New Supt. Priya Tahiliani had found herself on the pages of the newspapers long before being spotlighted for landing the job as the new Everett superintendent – a job that hasn’t been open for 30 years or more.
In fact, last year, she and another woman filed a lawsuit against Boston Public Schools (BPS) – her former employer- for a lack of equity in pay. It was a high-profile suit and it is still outstanding, but it is a suit her attorney at the time said was a “brave” step forward due to the fact that she sued her employer over a potentially touchy situation.
The suit indicates that several members the administration in BPS, who were men, made more money that Tahiliani for the same, or lesser, work. The suit indicated that the issue had been brought up in writing and orally several times since 2017, but her attorney said they decided to file suit as a last resort.
While many might consider having an ongoing lawsuit against one’s employer as a negative for a job candidate, some on the School Committee have said it likely could be a plus considering the environment the new superintendent is coming into. With the former superintendent embroiled in criminal charges, and many in the district with divided loyalties, it will take a fair amount of bravery to lead Everett into the 2020 school year.
Tahiliani said she can’t speak to the specifics of the case – which call for equitable pay and back pay for the potential lack of equity – but can speak to her reasoning for filing it.
“It is no secret pay inequity is a thing,” she said. “If I’m not willing to take action and stand up for what I feel is right, who will? It’s a significant thing to challenge. It’s so much easier to go with the status quo. Unfortunately, there are times you need to challenge structures to create change. I don’t think I could do that when I see that 50 percent of the girls in Everett Public Schools or Boston Public Schools will be entering into a workforce, and I want them to feel they’re valued as much as anyone else.”
Tahiliani said the suit does seek to right a wrong that was done to her specifically, but she affirmed the decision to file the suit came for the benefit of everyone coming up behind her – including men.
“Sometimes I think men get a bad rap on this because many want to see these things change as well,” she said. “There are structures put in place that need to be pushed on…You have to make an active decision to bring that challenge. I’m not doing it for myself or just for women, but men who want to see the change too. Everyone should be allowed to go to work and feel valued as much as the person next to them.”
That experience will likely play strongly into her favor as she potentially begins to lead the Everett district in the aftermath of a difficult year with the former superintendent resigning among allegations of sexual harassment, and the process to choose the new superintendent being wrought with controversy from those within the district and City government.
“That may be one of the few areas where it may be helpful not to be from Everett,” she said. “There could be a level of distrust if I was. Part of my mission is to build trust and relationships going in…It’s very intentional work to create a culture where people believe in that. It is a huge challenge, but I know how important it is to be a trustworthy person.”
She said she would be open to people who challenge her system and her structures, something that she did in the lawsuit. Her job, she said, is to create a culture where those voices can be heard and responded to rather than shut down.
“Like with that lawsuit, my voice and everyone else’s voices are important,” she said. “I would never question anyone for questioning the system. It’s good and it’s healthy. At the same time, I can still work in the system and be successful. There is a culture that is created with that, and I think I’m the right person to do that in Everett.”