Marie Brown founded Brown Publishing Network in 1983, a company that provided publishers with some of the most highly respected K-12 product development services in the market. After nearly 30 years of operation, Brown made the decision to sell Brown Publishing Network to Six Red Marbles in 2011.
You started your career as a teacher; what grades and subjects did you teach?
Marie: I always wanted to be a teacher. There was no question that this was the career for me. My first job was teaching first grade at the Cross Street School in Mineola, New York. I taught all subjects, of course, but really loved reading the best. After four years, I came upon the opportunity to teach for the Department of Defense in Germany. I was assigned to teach first grade at an Air Force base school in the rural town of Neubruche where I remained for one year.
How did you enter the K-12 educational space? What were some of the deciding factors that motivated you to make the transition from classroom teaching to content development?
Marie: As a teacher, I had always enjoyed creating my own educational materials to supplement the basal programs we used. When I returned from Germany, I decided to see if I could move into educational publishing as a next step in my career. Serendipity led me to a fledgling, brand-new educational development company called Education, Inc. who was looking for former teachers to hire as editorial assistants in their program development department. This was really a dream come true for me. I was hired and worked there for four years being promoted ultimately as the Director of Programming (which meant something entirely different than it means today). I had the thrilling experience of developing projects for major publishers such as Scholastic, Houghton Mifflin, Macmillan, and virtually all the major educational publishers.
My publishing career took another detour after I got married and moved to Sewanee, TN where my husband became a professor of philosophy at The University of the South. During the next five years, I became a freelance writer and editor for educational publishers and developers, as well as teaching remedial reading at the local high school, as well as becoming a mother of two children. After five years, my husband got a job at Boston College, and we relocated to Boston. I worked for a brief time for Boston Educational Research Company where Pleasant Rowland, the founder of the American Girl company also worked! The company was moving away from educational publishing, so I decided to take the leap and founded my own development company, Brown Publishing Network.
Growing from 200 square feet in the basement to an office building filled with employees
I rented a small office space –200 sq.ft. in the basement of an office building. I used the network of contacts I had made over the years to get started, but it still took six months before I got my first project—a spelling teacher’s guide for Random House School Division. My passion for high quality, sound content was a driving force. As more projects came in, I was able to hire more and more freelancers and then employees. I moved upstairs to a bigger office in the building and the company grew organically over the next twenty years until at our height, we had 70 full-time employees, and more than 100 freelancers, offering publishers editorial, design, and production full-service –and we had taken over all the office space in the building.
The recession in 2008 significantly impacted a lot of industries, including educational publishers, and I made the difficult decision to sell my business to Six Red Marbles in 2011. At that time, they were predominantly focused on digital production. I stayed with them until 2013 – and then decided it was time to once again be in business for myself, this time as a consultant.
What has changed in the way K-12 publishers are developing content today?
Marie: What’s changed in education is what’s changed in our culture. We’ve abandoned the “boring stuff” for the “high tech stuff”. It’s the Wild West on the internet for the content – how can teachers curate that content? It’s not necessarily vetted content. In basal guidebooks, content was sequenced, and the framework allowed teachers to teach better. I recommend that it’s best to start with a core program because the content is vetted. I think training probably hasn’t changed too much.
Can you share some examples of content you think is excellent?
Marie: Shining star – Teacher’s College Reading & Writing Project (Lucy Calkins). Lucy Calkins is an icon in the space, and while this isn’t a program, it is an excellent workshop for teachers. I’m also a big fan of Scholastic – they have an excellent selection of online materials. Fountas & Pinnell also produces excellent content.
There are several reports and studies about the effectiveness of graphic novel readers in the classroom. What are your thoughts about graphic novel readers?
Marie: I’m all for it if it helps kids read, but it should be vetted by an educator/educational content developer to make sure it’s the right quality and fit for the grade level and learning needs.
See the award-winning graphic novel Unfamiliar, created by Westchester K-12.
Where do you see literacy educational materials going from where we are today? What do you see as the next evolution of teaching literacy?
Marie: I don’t see it going back to this, but it would be great to go back to some sort of structure for reading.
You’re now the Consulting Editorial Project Director for Westchester K-12. Tell me about that role and what you bring to the table for Westchester K-12 clients.
Marie: Name recognition opens the door, and through my network I am able to introduce contacts to Westchester K-12. Having a Supervisory role on projects allows me to put together the teams (freelancers) I think are best able to fulfill the needs of a particular project, and gives me the opportunity to interface with the client.
What makes Westchester K-12 unique, and why should educational publishers work with Westchester?
Marie: Westchester K-12 is a very well organized company, and by that I really mean high quality. They’ve assembled a great team of top-star talent, who have a wonderful way of working together – everyone is cooperative, sincere, and conscientious, from the top down. Westchester K-12 produces excellent work, including a major project for a major publisher, who has already given repeat work. From project management, to editorial and production, this is just a great company where everyone is respectful, smart and dedicated, and acts as an extension of the publisher team.
Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself, your experience and/or your role at Westchester K-12?
Marie: What I’m good at is inspiring people. The work you’re doing is so important because the work you’re doing is impacting the lives of children. Every word, every image, and every layout – we have a precious responsibility to serve the children the best we can. This work is a calling. Every word that you write has to be right – because it’s going into the mind of every child that reads that content.