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February 08, 2012 | 08:22 AMLINN — Mary DeYoung said she was a little nervous taking the district superintendent's job at Traver School in 1992.
"I think I did have trepidation taking this job because I've never been good at public speaking or presentations," DeYoung said. "I'd just prefer to stay in the background, so I kind of surprised myself when I took on a leadership role."
What may surprise some is that DeYoung, 57, is retiring this June. Last week, Traver Principal Craig Collins confirmed he will become the school's new superintendent.
But recently, DeYoung accepted her moment in the spotlight. She discussed her career, why she's retiring and what she will be doing in the future.
Her reasons for retiring are close to home. When DeYoung explained it, tears welled in her eyes.
"Last May, my youngest sister died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm," she said. "I have one sister left and I want to be with my family. It just kind of hit home (and) it was just time. There are other things I want to do more."
But the last 20 years proved to be a critical period for Traver and the evolution of education. DeYoung helmed Traver through two building projects and helped provide students and teachers alike wireless Internet access.
"When I first started, we had maybe a roomful — maybe 10 or 12 — Apple IIes, those computers with the green screens," she said.
DeYoung may have arrived at Traver in the era when chalkboards were on the way out and dry erase boards were coming in, but she's leaving now during the burgeoning age of smart or "interactive white boards" as she calls them, iPads and laptops.
"We are now, today, a dual-platform school, meaning we have both Macs and PCs," DeYoung said. "Our kids in grades 5 through 8 carry laptops and take them home."
She said helping put such technology in children's hands is one of her major accomplishments.
"And hopefully, along the way, I've touched a life or two," DeYoung said.
At least one can be accounted for.
Recently, Badger High School student Gabrielle Regner sent DeYoung a special message with a notice that she received a "Badger Stripe."
"I would love to thank you for being a great inspiration to me during my years at Traver," Regner stated. "I truly appreciate everything I was taught. You may not have been a teacher, but I really learned a lot from you."
DeYoung was at a crossroads of sorts prior to her arrival at Traver.
Originally from La Crosse, where she completed work for her undergraduate and master's degrees, she taught in Sparta. After 10 years there, she went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 3-1/2 years, she received her doctorate in educational administration.
"When I finished my Ph.D., I did three interviews," DeYoung said.
Two of them were for professor positions involving subjects in which she didn't feel experienced.
"I had always strongly believed if I was going to teach something, I'd have to have done it first," she said.
The third interview was, of course, at Traver.
"My intent was to stay here three years and find a better job, but I realized there wasn't a better job," DeYoung said.
It was a fresh start, she said, adding with a laugh it was like "you take a job and the first day you're like what the heck do I do?"
But being in an administrative position such as DeYoung's, the question isn't entirely inappropriate. Although Traver's a rural school, being its district superintendent requires oversight in several aspects — not just education, but teaching, staff and the budget.
"Twenty years ago, it was pretty wide open," she said about the budget, adding there were no levy caps. "Then, in 1993, that's when the QEO (Qualified Economic Offer) came in and we started with the levy limits and the salary caps."
Being a district superintendent at Traver was one title for many things. DeYoung also was Traver's principal. She conducted teacher evaluations, handled disciplinary issues, set the curriculum and was the business manager.
All this for someone who would rather remain in the background.
But the way DeYoung explained it, she didn't really have to step into that spotlight too much. She said it's her philosophy to play to her strengths, and to let others do so as well.
"I didn't have to have people know that I have power here," DeYoung said. "I did and everybody knows that anyway. But I have it because I give some of that to other people."
She said she believes you have power by giving it away, "but if it comes down to making a decision, I'll make it."
Above all, it's a team effort, but there's something to be said for picking people to play on the team.
"I only have one goal and that's to provide the best education for the kids in Traver," DeYoung said. "It takes a lot of people to do that. Hire good people and you get good things."
The staff and the students are two aspects of the job she said she will miss once her retirement begins.
But she has time to let it all sink in.
"That will be the hardest part, when school rolls around next year," DeYoung said.