"We just feel like we're at home here," said Debbie Poffinbarger, who officially started as the superintendent of the Litchfield School District on Jan. 1. "The community has been very welcoming, and we just love this area. It's a neat place to live."
Poffinbarger was hired by the Litchfield School District last summer, and started as the assistant superintendent on July 1. Her focus was on streamlining and improving the curriculum, which remains her passion.
"As superintendent, I plan to keep moving forward with our plans for the curriculum," she said. "That's why we're here. Our job is to provide kids with the tools they need to succeed."
She replaces Jeff Strieker, who took a job in the Breese School District starting Jan. 1, to be closer to his family. He was with the Litchfield School District about a year and a half.
Poffinbarger grew up in Winthrop Harbor, which she said is "the cornerstone of Illinois – it is the very last city in Illinois before you fall into Lake Michigan and the last city before you cross the Wisconsin border." She graduated from Zion Benton High School and earned her undergraduate degree from Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.
After her graduation, she accepted her first teaching job in Dallas, TX, where she taught fourth grade in a school near the projects.
"I absolutely loved it," she said. "It was very challenging, but very rewarding. The kids were so loving. It was just a wonderful experience."
However, just before she moved to Texas, she met her future husband, Steve, and she returned to central Illinois in the 1980s to marry him.
"It was tough to find a teaching position at that time, so I spent three years out of the teaching profession, working for companies like Ameren," she said. "It was probably one of the best things to ever happen to me because it made me realize how badly I wanted to teach and I learned not to take the profession for granted."
She would get her first chance to jump back into the profession by filling in a one-year maternity leave, teaching seventh and eighth grade reading at Mt. Zion, but when the teacher returned, there were no other open positions. Poffinbarger found another job teaching second grade at Atwood-Hammond for three years before she got a job in Charleston teaching fifth grade reading.
"It was closer to where we lived in Mattoon," she said.
At the end of her first year there, she was working on her administrative degree, and was hired as the assistant principal in the same building where she taught.
"I spent 18 years with the district and was an administrator in nearly every building," she said. "I learned never to say no, and was promoted rapidly to other positions, gaining great experience."
When her son, Connor, had finished eighth grade and her husband was ready to retire, she decided it was time to make a change and accepted an assistant superintendent job in the Benton Elementary District, where she remained for four years until Connor finished high school. He is currently a student at Parkland College in Champaign majoring in Agriculture and has a golf scholarship.
Last year, Poffinbarger said she was intrigued by the posting for an assistant superintendent in the Litchfield School District. She liked the idea of being near family in central Illinois.
"I landed in Litchfield because of the folks on the administrative team sitting around the table during my interview," she said. "When I left the interview, I knew these were people that I wanted to work with."
Poffinbarger said she was most excited at the chance to really specialize in the advancement of the district's curriculum.
"Curriculum has always been my love," she said. "It is a passion of mine to ensure best practices are provided for kids and making sure each and every child finds the love of learning. It is very important for educators to learn how each and every student learns. I want every single one of our kids to flourish. My focus is on kids first. My passion runs deep in meeting the needs of the students."
She plans to continue with the curriculum efforts in addition to the regular duties of the superintendent.
"I have been so fortunate to have the experiences I've had and to have been put in positions that have allowed me to meet people who are so incredibly talented," she said. "My goal is to return that favor to kids."
Poffinbarger said she has really enjoyed working with Litchfield's administrative team and all staff members these past few months and she looks forward to continuing to build relationships within the school community as well throughout the community.
"The staff in Litchfield is incredibly talented," she said. "I love to listen to them talk about their day and hear their passions come through, no matter what role they play in the district. As for our students…we want each and every student to experience success and fulfill their dreams."