Debbie Bookstabers Answers Questions from Conestoga Students

I was contacted by the Contestoga Spoke with some questions about my campaign for School Board. Here are my responses to their questions:

  • Please describe the basis on which you are running: (i.e. – Are you running as a Republican/Democrat?…What region are you running in?...Are you a new candidate or an incumbent?)

    I am a new candidate running in Region 2. I am the only candidate in Region 2 on the ballot for both the Republican and the Democratic Parties, and I have been endorsed by the Republican Party.

  • What experience do you have in the field of politics/dealing with education?

    I do not consider myself a politician. My interests have always been in the areas of community and public service.

    I first got involved with the T/E School District when I volunteered for the Tax Study Commission last year. Studying the school budget in-depth as the Vice-Chairman of the Tax Study Commission gave me insights into the challenges our schools are facing and inspired me to serve on the school board.

    My mother was a public school teacher for over 30 years in Philadelphia, and educational issues were frequent dinner table topics. I credit her with my lifelong interest in volunteering. I am a Gold Award Girl Scout and have volunteered with disabled students and anti-bullying programs for years. I am an Auxiliary Board Member for Tredyffrin and Easttown Care and also chaired a Tredyffrin 300 committee. As the chairman of the Junior League Project Research and Development Committee I helped implement new cultural and educational projects for children in the Greater Philadelphia area.

    My educational background includes a B.A. and a Masters degree in History with high honors from Yale University.

  • If you had to address the student body of Conestoga, what topic would you speak to them about? Why?

    I would like to have an open conversation with the student body about stress, over-scheduling and the pressure to succeed. I graduated from high school in 1996, and my memories of feeling overscheduled, stressed and worried about college admissions are still painfully fresh.

    As an alumni interviewer for my college, I have the opportunity to speak with lots of high school seniors. I’m always struck by how much pressure is put on students from an early age to succeed in school, sports, extra-curricular activities, etc. I am often approached by students as young as sixth grade wanting to know what to do to get an edge with college applications. I’ve received calls from students in tears after they receive a college rejection letter, and their pain is always real.

    The great thing about a school like Conestoga is how accomplished its students are academically and athletically, but the downside is a culture that can potentially make students feel like they don’t measure up if they don’t play on the Varsity Team or if they can’t get that A. That’s something we need to address. High school should be a time for growth and learning-- not stress and anxiety.

  • What do you feel is the most pressing need in the school district today?

    Keeping up the good work! Our district is one of the most highly rated and fiscally efficient in the state, if not the country. Like all T/E residents, I want to keep it that way.

    I grew up on the Main Line, but my husband and I chose to move to Tredyffrin because of the outstanding school rankings and the fiscal responsibility of the School Board. We bought our first house here, and it is where we plan to stay and start our family. I have been able to get to know many Conestoga students and can attest to the fact that TE provides a private-school quality of education at a public school price. By serving on the school board, I hope to maintain and improve the educational excellence and fiscal responsibility of the School District.

  • How long have you been campaigning?

    I had the opportunity to meet the School Board Directors when I served on the Tax Commission. I decided to run after I learned that Sandi Gorman would not seek another term. Before I made my decision, I spoke with several of the current board members to get their perspective on what it’s like to serve on the board and the issues our school district is facing. Since then I’ve participated in Strategic Planning Focus Groups, attended School Board Meetings and talked with many Tredyffrin voters.

  • Please list any other stances you have on educational practices/policies that you feel would be appropriate for your description:

    Local control of the schools: Our current school board has advocated for local control of the schools, and I agree with this position. Unfunded federal and state mandates drive increased taxes without necessarily improving our particular circumstances. While accountability in public education is desirable, the testing requirements of No Child Left Behind are putting increasing pressure on teachers to “teach to the test.” Thousands of schools have responded to the math and reading testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind by reducing class time spent on other subjects. The T/E school district teaching staff has addressed the NCLB requirements at several board meetings and expressed concern that the NCLB requirements could result in increased state or federal intervention with the result of lowering standards in T/E. Currently T/E far outperforms other school districts, and this success is a result of local control rather than state and federal mandates.

    Bullying: Bullying and relational aggression is a concern. According to a recent Pew Study, about one third of teenagers have been targets of online bullying. Yet despite the high percentage of teens experiencing online bullying, 67% of teens surveyed still said that bullying happens more offline than online. Eliminating bullying is an issue I care passionately about since it has a serious impact on student’s emotional health and on the safety of our schools. Every student deserves the right to learn in safety and without harassment. Implementing anti-bullying programs can increase the safety of our schools and create a better environment for learning. T/E is taking this issue seriously and has introduced programs such as The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. If you talk to the parents of any middle-school aged girl, you’ll quickly realize this is still a large problem in our school district. While no program can completely eliminate bullying, addressing the issue has been proven to reduce incidents of bullying by up to 70%.

    Globalization: As globalization increases, the job market has become more competitive. I have a firsthand perspective on the way technology and globalization are impacting the economy. When I worked at Travelocity I saw many of the programming and call-center jobs outsourced to India. I understand the need for students to have the preparation and training necessary to compete in a rapidly changing job market. Offering foreign language, technology and science classes is particularly critical.

  • What do you feel you have to offer that the other candidates will not be able to do? (or what can you do a superior job on?)

    My most obvious difference is age. As a representative of “Generation X”, I would certainly bring a unique perspective to the School Board. While the other candidates in Region 2 have children in high school and college, I am just starting my family now. This is one of the strongest reasons I care so much about long-term strategic planning for our school district. I want to ensure our schools stay top-ranked for a long time to come, so that I can send my children to them in the future.

    The biggest differentiator is my background and expertise in technology. When I participated in the Strategic Planning focus groups for T/E, I noticed that online-education (cyber learning) and technology challenges came up frequently in the discussions. I’ve used my technology expertise to help other non-profits in our area, and I believe it would be an asset on the school board as well. I am a technology and marketing professional with experience managing multi-million dollar budgets and negotiating business development deals. I have worked in management positions at four successful dot-coms, including Travelocity and Expedia.