Supt. Candidate Tahiliani comes with significant ELL experience
On Wednesday, December 4, the superintendent search committee presented a Q&A with candidate Priya Tahiliani at the Everett High School. Tahiliani is one of four finalists for the position currently occupied by Interim Supt. Janice Gauthier.
In previous public meetings, community members expressed that the ideal candidate for superintendent would be community-oriented, bilingual, open to feedback, professional and communicative.
Tahiliani, at least on paper, appears to fit the bill. She has worked as an administrator and educator for Boston Public Schools (BPS) for two decades, and is currently the Assistant Superintendent for its Office of English Language Learners (ELLs). In addition to teaching certificates, she has a master’s degree from Harvard and is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in urban education leadership.
“I am unbelievably privileged to be considered as a finalist,” she said to a small crowd in the high school’s auditorium.
In her introduction, Tahiliani spoke about what qualified her to run a district with such a high number of English Language Learners (ELLs). She explained that she herself had been an ELL while growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, the daughter of Indian immigrants. After college, she then went on to teach English as a Second Language, English Language Arts, and inclusion in middle and high schools for 15 years. She has worked for the ELL Office of the BPS since 2016.
“In Boston we have 26,000 current and former English Language Learners,” said Tahiliani. “In our department, we oversee teams that support instruction for ELLs, and translation and interpretation for the district.
“One thing I’m most proud of with the [ELL] population is the increase in parent engagement and access,” she continued. “Our parent engagement activities have tripled. We have [also] reappropriated funds for our ELLs in order to best support our students.”
Tahiliani discussed her doctoral dissertation, which explores teaching students with limited or interrupted formal education. ELL students often fall into this category, as education in the country of origin may be limited and immigrating to a new country can cause a significant disruption in studies. She said that part of her job involves explaining to immigrant parents what American education looks like, what their rights are and how they can advocate for their students.
Tahiliani said she chose to apply for the Everett position because the racial demographics are similar to Boston’s, but also because EPS has demonstrated an investment in the arts and technical vocational experiences.
“Those experiences make [students] more well-rounded, marketable, and open to different career and college opportunities,” she said. “It’s important for us to be exposing them to as much as we can.”
Tahiliani also said she was drawn to the close-knit nature of the EPS community. On that note, she added that she could empathize with the district’s hesitation to accept a candidate from the outside. BPS has had two superintendents in just two years, and a previous one from Los Angeles.
“With an incoming person, the anxiety is palpable. I would not want to disrupt [your stability],” she said. “I would want to learn and build on what you’ve done here and help the district progress.”
When questioned how she would handle being embroiled in Everett’s energetic local politics, Tahiliani said her “thick skin” made her uniquely suited to tackle it head-on. She explained that part of her current position is to engage with different stakeholders such as City Councilors; people from DESE; the Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights; and attorneys from the Multicultural Education, Training and Advocacy.
“Politics are hard, but nothing is as hard as teaching,” said Tahiliani, adding that managing a classroom of children with diverse needs and personalities is similar to balancing the interests of multiple stakeholders.
School Committee Chair Thomas Abruzzese asked Tahiliani how she planned to balance being a full-time superintendent of schools while also pursuing her doctorate. She said that she has been successful so far in balancing the demands of a full-time job with her personal life, which includes raising two young children. To maintain equilibrium, she only takes one class at a time and said she is willing to put her studies on hold in order to fully transition into the new position.
Regarding her management style, Tahiliani said collaboration and communication were key. She alluded to using this approach to solve problems, from addressing a negative work climate at one of the schools to implementing new classroom practices at the district level.
“It’s important to tap into the knowledge that [senior employees] have, to draw on the expertise of people who have been there,” she said. “I like to engage with everybody, making your team feel like a community. It would be my hope to join your community.”
Tahiliani’s public Q&A can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube. In addition, she invites members of the public to email her at [email protected] with any additional questions.