About Sharon Hillestad

Sharon began her educational career in 1954, as a third-grader, helping younger students in her one-room schoolhouse in Wisconsin. As an adult, she earned a college degree and started post-graduate work in remedial reading. She became a third-grade teacher and taught in Wisconsin and Minnesota public schools.

Sharon’s education in reading instruction began when her own son had difficulty learning to read. She read the book Why Johnny Can’t Read, by Rudolf Flesch. That book revealed that systematic phonics instruction had been removed from the teachers’ colleges. This impacted students, creating increasing numbers of children who had difficulty learning to read. 

In 1979, she founded the Minnesota Homeschool Network. In 1980, she joined the Reading Reform Foundation and became the State Representative for Wisconsin and Minnesota. In 1981, Sharon founded her own private one-room schoolhouse in Hastings, MN. Through the years of raising her three children and involvement in education reform, Sharon consulted with parents and provided tutoring to children and adults alike.

In 2000, Sharon joined her daughter Holly in Florida. She became the Director of Tutoring at the Community Learning Center. In the early 2000s, she worked with Holly and her son-in-law to design the Smart Way Reading and Spelling program, which is based upon the findings of the National Reading Panel. 

In the early 2000s, Sharon served as the Florida State Representative for the National Right to Read Foundation. In 2005, she designed and delivered a Family Literacy Program under a grant she wrote and got approved for the Governor’s Family Literacy Initiative (GFLI, under Governor Jeb Bush). From 2016-2019, she worked as an elementary classroom teacher. 

Sharon Hillestad published The Reading War in 2020. Today she does private tutoring, volunteers, public speaking, interviews and blogs.

About Holly Haggerty

Holly worked in Education for over two decades. In 1998 she co-founded the Community Learning Center (CLC), a non-profit that provides after-school tutoring to low-income students. Under Holly’s lead, CLC expanded to a statewide organization and was recognized as the top small non-profit in 2014 by the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce.

In 2001, Holly co-founded Bright Sky Learning, an Educational Publishing Company. She directed the creation of the research-based Smart Way Reading and Spelling Program. Holly wrote and got approved applications to provide Supplemental Educational Services (tutoring) under the No Child Left Behind Act in 18 states. She oversaw the training and operations of 166 after-school tutoring sites between 2004 and 2013 for both Bright Sky Learning and Community Learning Center in six of these states. In 2016, she founded a private school at the Community Learning Center.

Holly is a second-generation educator. Both of her parents taught at one point in public schools in Wisconsin. Her mother later became very involved in the homeschool movement and even opened a small private school in Minnesota. Holly grew up in an environment where education, best practices, and innovation were a daily topic of conversation.

Holly is passionate about education. In addition to working in her own organizations, she serves on the Gender Achievement Gap Committee of the Pinellas Education Foundation, the Teachers Education Advisory Committee of the University of Tampa, and the Coalition for Reading Excellence. In 2018, Holly helped establish the Little Learning Preschool in Clearwater, Florida, and currently serves the preschool as an advisor. In 2023, Holly joined the board of First In Fluency, a non profit with the single goal of addressing the unnecessary crisis of low literacy in our country. The mission of First in Fluency is to institute teacher-driven, evidence-based literacy curriculum delivery across the country.

Holly is the mother of four children between the ages of 13 and 28. Today, Holly works full time in her marketing and consulting company, Cloud Nine Communications.