WILMINGTON -- On the second of three consecutive nights of interviewing finalists to replace Superintendent of Schools Joanne Benton, who is retiring at the end of the school year, the School Committee on Wednesday night interviewed someone who went through the town's school system.
Wilmington native Michael LaCava also attended classes a quarter-century ago in the Wilmington High School building in which the School Committee interviewed him.
LaCava, principal of Chelmsford's Harrington Elementary School, talked about his educational career and his qualifications to replace Benton during his 1-hour, 40-minute interview.
"I'm excited to be back in Wilmington," LaCava said in his opening statement. His parents still live in town, but he lives in Chelmsford while working at the kindergarten through grade 4 Harrington Elementary School. He outlined his 20 years of educational experience during his opening statement, including 12 years in the Gardner Public School system as band director at elementary, middle and the high school; and department head in charge of the music program in kindergarten through grade 12.
He has worked in Chelmsford since then, first as the fine-arts coordinator for the nine schools in the district; then as one of three deans at Chelmsford High School, where he supervised one-third of the 1,600 students who are enrolled there; and as interim and then permanent principal at the 500-student Harrington Elementary School.
"I have a wide range of experiences at all levels, I've been successful at all levels and I left each position in better shape than what I inherited, and I inherited some great positions from some great people," LaCava said. "I'm very happy in my position, but when I apply for a position, I want it to be a great fit. I'm from Wilmington. I went to Wildwood when it was grade 1 through grade 6. I graduated from Wilmington High School in 1987."
LaCava said his teaching and administrative experience at all three levels of a public-school system make him a unique candidate.
"Growing up in Wilmington and this school system, I know this town, the values of the town, and the people of this town. I think that's important to know. I've been through the system. I follow what's happening in the schools. Even though I don't know everything that's going on here, I know the past and I know the traditions."
LaCava said his move from Chelmsford High School to Harrington Elementary School raised doubts from other administrators in that town.
"People were skeptical of whether I could do the job. Whenever I go into a challenge, I know I have the ability because of my skills and what I can learn. Some of the feedback I got my staff as I got through this process is, 'We weren't sure. You listened. You learned. You not only met expectations, you exceeded them. You supported us. If you didn't know the answer, you got the answer. You got up to speed and we don't want to lose you.' That was a nice message to hear."
Mary Lou Bergeron, Lawrence's assistant superintendent of administration, reporting and compliance, interviewed on Tuesday night while Mary DeLai, Reading's assistant superintendent of finance and administration, will interview with the School Committee tonight.
Five of the seven School Committee members are conducting the interviews. Chairwoman Peggy Kane and 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 LaCava, Bergeron and DeLai as its three finalists.
The School Committee aims to appoint a new superintendent Thursday night after its interview with DeLai. The School Committee also held public meet-and-greet receptions with each finalist before the interview and previously conducted site visits with each finalist.