WILMINGTON -- Faced with the challenge of finding a replacement for Superintendent of Schools Joanne Benton, who is retiring at the end of the school year, the School Committee on Tuesday night interviewed the first of three finalists.

Its 75-minute interview with Mary Lou Bergeron, Lawrence's assistant superintendent of administration, reporting and compliance, touched upon Bergeron's 34-year career in the Lawrence public-school system, her thoughts on technology in the classroom, the differences between Lawrence and Wilmington, and how she would handle recruitment and retention of high-quality staff members as well as how she would deal with an intruder in the schools.

Bergeron said in her opening statement that she wasn't looking to leave Lawrence, but when the district went into receivership in 2012, many of the tasks that had been handled by the School Committee and superintendent were moved to the receiver.

"I have a good job there and know everybody, but I feel like I was getting further and further removed from being in the classrooms," Bergeron said. "When the Wilmington job came up, I thought it was the right time to apply. It put me back in the place where I can refocus on my love and passion of getting in the classroom supporting teachers and administrators doing the job of working with children."

Bergeron said what sets her apart from the other finalists is the depth and breadth of her career.


"I've touched on every activity in the school system, from facilities management to working on budgets to curriculum. I have a wealth of varied experiences. I also have a strong background with construction, having been involved with the building of a $110 million high school campus for 3,300 students. I know what you're doing and what you're going to be doing over the next six to eight months to move into (the new Wilmington High School, which is being built) by next February."

Bergeron said her biggest weakness is impatience with wanting to get things done immediately.

In her closing statement, Bergeron again touched on her experience.

"I don't get frazzled easily. I'm pretty calm overall. I don't think there's much that could happen here that I haven't experienced or wouldn't be able to address it. I'd be really pleased to work in this community."

Five of the seven School Committee members will conduct the interviews.

Bergeron is the first of three finalists to interview for the position. The other finalists are Michael LaCava, principal of Chelmsford's Harrington Elementary School, and Mary DeLai, Reading's assistant superintendent of finance and administration. LaCava will interview Wednesday night and DeLai will interview with the School Committee on Thursday night.

Chairwoman Peggy Kane and committee member Kathleen Carroll have recused themselves from the search process, though both can still participate in public events, but nothing that involves a vote. Kane's daughter works in the district, as does Carroll.

The Superintendent Search Committee reviewed 17 applications from as far away as Colorado before naming Bergeron, LaCava and DeLai as its three finalists.

The School Committee aims to appoint a new superintendent on Thursday night, after conducting interviews, public meet-and-greet receptions and site visits with each of the finalists.