D86 candidate Debbie Levinthal's questionnaire

Debbie Levinthal

Attendance area: Hinsdale Central High School

Years in district: 5

Age: 53

Education: MST 1993 University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

Masters of Science in Teaching Mathematics

BS 1990 University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Major: Actuarial Mathematics

Occupation: I am a former high school math teacher with over 13 years of experience in the classroom, having spent my career at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire and New Trier High School in Winnetka. I ultimately decided to leave New Trier after over 10 years to focus on rearing my children full time.

While teaching, I served on the math department hiring committee, mentored new teachers, piloted new material, was a course leader, taught in the Township Math program for high achieving 8th graders, served as an adviser in the New Trier advisory program, coached in the early days of my career, and participated on inclusion focused committees such as GLSEN, a group founded by educators to protect LGBTQ students and students of marginalized identities. During my first year of teaching, I was nominated for the Sally Mae First Year Teacher’s Award. In 2000, I was a recipient of the Edyth May Sliffe Award for Distinguished Mathematics Teaching for my instruction through the Township Math Program.

Community service: Currently, I serve on the cross-district Community Speaker Series committee. I am a former PTA president, PTA vice president, and PTA committee chair in my former district. I was supportive of both referenda initiatives in the ’18-’19 school year and formally served on the committees that mobilized the pre-school parent population and empty nester demographic.

Board experience: I am a former PTA Executive Board Member having served as a PTA President (2015-2016) and Vice President (2014-2015). (Whittier School, Downers Grove). During my tenure I oversaw the proposal and execution of a large facilities donation that involved a tremendous amount of fundraising and community buy in.

Why are you running for this particular seat at this particular time? I am a mother of four children in our district schools—a current sophomore at Central, a current freshman, an 8th grader at HMS and a kindergartner. After watching and attending District 86 Board meetings and advocating for and against decisions made by the current board, I am left concerned with recent decisions regarding curriculum, differentiation, opportunity, and the ability of our two high schools to meet the needs most effectively of all of our students. My past professional experience and experience advocating for my own children gives me insight into the issues at hand and the ability to analyze proposals that come before the board, vet them for their ability to increase student outcomes, and question the data that is or is not provided to support them. I have been called to action by the immediacy of potential impact the decisions made over the past year will have on the educational experience of the current high school students and all of the younger children in our communities.

What in your personal or professional experience has prepared you to be an effective board member? My professional background in education gives me an understanding of the working parts—the role of the board, the administration, teaching staff, support staff, students, and families. I also have an in depth understanding of special education, 504 plans, IEP’s and the requisite collaboration between school and family that must occur to optimize the tools offered by these plans. My own children have a diverse set of strengths and challenges and I’m empathetic to the challenges posed by the high school years—academically, socially, and emotionally. Moreover, my work as a New Trier adviser gave me insight into the whole high school experience and how to help students plan for their post high school aspirations. Understanding the role of the school in shaping the young people of our community will help me make better decisions on their behalf. Additionally, having sat on our department’s hiring committee for many years gives me the experience to understand the priority of attracting and retaining top quality educators of different experience levels as well as seasoned administrators with the leadership skills to meet the needs of the community and help us accomplish our goal of academic excellence.

What in your opinion are the board’s three most important responsibilities?

1. The board serves as the stewards of the district for the community. They are responsible for insuring that the district is reflective of the educational goals and values of our community. Additionally, as stewards, they are responsible for providing opportunities for communication and respectful dialogue with stakeholders.

2. The board is responsible for selecting and employing a superintendent that builds a leadership team to meet the goals set forth by the board.

3. The board is responsible for fiscal responsibility and meeting the needs of all students within the budgetary restraints set forth.

What is the district’s greatest strength? Which area is most in need of attention? The districts greatest strength is the community of engaged and supportive families that chose this district to educate their children. We are fortunate to have families that value education and educators. With that said, an area most in need of attention is providing channels for the community to respectfully dialogue with the board, the administration, and each other regarding school/district issues. I believe that through the use of focus groups, task forces, town halls, survey tools, and committee representation the district can increase opportunity for meaningful communication with stakeholders.

What is the most pressing budgetary matter the district will face over the next four years? With the referendum projects underway, the most pressing budgetary matter may very well be the Covid-19 pandemic. I am hopeful for a safe return to full in person learning this fall alongside a remote option (for families that need one) that not only improves delivery for students but also lessens the burden on our teachers, for example, through the use of live-stream instruction and upgrades to our technology. Not only will technology improvements cost money but implementation of mitigation to help insure a return to full time learning will also incur expense. I am keenly interested in the aftermath of pandemic education and the likelihood of academic gaps as well as the social and emotional impact the past year (and potentially longer) has had on our students. The future BOE will have to work with the district staff to lead this recovery and fund resources to aid our students and teachers in uncovering gaps, addressing them, and increasing supports to address any social and emotional needs post pandemic.

What will be your top three priorities if elected? 1. Insure that the administration is held accountable for bringing data driven proposals to the board especially regarding curriculum and special services. The data should be objective, normed, and show a clear improvement in student outcomes.

2. Insure that community members and all stakeholders have the chance to engage in meaningful and respectful dialogue around decisions the board makes.

3. To ask questions at the board table and engage in productive discourse with the administration and my fellow board members.

Please cite a recent board decision that you have agreed with and one that you have disagreed with and briefly explain your reason(s) why.

I wholeheartedly agreed with the board’s decision to abandon Edgenuity as the method of instruction for our fully remote students this past school year. Our school communities and the relationships our students build with teachers and their peers are central to their District 86 experience. Beyond the connection learning from our staff enables, our families expect and proactively chose to live in our district for the quality of our instruction, curriculum, and standards. Outsourcing to a third party when technology could enable our students to learn from our staff with their home school peers is unacceptable. While remote instruction will likely be a necessary model for some families for the 2021-2022 school year, I am committed to advocating it be done through the use of upgraded technology in our buildings versus through an outsourced vendor.

A decision I have disagreed with over the past year is the systematic removal of opportunity for freedom of expression by the public to the board. This began with a First Amendment violation in December of 2019 and culminated with the elimination of one public comment opportunity and the sole audience communication opportunity being moved to the end of board meetings, thus suppressing the public’s ability to express opinion prior to decision making. (Interestingly, within the last month and without public notification, audience communication has been moved back to the beginning of the board meeting.) I firmly believe in the principles of open governance and likewise look forward to hearing different viewpoints, learning from them, asking questions at the board table, and engaging in respectful dialogue with stakeholders and fellow board members. Public comment and input should be welcomed, listened to, and valued.