Q&A: The Globe sits down with Clayton School District’s new leader, Superintendent Dr. Mary Herrmann

Can you describe your background and where you have worked?

I have come most recently from the Chicago suburbs. I was working as a superintendent in Barrington, Illinois and then Winnetka, Illinois – both very high-performing school districts, similar to Clayton. I worked also as an assistant superintendent, a high school principal, an elementary principal, and as a school counselor, and teacher at the high school level. So quite a wide range of experiences.

How do you like your new position so far as superintendent of the Clayton School District?

Superintendent Dr. Mary Herrmann
Superintendent Dr. Mary Herrmann

I like it very much. I’ve been very impressed with the school district. I have been in a lot of different school districts in the Chicago suburbs, in Michigan, and then also in Wisconsin – I’m from Madison, Wisconsin originally – and I’ve been very, very impressed with Clayton. I spent a lot of time this summer with staff, observing professional development experiences, and in new teacher orientation, and it has been very positive. I’m just now getting an opportunity to get into the buildings because school just started, and I’m enjoying that very much.

In what ways is Clayton similar and/or different from the last school district you served?

It’s a very similar kind of community – a very high-performing, well-educated community. One of the things that is a little bit different from my most recent past experience in Winnetka is that Clayton has a high school, and I’ve really missed that. In the Chicago area, they have a different system of schooling where there are dual districts, so you have a K-8 district, and then you have a high school district. So I really appreciate being in a pre-K through 12 school district.

What does the future of snow days for the school district look like?

When I was in Wisconsin we would have eight to ten inches of snow, and we wouldn’t have snow days. I’m from up north, so it will be certainly a change. But, you know, I’ve talked to the superintendents and I’ve talked to all the people around here, and we make decisions based on what’s best for the particular situation, even though I may have a bias about snow days.

Are there any changes you plan to make in the district?

At this point, I’m still really learning. There is a lot to learn about how we do things and what’s working well. So I’m very much a part of that process of learning in all areas. As we have those conversations and I learn more, I’ll start to shape things. I think we do that by asking questions and then sometimes there are little things that we might consider or think about doing a little bit differently. But from a big picture perspective, I think that [Clayton] is a very high performing district, and there are a lot of really good things going on.

One of the things I want to do too is to really connect – and I used to do this with my former district when I was in Barrington. I had a large high school there, and I met with student groups every month. I formed a superintendent advisory council, which was great. I really enjoyed that. It’s really helpful; you learn a lot from the students when you have the opportunity to listen to student perspectives on how things are going – what’s working, what isn’t working, what are some suggestions for change.

What do you enjoy most about working in a public school district? How is it rewarding? How is it challenging?

I think all of us that work in public schools do so because we want to be able to make a difference; we want to be able to do something to positively impact the lives of young people. And seeing students grow and being able to experience that journey from pre-kindergarten all the way through high school is just exciting. It’s very fulfilling to be able to constantly keep the focus on students and what’s right for kids.

I think there are always a lot of challenges in schools. There’s so many different constituent groups that you’re always working with lots of different people to try to create the most effective journey for kids. It’s very rewarding, but it can be very challenging, as well, because people have different opinions on what works best.

Why have you moved from being a teacher to being a superintendent? What do you like best about this job?

I think you learn from every position you’re in, and in each job that I’ve worked in there have been some really incredible experiences. I moved into administration, first as a high school assistant principal, and then moved into the principal-ship. Making that change into administration, I was fascinated with how organizations work and bringing different people together and felt that I could make a difference at that level. I think now, I much more fully appreciate the contributions that a person makes at every level. So there isn’t one level of schooling or of an organization that makes the difference, it’s kind of everyone working together. Certainly the classroom teacher makes the biggest difference for the individual child, and all of us are supporting that effort in different ways.

What would you like for students to know about you?

I’m really interested in getting to know students. That’s very important to me and very rewarding. So I want to get connected, whether it’s through an advisory council or other kinds of things. And then I’m really open to student suggestions, questions, and concerns, and anything that people would like to share with me.