When Lisa Collum was growing up in Jupiter Farms in northern Palm Beach County, there was never any doubt she would be a teacher someday. At age five, she used to hone her skills by setting up a chalkboard and playing teacher to her stuffed animals.
Today, Collum teaches for real. And the affinity for animals is still there.
“Anyone who knew me know I was going to be a teacher,” said Collum, owner and chief executive officer of Top Score Writing, a provider of writing-specific curricula for grades 2 through 12 that helps prepare students for state assessments.
After graduating from Florida Atlantic University with a degree in elementary education, Collum began her career as a writing teacher, but she had no curriculum to work with. So, she developed her own and was able to bring her students from 30 percent to 95 percent proficiency on the state writing test in her first year. She perfected her curriculum over the next few years, sharing it with other teachers, and then achieved a major success: having 100 percent of her students pass the state writing test two years in a row.
When Collum left the school district to teach virtual school online, her colleagues missed her expertise and mentorship and told her that if she put her curriculum down on paper, they’d buy it.
“That was when the light bulb when off,” she said. “I didn’t think I was a business person, but I thought I could do it on the side.”
Since then, Collum has grown Top Score Writing into a venture that posted $1.7 million in revenues in 2019. Her writing curriculum has been adopted nationally by hundreds of public, private and charter schools, as well as several home school organizations, benefiting tens of thousands of students nationwide. And, as a result of her success, Collum leads professional development training sessions in some of the nation’s largest school districts.
In 2015, Collum expanded her business by purchasing Coastal Middle and High School, a private school in Lake Park. “It is a school for students that need something different,” she said. “Students may be struggling in their current school — failing, being bullied, suffering from anxiety or just needing a smaller setting.”
In recognition of her business achievements, Collum has been named winner of the South Florida Sun Sentinel’s Next Excalibur Award as a Business Leader in Palm Beach County. The award recognizes the next generation of leaders who will contribute to the growth and sustainability of business and civic life in Palm Beach and Broward counties.
Collum, who has four children between the ages of four and 14, has had to juggle a bit to balance her home life and her career. “She often has the kids come in and gives me a heads up so I can create small tasks for them to help out,” said Mercedes Diaz, Coastal’s assistant principal. “So, her kids contribute to the school.”
Despite the challenges, Collum wants other women to know that they can indeed have it all. “I have no business experience,” she said. “I was a teacher, but I built both businesses while I had four kids. I don’t want people to ever think, ‘Can I be a mom and run a business?’”
And that early penchant for teaching stuffed animals? That’s morphed into a love of real ones.
“We did at a school doing training, and there was a pen in the back where they taught students how to raise farm animals,” said Mike Ficara, executive vice president of Top Score Writing. “And Lisa — in her dress and heels — was right in there with a pony and ducks. It shows how down to earth she is and also that she really hasn’t changed throughout this process as she continues to achieve great heights and new levels.”
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