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Commissioner Charlene M. Russell-Tucker Announces the Addition of Two New State Department of Education Leaders: Melissa K. Wlodarczyk Hickey Ed.D and Jule McCombes-Tolis Ph.D.

(HARTFORD, CT) – This afternoon, Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) Commissioner Charlene M. Russell-Tucker announced the addition of two leaders within the agency to oversee two new legislatively mandated offices, the Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success and the Office of Dyslexia and Reading Disabilities.

“We are pleased to announce the promotion of Dr. Hickey, and welcome Dr. McCombes-Tolis, two highly experienced and respected reading and dyslexia professionals into their new roles. This announcement further solidifies our department’s commitment to ensuring all our students, regardless of background and ability can read by the third grade,” said Education Commissioner Russell-Tucker. “It is our goal that all students are proficient readers, and these offices will work on critical programs to ensure our students achieve that goal.”

The Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success (The Center), created by Public Act 21-2, will be housed within the CSDE Academic Office. The Center, under the leadership of Dr. Hickey will develop a statewide approach to providing structured supports aligned with the Science of Reading to Connecticut districts and schools, to further ensure that all students are reading on grade level by third grade.  

“I am excited and honored for the opportunity to lead the Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success at the CSDE and to expand upon the great work of Connecticut as we collaboratively bridge the research to increase the effectiveness of literacy teaching and learning,” said Dr. Hickey.  “In this new role I look forward to continuing to work closely with my CSDE colleagues, the Reading Leadership Implementation Council, the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, and our literacy partners and stakeholders to support districts and schools in assisting all students in reading at or above grade level by the end of third grade.”

Since 2016, Dr. Hickey has served as the Director of Reading and Literacy at the Connecticut State Department of Education. As Director she supervised the Academic Office Team working collaboratively to support districts in providing students with the skills and tools necessary to graduate from high school as responsible global citizens prepared to contribute to their communities and succeed in college and careers. In July 2022, she was appointed the Interim Director of Literacy Research and Reading Success to advance the statewide vision of ensuring all Connecticut students are reading by the end of third grade. She has been an educator in Connecticut for over 20 years with a wide range of experiences such as district literacy administrator, literacy instructional coach, middle school reading/writing teacher, and second grade teacher. Dr. Hickey holds a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, Master of Education in Special Education, and Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership.

The Office of Dyslexia and Reading Disabilities (Office) will be housed within the CSDE Talent Office. Under the leadership of Dr. McCombes-Tolis, the Office of Dyslexia and Reading Disabilities will verify compliance of teacher preparation programs and teacher certification applicants with state mandated dyslexia instruction and training requirements and provide guidance to higher education institutions and other teacher preparation program providers about the qualifications practicum hour supervisors have obtained. The Office will provide guidance to local and regional boards of education about administering approved reading assessments in accordance with new assessment methodology for identifying students; develop a voluntary family history questionnaire to assist in the identification, in whole or in part, of students who are at risk of reading proficiency; and, collaborate with a public institute of higher education to establish a data center to guide the CSDE and LEAs in the use and effectiveness of reading assessments.

“This is an exciting time for reading instruction in Connecticut! The Office of Dyslexia and Reading Disabilities will help to ensure that all public school students have equitable access to teachers who possess a shared set of reading and dyslexia competencies that are rooted in the Science of Reading and are reflective of the principles and practices of structured literacy,” said Dr. McCombes-Tolis. “The many stakeholder groups affected by and invested in the work of this Office will prove invaluable to helping frame and advance an impactful, coordinated set of initiatives, and I’m looking forward to collaborating with them over the coming months.”

Dr. McCombes-Tolis joins us from Fairfield University, where she served as the Director of Reading and Language Development. Throughout her career, Dr. McCombes-Tolis has been an advocate for student literacy growth and responsive, scientifically informed educator preparation practices. While serving as the Chief Academic Officer of Educator Training Initiatives with the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) for example, Dr. McCombes-Tolis led a wide range of initiatives designed to provide public school students with greater access to educators trained in the Science of Reading and the principles and practices of Structured Literacy. She has also served as an independent educational evaluator specializing in the identification and remediation of reading disorders. Dr. McCombes-Tolis holds a B.A. in English Textual Studies from Syracuse University, a Sixth Year Certificate in Remedial Reading and Remedial Language Arts from Southern Connecticut State University, and a Ph.D. in Special Education from the University of Connecticut.  She maintains active Connecticut certifications in both Special Education and Remedial Reading/Remedial Language Arts.



For Immediate Release: December 1, 2022


Eric E. Scoville 

Director of Communications 

Connecticut State Department of Education

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