Readtopia Team

We are an interdisciplinary dream team that has turned our dreams into reality. We have traveled the world to capture the sights and sounds of legendary stories so that your classroom can help students transport themselves through reading. Our contributors include specialists in literature, literacy, history, education, photography, film, alternate assessment, and exploration.

Karen Erickson

Karen Erickson, PhD

Dr. Karen Erickson is Director of the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies at University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, focused on understanding the best ways to assess and teach reading and writing to children with the most severe disabilities. As a special education teacher, Dr. Erickson has worked to support students with a range of disabilities in a variety of classroom settings, particularly students who do not use speech as their primary means of communication.

She earned a master’s degree in reading from State University of New York, Albany and a PhD from the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill.

Caroline Musselwhite

Caroline Ramsey Musselwhite, EdD, CCC-SLP

Dr. Caroline Musselwhite is an assistive technology specialist with more than 30 years of experience working with children and adolescents with significant disabilities. She has taught courses at several universities, authored a number of books on educational topics, and presented thousands of workshops throughout the world. She is also a founding member of the Board of Directors for the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC).

Don Johnston next to a large tortoise

Don Johnston, MS

Don didn’t read his first book until the 9th grade after he was inspired by a very special teacher. He learned to make “movies in his mind” which was the key to his learning. This was influential in the visual supports in Readtopia. Don has wanted to bring visual learning to other students his whole life. Now it’s a reality! Don made Readtopia his full-time passion, driving the development forward. He embedded himself in many Readtopia videos, talking directly to students on-location from around the world!

Jerry Stemach

Jerry Stemach, MS, CCC-SLP

Jerry Stemach is a language and literacy specialist who has focused his career on students with language-based reading disorders. 20 years ago, Jerry and Don co-founded the Start-to-Finish library to provide older readers access to age-respectful books supported by technology. Those same books anchor each Readtopia unit. Jerry levels the graphic novels and the text type lessons that accompany them. When he authors a book, he insists on traveling to the country where the story takes place.

Mary Krenz

Mary Krenz

Mary Krenz specializes in early childhood development and adult learning strategies. She has worked in the educational publishing field for 23 years developing training and sales programs.  As the Director of Professional Services for Don Johnston Incorporated, Mary trains the consultants that deliver Don Johnston PD, and also works with schools and districts to design implementation plans. Mary also manages the development of literacy curriculums, including overseeing the design and content for both the teacher and student materials.

Allison Dennis

Allison Dennis, PhD

Dr. Allison Dennis has been a special education classroom teacher where she taught high school students with moderate to significant physical and intellectual disabilities. She also worked as a Research Assistant Center for Literacy and Disability Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As a Curriculum Specialist at Don Johnston, Allison works to develop and manage the expansion of Readtopia content. 

Allison received her master’s degree and Ph.D. in Education from the University for North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Helen Sillett

Helen Sillett, PhD

A writer and editor, Helen has been creating content for students for 18 years. She’s covered social science and science topics from ancient Rome to space exploration for educational outlets including Teacher’s Curriculum Institute and National Geographic School Publishing. She has a PhD in history and loves a good library, but she also finds writing inspiration outdoors–like when sledding down sand dunes in the Mojave Desert or swimming in Crater Lake.

Carol Seibert

Carol Seibert

Carol Seibert has worked with educational software and technology for over 30 years, specializing in educational research and development, software design and professional development. Carol holds her degree in Elementary Education/Special Education,  co-founded a non-profit Learning Support service in her local community, and is co-author of educational software targeted at developing reading fluency.

Laura Cuthbertson

Laura Cuthbertson, MA

Laura Cuthbertson has been a special education classroom teacher where she taught middle school students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. She used the Readtopia materials in her classroom for three years before becoming a Curriculum Specialist as Don Johnston. Now she works to develop Readtopia content for current users.

Laura received her master’s degree in Autism Spectrum Disorders from Grand Canyon University.

Mike Byrne holding a camera, taking a photograph

Mike Byrne, Clock Tower Images

Mike has worked as a photographer and filmmaker for over 20 years producing films for several education organizations including the Discovery Channel and Disney. Mike’s work has taken him through much of the world. He has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, watched a sunset from the Acropolis, dodged howler monkeys in Brazil, explored the Ngorongoro Crater, and marched with soldiers in American Civil War re-enactments.

When he is not shooting videos for Readtopia, Mike is busy photographing sports. He is the official photographer for several sports teams and for a series of international triathlons. In 2010 he was selected to work at the Olympic games — he was based in Whistler and was assigned to work at the cross-country skiing venue.

Additional Readtopia Contributors:
Melissa Abraham
Mary Jo Barry

Leslie Crane
Patricia Cunningham, PhD
Lynna Hildner, MS
Jenay Prytula
Ruth Ziolkowski, OTR, MBA

A special thanks to the schools and organizations who partnered with us to develop Readtopia! Your contributions were integral to making the project work for teachers and students.

Mary Ann McGinn and the teachers at NSSEO (Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization) in Illinois

John Siracuse, Principal and Kelly Murray, Special Education Teacher—New York City District 75

Sandra Green, Assistive Technology Facilitator and Veronica Iacobucci, Special Education Teacher—St. Charles Community Unit School District, Illinois

Dr. Patti Ward-McGuire, Secondary Special Services Supervisor—Sioux Falls School District, South Dakota

Thematic Units