, administrators, parents, foundations, organizations, and companies dedicated to providing quality reading education for all children.
What made you choose this path? Is it a family legacy or are you a pioneer? Did you go to school for it or are you learning as you go?
I grew up in a family of educators. My mom is one of eight children, and six of them (including my mom) are in the field of education. I always wanted to be an elementary school teacher and started playing school when I was in kindergarten. I was the student from elementary school to high school that volunteered in elementary schools. My summer jobs as a middle schooler, high schooler, and college student including babysitting, tutoring, teaching piano, teaching preschool summer camps, and being a nanny. I decided to go to the best teaching school in my home state of Virginia, Longwood University. I graduated with a BS degree in elementary education then a Master’s degree in Literacy and Culture. If I think back to my childhood, I also recall always writing stories, songs, and poems; I even asked my mom if I could attend a free creative writing class when I was seven-years-old. An academic strength of mine has always been writing. I took journalism in high school and served as a guest writer for our school newspaper. In college, my English professors encouraged me to minor in English, which I did not, and I never imagined I would be a published author. Regarding my business, I have an entrepreneur father that I learned a lot from in addition to reading biographies, magazines, and books about successful business leaders and companies. I “started” many make-believe businesses as a youngster, so, putting all of my strengths and passions together, it makes sense that I am in the business of education.
They say that to be successful you have to be passionate, so share what drives you every day. Why do you love what you do?
I am dedicated to ensuring that all children in the US are given the gift of reading. I love teaching, working with children, and helping kids reach their full potential. According to census reports, we have about three million children born in the US every year. This means I always have work that needs to be done; there are always new readers I can introduce my books to and teachers I can introduce my work to. Since teaching reading is my passion, I spend every day sharing my knowledge, energy, and expertise through social media, as a contributing writer for books/blogs/articles, presentations, speeches, and one-on-one literacy coaching in schools. When your business is your passion, it doesn’t feel like work.
Has it been smooth sailing or have you overcome adversity to get where you are?
I can safely say that building a ten-year-old business and becoming a national literacy leader was never smooth sailing for me. I wrote my first children’s book and started my company when I was twenty-four years old. Based on other people’s opinions and points of view, I learned that being a young female was not an advantage in education, publishing, or business. I have had to prove myself in everything I have ever done. In the very beginning, I emailed teachers, reading educators, and editors every single day sharing my first work and offered to lead free assemblies and speaking events for schools and conferences. I worked to sell over 2,500 copies of Amy’s Travels on my own around the world. I constantly refined my teaching techniques to get the best results in reading education. I know that luck has never been on my side, but I’ve never been afraid of hard work.
We all know that crazy happens. What’s the wildest thing that’s happened on the job?
I work in elementary schools on a regular basis, so working with children is completely unpredictable and always interesting. It doesn’t matter how detailed you make a plan, a child’s response determines what happens next.
What do you do with your time off? Are you familiar with that concept?
I’m a true believer of a work/life balance. I love traveling, going out to dinner, reading by the pool and on the beach, and going to the movies. I am always reading, writing, and learning how to continue to grow my business. I respond to emails and set up phone calls when I’m out of town, but when you’re doing something you love it becomes a part of your lifestyle. I will say, that I never miss a summer beach vacation or family member’s birthday.
This is the age of the social network. How important is social media to your business and how do you make it work?
I wish I had embraced social media sooner than I did to help promote my business and network with fellow teachers, authors, literacy leaders, business owners, and publishers. I started out slowly on LinkedIn and only got on Facebook when I could be a “page” rather than “friends.” Knowing that teachers, authors, and business leaders were on Pinterest and Twitter, I added those platforms to my social media profile and more recently added Instagram. All of these avenues have only increased my social media presence, resulting in new followers and clients.
How are you involved in your community?
I currently live in Richmond, Virginia, the city where I was born and raised. I taught in Richmond City Public Schools then in Chesterfield County Public Schools (two school districts in my community, in which I continue to support the teachers and schools in any capacity that I can.) I sit on the board of Reach out and Read Virginia. I am a member of the Richmond Area Reading Council, in which I sit on the committee of Parents as Readers, which allows us to provide books and a literacy night for a low-income school in the area. I donate books to organizations and schools throughout the city and state and serve as the literacy advocate for the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation “Redskins Read” program.
What does supporting local mean to you?
I believe in giving back and supporting the city I grew up in. In addition, I always look forward to the opportunity to support new and innovative locals in retail, business, and education (to name a few industries.) This past month, I had the opportunity to partner with a local coffee business to host a community breakfast in the city of Richmond resulting in donating Tackle Reading books to Richmond Public Schools. I was so excited to be able to support this new business and share their passion for giving back to education, and to have people rally behind a cause and a small local business.
What does the future look like for you and your business?
Being that I could never predict that I would own a business, I definitely can’t predict our future, but I know we will continue to grow and reach a new audience every single day. I’m thrilled to say that our business celebrates its tenth birthday this year. We are adding books, resources, events, and literacy services to increase our educational impact in the US. I want to continue to help children, parents, teachers, and community leaders tackle reading in our nation. I look forward to working with new schools and companies across the country, creating an even stronger presence in California, and adding innovative products to promote literacy.
Do you have any advice for aspiring business owners just starting out?
Never give up. You are your biggest supporter, fan, and promoter when you are starting out. Write down your goals or vision and determine the best steps to help you reach your goals. Read as much as you can about businesses, individuals, and industry news that can teach you about yourself and business.