WILMINGTON -- In her interview Thursday night for the position of superintendent of schools, Mary DeLai said she'd been joking to friends that this might be the last job interview she ever goes on.
It will be the last, at least for a while. In a unanimous vote less than two hours later, the Wilmington School Committee appointed DeLai, currently assistant superintendent of finance and administration in Reading, to be the town's new schools chief.
Subject to contract negotiations, DeLai will start July 1, replacing retiring Superintendent of Schools Joanne Benton.
DeLai's interview is what persuaded some School Committee members that she was the right pick over fellow finalists Mary Lou Bergeron, Lawrence's assistant superintendent of administration, reporting and compliance, and Michael LaCava, principal of Chelmsford's Harrington Elementary School.
DeLai has worked in Reading since 2004. Before that, she worked as a grants manager for the state Department of Environmental Protection and in various analyst positions. Unlike the other finalists, she has no classroom experience.
DeLai said she knew that aspect of her background could be a concern, but she didn't think her role was to critique teachers' instruction.
"My job is to make sure they have the tools and the resources they need to be successful," she said. "I need to be able to create that trusting relationship between me and the buildings' principals as well as the support staff and teachers."
DeLai said she also hoped to build relationships with parents and would attend extracurricular events.
"A lot of what you learn about what people's concerns are, happens when you're sitting next to them in Row D, Aisle 5," she said.
Committee member Manny Mulas said he'd been leaning toward Bergeron until DeLai's interview, when he was impressed by the Reading administrator's direct, thorough answers.
Julie Broussard said she was sold after the answer to one question.
She had asked DeLai to "walk us through" how she would handle a situation where there was an intruder at the high school. DeLai's response included contacting the School Committee members, directing communication with the press, analyzing security vulnerabilities after the fact and bringing in post-trauma support for staff and students.
"I wrote down here, 'Best answer of the three,' Broussard said.
M.J. Byrnes had originally favored Bergeron, but voted for DeLai to make the decision unanimous.
Byrnes said Bergeron seemed more knowledgeable overall.
"I'd like to see someone who could just jump right in to where Joanne is leaving off in this district," Byrnes said. "Do we have time for Mary DeLai to make that learning curve? I think so, but I guess you could say I have my reservations."
Other members praised DeLai's resourcefulness and countered that a move to Wilmington from Reading would be less of an adjustment than one from Lawrence.
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