Phone: (512) 596-5417

2028 E. Ben White Blvd #240-5417
Austin, TX 78741

Kelly Butler

Senior Advisor, Reading Universe

Our People

Kelly Butler is Senior Advisor to, a large-scale legacy project of the Barksdale Reading Institute (BRI), where she served as Chief Executive Officer. The Institute concluded operations in June of 2023 having contributed significantly to Mississippi’s rise in reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP 2019, NAEP 2022). Reading Universe is housed at WETA, PBS’s flagship station in Washington, D.C. amidst a suite of award-winning literacy websites supporting evidence-based practices for teachers of reading and writing.

During her tenure at BRI, Kelly initiated the original Reading Universe concept to provide high quality professional development to educators in Barksdale schools and educator preparation programs. Butler authored three statewide studies on Teacher Preparation for Early Literacy Instruction which propelled The Path Forward, a multi-state initiative focused on preparation and licensure. Kelly is an advisor to the Mississippi Reading Panel, the Mississippi Reading Clinic, The Path Forward, the Southeast Region’s Education Laboratory, and the Education Advocacy Center; and is a board member for Springboard to Opportunities and Deans for Impact. She holds a master’s degree in administration, planning and social policy from Harvard University. She lives in Jackson, Mississippi.

Why did you decide to join DFI’s board?
My decision to join DFI is rooted in my long literacy journey in Mississippi with the Barksdale Reading Institute and our work to effect change in both pre-service preparation and in-service professional development. During those years I often wondered what "instructional leadership" could look like in higher education if the Dean's office exerted more influence to move the profession of teaching toward one "guided by principles of cognitive science." As I interpret the goals of Deans for Impact under its current leadership, both board and staff seem willing to push this envelope.

What is one pivotal moment in your career that helped shape how you view your own role in advancing educational equity?
This pivotal moment occurred before my career as an educator, as a public school student during desegregation in Mississippi. My parents' decision to keep my siblings and me enrolled in public schools, in spite of the white exodus, was a turning point in my life. Subsequently, as an educator, I was drawn to work in schools that suffer most from the impact of our communities' failed attempts at integration and equity.

Describe a teacher or student who made a lasting impact in your life. (5th grade) and J...ra (3rd grade) are siblings who were reading three grade levels behind when I met them. They are two children who were victims of ineffective reading instruction and their grandmother was determined to remedy this. She sought our help at the Reading Institute, where staff tutored them after school and on Saturdays to close the gap. They succeeded and are memorable because they are poignant examples of the thousands of children who, through no fault of their own, aren't being taught to read. Every child deserves an effective teacher, and a watchful grandmother.

What most excites you about the work of transforming educator preparation?
Excited might not be the right word here. But after working on this conundrum for many years, I believe the wind may finally be in our sails with the heightened public awareness and conversations about the scientific research that supports effective literacy practice. This public awareness is applying new pressures and galvanizing changes across the system and must include higher education.