For the first time in 30 years, school doors opened across Wantagh, Seaford, and Levittown, and Tonie McDonald wasn’t there welcoming students in.
McDonald retired this spring from Levittown schools — a system she not only made her career, but received her education from as well. She essentially dedicated her whole life to Levittown schools, growing up in the community, and serving every position possible — student, teacher and administrator.
But there was a time when McDonald was the new superintendent on the block. And now she passes that gavel to a new district leader who also is no stranger to the community — Todd Winch.
“It’s wonderful to hand this district that I love so much over to someone that I trust and respect,” McDonald said.
Those aren’t platitudes. McDonald and Winch do know each other — quite well, in fact. The two taught in Levittown classrooms for a number of years before working their way up into the administration.
“She just cared so deeply for this community,” Winch said of his predecessor. “She left a tremendous legacy — one that’s very hard for me to live up to.”
Few if any would doubt Winch’s readiness for the job ahead of him. He started teaching at Division Avenue High School in 1995, tackling social studies subjects ranging from government, economics, psychology and sociology. During this time, Winch and McDonald served as co-advisors to the student council, and Winch also served as the advisor for Levittown’s model congress.
“Our careers had really been intertwined for 27 years,” Winch said.
After a few years teaching social studies, Winch led his own department on the subject for Wisdom Lane Middle School beginning in 2003. Just a few years later, he moved to the administrative building — formerly known as Levittown Memorial High School — to become assistant director of pupil services, before taking over the top spot there in 2009.
But then Winch left Levittown, taking over curriculum instruction as an assistant superintendent for neighboring Plainedge. But he returned to Levittown five years later to take on a similar role there.
And that’s where Winch remained — until Tonie McDonald decided it was time to retire.
Winch still lives in his hometown of South Huntington with his wife and two daughters. He graduated from Walt Whitman High School in 1990, and then got his bachelor’s degree in history from Stony Brook University in 1994.
He also holds a master’s degree in liberal studies from Stony Brook, which he got by attending night class while teaching at Division Avenue.
Winch’s calling to educate came to him in high school, when he taught Sunday school at a local church.
“A parishioner told me that I’d be a really good school teacher,” Winch said. “Prior to that, I wanted to be either an archaeologist or a meteorologist. But then I went right into education after that conversation.”
Initially, Winch was leaning toward teaching elementary school kids. But his love for history was too strong, leading him down the path toward social studies.
Now that he is in charge of Levittown schools, Winch is happy his personal educational philosophy aligns perfectly with the district.
“We need to make sure that we provide many opportunities for our children,” Winch said. “Opportunities that meet their needs and interests. There are a lot of varied pathways to happiness and success. There isn’t just one route to it.”
What Winch loves most about Levittown schools is its sense of community. Despite having students from three different communities — Wantagh, Seaford and Levittown — Winch feels there is a very distinct “Levittown school district” identity made up of caring teachers, administrators, students and parents.
“We work hard to ensure that there is a Levittown school district community, not just Levittown itself,” Winch said. “We mix events with the two high schools to foster a unity among our students, no matter what ZIP code they’re coming into.”
General Douglas MacArthur High School pulls students from Wantagh, Seaford and Levittown, while Division Avenue is purely Levittown.
It is a new era for Levittown public schools in more ways than one: A new superintendent, and the first normal academic year since 2019.
Todd Winch, however, is up to the task, ready to face it all head on.
“One thing Covid taught us is that technology can’t replace everything,” Winch said. “There is a tremendously important component to education, and that is human interaction. All of the magic happens in-person.”