As the deputy superintendent for the Leominster schools, Maryann Perry worked for four superintendents in seven years and learned something different from each.
One of several lessons she learned from Dr. Anthony Bent, an interim superintendent for only one year, was that he always kept his door open. The other superintendents always closed their office doors. But Bent insisted that he and Perry keep their doors open. With offices directly across the hall from one another, they worked well together as a leadership team.
Now as Marblehead's next school superintendent, Perry plans to always keep the door to the superintendent's office open.
The petite dynamo, who laughs often, also promised to keep her sense of humor as she leads the staff to make Marblehead, one of the better school districts in the state, even better.
"Marblehead is an exciting place to be," Perry said in one of her first interviews since the once-fractured School Committee voted unanimously to have her replace Dr. Greg Maass. He resigned rather than work with the committee's turmoil and interference.
Perry said she was surprised when after seven months of coming to Marblehead that Maass, who had recruited her to be the assistant superintendent for curriculum, suddenly resigned.
"It was a shock," she said. "I never expected that would happen." But she concedes: "Things happen for a reason."
That reason may be that she is one of the best prepared school officials Marblehead could have hired.
Kathy Leonardson, the new School Committee chair, said Perry is "a very dynamic person. Very enthusiastic. She transmits that enthusiasm to other people."
In her brief time in Marblehead, she has earned the respect of the teachers and the School Committee, Leonardson said. When she and a group of teachers presented the new curriculum to the School Committee recently, the teachers gave Perry a standing ovation.
Asked about that ovation, Perry quickly said the new curriculum was the result of the teachers working well together as a team.
A Hands-On Superintendent
Perry came to Marblehead as an expert in curriculum development and she promises to be "a hands-on superintendent" on all curriculum issues. But her first loves are finance and grant-writing, she said.
At age 18, she was a summer intern in her mother's office as head of government relations for the Worcester schools. That summer she wrote her first grant application to the federal government for funding for an occupational education program.
"It was very exciting to write that grant application," she said.
She has gone on to win funding for community partnership grants, Title One grants, Reading First grants, each larger and more complex than the one before. The grant application writing also helped her build relationships with state and federal agencies and with other school districts.
She has also learned that some corporations, like Lowe's, have money to donate for education programs. And she intends to help Marblehead teachers apply for those small, but important grants.
She said she loves putting together school budgets, which she calls "interesting." And she said, "I like finance."
As the deputy to three of her four Leominster superintendents, she was often involved in all aspects of school administration, including developing the budgets, fighting the battles internally and with state and local government agencies.
"I think I am a perfect fit for Marblehead," she said, noting that she was trained as a special education program teacher. In school administration, "There's not much I haven't done," she said.
Leonardson said the School Committee, which is negotiating her contract, is excited about Perry because she has the same vision for the school district that the committee does.
"I look forward to working with her," Leonardson said. "I have seen her in action. She believes in the vision. She is a real team player."
That vision for the district, Perry sums up, is "putting kids first." She said she will follow the direction that Maass set, emphasizing collaborative learning, curriculum improvements and better use of technology. "We share the same core values," she said of Maass.
With a new superintendent and two new School Committee members, plus a new chairman, "It will be a fresh start," she said.
A Time to Heal
It is also a chance to heal, she said. "The community has said, 'It's time.'"
Leonardson said the lesson learned from the last few months is that leadership at the School Committee level is very important. Perry agreed. "We're here to be role models."
She said she looks forward to reading stories in the media about the Bell School garden (she can find Marblehead Patch's coverage here and here), Move Up Day in the elementary schools or the fine arts exhibit at the Grand National Bank, not about School Committee in-fighting.
She also believes it is the right time for her to be a superintendent. In the past, when her family was young, she had to pass up opportunities for advancement because she wanted to spend more time with her two sons. Now they are grown, one a guitar-playing musician, the other a left-handed pitcher for Assumption College.
"I only take one week off a year. That is the first week in March when I go watch my son play baseball," she said.
She knew accepting the superintendent's job was right when both sons called her to say, "I'm proud of you."
"I'm excited," she said, about being the leader of Marblehead schools.