The Next Step: Superintendent Search Committee Puts Forwards Four Candidates

In a contentious meeting of the School Committee on Nov. 13, the Superintendent Search Committee reported out four finalists – all from outside the district – and the School Committee accepted that report by a vote of 7-1.

Only outgoing member Lester MacLaughlin voted against it.

Interim Supt. Janice Gauthier was very emotional at the conclusion of the meeting and said she was hurt by the fact that she couldn’t even get an interview after 49 years in the district.
School Committee Chair Tom Abruzzese defends himself against attacks during the unveiling of the four finalist candidates as superintendent. The contentious meeting focused on the fact that no internal candidates were forwarded.

“I want to thank everyone for the incredible amount of time and dedication you put forward,” said School Committee Chair Tom Abruzzese. “The Search Committee got these candidates from a pool of 22 applicants. The next step is for the School Committee to take charge of the process by receiving the report and planning for the next step in the process.”

There has not been a search for a new superintendent in more than 30 years, and the search became necessary one year ago when allegations surfaced of alleged sexual misconduct of the former superintendent. That led to criminal charges filed against him in a pending case, and also led to his resignation and the formation of a Search Committee. Last summer, the process began in looking for a new superintendent of schools, and the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) was contracted to help with that. A total of 15 members were chosen for the Search Committee, and they spent more than 300 hours deliberating on the process and the larger candidate pool in order to get to the point of reporting out candidates last week.

Those candidates include:

•Thomas Flannagan – Chief Academic Officer, Providence Public Schools. He has been a teacher, special educator and administrator in Virginia and now in Providence. Prior to that he was Deputy Chief of the Division of Specialized Instruction of the Washington, D.C., public schools. He has met all the requirements for the job, and this week has finalized his superintendent’s licensure in the state of Massachusetts.

•Todd Stewart – Superintendent Fellow, Worcester Public Schools. A former teacher and principal in the Worcester Public Schools, Stewart will receive his doctorate in educational leadership from Harvard in the Spring of 2020. He was recruited into the program based on his successful work with faculty. In his current position, he is working with the administrative team in Worcester Public Schools.

•Priya Tahiliani – Assistant Superintendent, Boston Public Schools. Currently working on her doctorate, Tahiliani has academic credentials from Harvard and Boston University. She currently oversees the Office of English Language Learners, having spent almost 20 years as an educator and administrator in Boston. She is bi-lingual and known for her excellent communication skills and her understanding of students at risk.

•Paul Toner – Senior Director of Policy and Partnerships, TeachPlus. Toner has a long record in the classroom and working with teachers and school leaders in the state. He took a somewhat non-traditional but highly relevant course to the superintendancy. He served as president of the Mass Teachers Association and earned for them a seat at the policy making table. Being president of the MTA involves considerable administrative management and oversight, exceptional ability to understand and communicate with diverse constituencies and direct work with teachers. He was educated at Boston University, and UMass Boston. He has a law degree from Suffolk University also.

The School Committee and MASC are now working on the next steps in the public process, which will likely include public interviews and meetings with teachers, staff, City Hall officials and other stakeholders. Each candidate is expected to likely do a one-day visit to the community to meet and begin to understand the schools.

However, beyond the announcing of candidates, there was a great deal of controversy that followed.

As the matter came to a vote, MacLaughlin said the process should be re-set and had been stained by Abruzzese.

“I thought this would be an unbiased search for the superintendent and yet the unbiased alleged chair of the group made a statement in the paper that he would hire an Everett candidate only over his dead body,” he said.

Abruzzese quickly retaliated, saying he never said that and the quote was made up by a local newsletter in town.

“I never made that statement,” he said. “You’re quoting from an article that wasn’t true. It’s a statement I never made. I’m not going to debate the issue. What are you questioning?”

“I’m questioning the bias of the process,” said MacLaughlin. “I think the process has been stained by your comments.”

“That’s interesting; let’s go back in time,” said Abruzzese. “Who is the person that nominated me for the chair?”

“I did,” said MacLaughlin.

“This is out of order,” said Abruzzese. “I have no idea where this is coming from. You haven’t even seen the report yet and you’re questioning it?”

“That’s right,” said MacLaughlin.

That spilled into a vote, where the report was received by a vote of 7-1, with MacLaughlin against it.

Member Marcony Almeida-Barros said he supported the report, and was a member of the Search Committee as well.

“As a member of this Search Committee, I am really encouraged to have been part of the Search Committee and am pleased with these four candidates,” he said. “I am glad the entire Search Committee decided to move forward.”

Said Member Frank Parker, also a member of the Search Committee, “This I the result of not one individual making recommendations, but 15 people who took this serious and gave a lot of time…It is the work of 15 people and not one person.”

Member David Ela, who was not re-elected earlier this month, said it was his last and most important vote.

“My hope is things will move for the better in the community,” he said. “My time and days in this seat are coming to a close. If this is one of the final things I do as a School Committeeman, it is one of the best things I’ve done on the Committee.”

Mayor Carlo DeMaria, who appeared as an ex-officio member of the School Committee, said he was unhappy with the process. He said he would have liked to see internal candidates in the mix, and was unhappy that no internal candidates were interviewed.

“As the mayor, when people from Everett apply, we always give them the courtesy of having an interview if they are a candidate,” he said. “I think you did a disservice. You have the Interim Superintendent who spent 40 years in the school system and you didn’t give her an interview…I am a little bothered by that.”

It has been stated that Interim Supt. Janice Gauthier, Asst. Superintendent Charlie Obremski and Academies Director Omar Easy.

Gauthier responded emotionally to end the meeting on Wednesday, which was very uncharacteristic of her time over the many years.

“The process was done the right way; I have no complaints about it,” she said. “I do feel hurt because I stood up at a time when this City needed somebody to step up. I always have stepped up. I’ve got 49 years in this district and I couldn’t get an interview. I was born and brought up in Everett. I stood up all the time and I couldn’t get an interview. That’s it. I said my peace.”

Said Abruzzese, “It’s not who hasn’t been interviewed, but who has been chosen.”

Kim Auger, president of the Everett Teachers’ Association and a member of the Search Committee, said they had no comment on the internal candidate squabble. However, she said they will look forward to working with all four candidates.

“We look forward to working with all four candidates and having our members be able to listen to their ideas and be part of the process,” she said.

The School Committee will soon put out schedule for the next step in the process.

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