On Thursday, Dec. 19, the School Committee held a vote to select a new superintendent of the Everett Public Schools (EPS), choosing candidate Priya Tahiliani in a unanimous vote on the first round of voting.
Tahiliani required only a simple majority to clinch the nomination, but ended up as the candidate of choice for all School Committee members present. Members claimed not to have discussed their preferences with each other beforehand, making their decision all the more surprising.
“I am incredibly honored and humbled to have been invited into the Everett community,” Tahiliani told Independent following her win. “I plan to return that warm welcome by fully embracing this opportunity to serve the students, staff, families, and community members of this wonderful city.”
Chair Tom Abruzzese said he was surprised by the first-round, unanimous vote, and had been prepared for a battle lasting as long as midnight. All his preparations for a long, drawn-out affair were unnecessary in the end.
“A case could be made for all four,” he said. “That’s why I was surprised it was a unanimous vote. Going into it, I was supporting Priya in my mind, and that went back to the Search Committee. I probably interviewed her in October. She was in the back of my mind and came to visit Everett, blew everyone away here. Marcony (Barros) and Frank (Parker) went to visit her at Boston Public Schools, and when they went to Madison Park (High School), people still missed her and that was seven years removed. That’s the kind of person we’re talking about… I’m staking my reputation on this. I think I’m a pretty good judge of people and I couldn’t be more happy with the selection.”
School Committeeman Frank Parker said it will be a chance for the district to get a fresh start after a trying year.
“It’s time to get on board and time to move on,” he said. “Ms. Tahiliani has the full support of the entire School Committee, along with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC). We will do everything to see that she is successful.”
Kim Auger, president of the Everett Teacher’s Association (ETA), said they have already reached out to begin working with Tahiliani.
“The ETA has already reached out to Ms. Tahiliani and we certainly are in line with helping her take the best actions to ensure success for our students,” she said. “I think we were all surprised at the unanimous vote, but we are all supportive of Priya and are ready to work with her.”
Jessica Gold Boots, a Malden teacher and Everett resident who has been active in the Everett Education Coalition (EEC) this year, said she is excited to see Tahiliani picked.
“I personally, speaking only for myself, strongly felt Priya was the best candidate,” she said. “As a resident, I wrote a letter to the School Committee encouraging them to select Priya. However, as an organization, the EEC did not endorse any of the candidates because our mission is to bring information to those that may not have been in the conversation in year’s past.”
Only seven of nine School Committee members showed up for the vote to choose the superintendent – which is the most important function of the School Committee. Two outgoing members of the Committee, Lester MacLaughlin, of Swampscott, and Bernie D’Onofrio, of Everett, did not attend the meeting on Thursday. MacLaughlin had objected to the Search Committee and the process several times. After not getting support to re-start the process at a meeting on Monday’s meeting, he left even before getting recognized with a plaque for his service. He did not return.
Abruzzese said D’Onofrio had contacted him, noting that he had a very important meeting in Boston for his day-job at Bank of America. He was unable to break from that meeting to be present, but Abruzzese said D’Onofrio was willing had his schedule worked out.
He did not hear from MacLaughlin.
“I did not hear from Lester, and when he left the meeting Monday night, it was disappointing because after he left we paid tribute to him, but beyond that I can’t comment on it,” he said. “Amongst the duties and powers of the School Committee, hiring a superintendent is the most important thing.”
Tahiliani 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.
Earlier this year the School Committee teamed up with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) in its search to replace Interim Supt. Janice Gauthier, who took over for former Supt. Fred Foresteire in 2018.
The Search Committee consisted of School Committee members Tom Abruzzese, Marcony Barros, David Ela and Frank Parker; Councilor Fred Capone; Police Chief Steven Mazzie; Yrma Fiestas from the Everett Education Coalition; teacher and soccer coach Oswaldo Constanza; teacher Devon Abruzzese; football coach Theluxon Pierre; Teacher Union President Kim Augur; retired teacher Richard Liston; EHS Art Director Amanda Gil; Commissioner of the Election Department Dorothy Martin Long; and Fernanda Rocha, president of the Parents Advisory Council for Special Needs.
Following a series of interviews with 21 candidates, the Search Committee had put forth a list of four finalists to the School Committee. Others included Thomas Flanagan, the Chief Academic Officer for the Providence Public Schools, and Paul Toner, the Senior Director of Policy and Partnerships for Teach Plus. Todd Stewart, a Superintendent Fellow for the Worcester Public Schools, was originally on the short list, but removed himself from consideration at the last minute when he accepted another offer in Ashburnham.
The finalists were all well-qualified and had been rigorously scrutinized by the Search Committee, the School Committee, current EPS employees and members of the public at large prior to Thursday’s vote.
Pending a successful contract negotiation, Tahiliani will take over for Supt. Janice Gauthier in July 1, 2020.
School Committee Attorney Bob Galvin has already been in contact with her to begin negotiations. It is hoped she can come to the district to visit and become more familiar with the school system prior to the start of her contract.
Seth Daniel contributed to this report.