Unanimous Decision: School Committee Selects New Superintendent

A unanimous vote most of the time signals that everyone is on board with the decision.

That might be the case with the School Committee in their 7-0 vote on Thursday, Dec. 19, for Priya Tahiliani, but it doesn’t mean that the rest of the community is board. After the decision, and even beforehand, there was a great deal of dissatisfaction with the choice.

School Committeewoman Millie Cardello voted in favor of Priya Tahiliani (photo left) to be the new superintendent of schools during a Special Meeting on Dec. 19. Looking on were School Committee-elect members Cynthia Sarnie and Samantha Lambert. The choice came one year after former Supt. Fred Foresteire resigned amidst conflict about his conduct. Tahiliani received a unanimous vote of the seven members that showed up, but still will need to successfully negotiate a contract.

Before the vote, many – including Mayor Carlo DeMaria and School Committeeman Lester MacLaughlin – disparaged the process as it didn’t contain any internal, Everett candidates.

After Thursday’s choice, many took to social media or other platforms to say they wouldn’t support the new superintendent, with others saying the school system had “been given away to a graduate student,” alluding to the fact that Tahiliani is still working to complete her doctorate in education – though she is a licensed superintendent.

“To the naysayers, good luck,” said School Committee Chair Tom Abruzzese. “Believe me, I’m completely at peace with this whole process right now. Priya Tahiliani will prove all the naysayers wrong. I’ll stake my reputation on that. I think I’m a pretty good judge of people and I couldn’t be more happy with the selection. Priya has tremendous energy, a lot of experience, and going back to the public meeting at the Parlin Library, most everybody said they wanted a former teacher. At our meeting on Dec. 14, when she talked to us, it was a teacher talking to us. I think that’s vital. I think the superintendent and administrators still are teachers and should not be so distant from teaching. She came across that way to me, and obviously I wasn’t alone.”

School Committeeman Frank Parker said Tahiliani was a great choice, and people should try to get on board and support her. He said comments that she is a “grad student” just aren’t correct.

“Of the internal candidates, Mrs. Gauthier doesn’t have a doctorate, and Charlie Obremski doesn’t have a doctorate,” he said. “Dr. Easy has a doctorate, but it’s in philosophy with a minor in educational leadership. Ms. Tahiliani in her current role as assistant superintendent…went into a hostile environment and yet three years later when you talk to her colleagues they say she has done a great job…She can do the same in Everett if people are willing to cooperate…She is part of a lawsuit challenging inequality of pay and at the same time we’ve had three MCAD complaints against us for harassment. Maybe if we had the courage that Priya had three years ago, we wouldn’t be in this situation today.”

Councilor Michael McLaughlin said he would support the decision, but is disappointed with it.

“I have watched the process from afar and have been very disappointed throughout the process,” he said. “Although I thank the 15 volunteers who served on the Search Committee, I absolutely believe it was a mistake to disqualify any individual currently working in the school system based on the past in which they were not directly involved in. These individuals that were considered insiders of Everett are individuals that have dedicated their whole entire lives to the City of Everett and having a positive impact on countless amounts of children’s lives including mine throughout the Everett public school system. After decades of positive employment they were not qualified to at least have an interview in my eyes is shortsighted leadership for our community.”

He said, though, he will support Tahiliani in her new role.

“We as a community should come together now and support Ms. Tahiliani; it’s a fact that if she is successful as the new leader of the school system the students will be the benefit of this transition.”

Mayor Carlo DeMaria, who had been an outspoken critic of the process to choose a new superintendent, posted on Facebook last week his support of the new choice. He also thanked Interim Supt. Janice Gauthier for her work in stepping up over the past year.

“It is with great pleasure and honor to welcome Priya Tahiliani as the new Superintendent of Everett Public Schools,” he wrote. “I look forward to working closely with her as we continue to grow and develop a strong school system for our community.”

Jessica Gold Boots of the Everett Educational Coalition (EEC) said she felt those looking to discredit Tahiliani before she arrives are misguided.

“I think that would be very misguided because I think all three candidates were vetted by more than 350 hours of work by the Search Committee,” she said. “They wouldn’t have been put forward if not qualified. If people are saying they won’t support her, I am very disappointed. This isn’t about looking back, but moving forward and giving Ms. Tahiliani a chance. It’s time to move on, especially since before this, Everett was led for 30 years by an alleged sex offender.”

She said it isn’t a job for life, and she hopes the School Committee will do their due diligence and make sure Tahiliani lives up to expectations.

There were rumors that the Everett Teacher’s Association (ETA) was disappointed with the choice, but President Kim Auger said that wasn’t the case. She said they support the choice and will work with Supt. Tahiliani.

For her part, Tahiliani said she won’t fight against the sentiment, but work to gain trust. She said she has been in the situation before at Boston Public Schools where others didn’t agree with her being chosen. Likewise, she said she has also found herself on the other side of the argument, where she didn’t agree with a choice made by others.

“Basically, I don’t want to dismiss that,” she said. “It’s a valid feeling for those folks that were not considered and those that folks that supported them…I’m coming in and trying to communicate with them and build relationships and trust…Unfortunately, I’m not here to question the decision of the School Committee, especially with everything everyone has been through. I thought they made an important decision and I’m here to try to work with those who may be unhappy with that decision.

“My hope is these people will stay and want to be part of this new thing, even if it wasn’t exactly what they expected it would be,” she continued.

Abruzzese said the decision is put in context, as one year ago this week, the former superintendent resigned amidst a flurry of accusations – leaving the School Committee to put the pieces together for the past 12 months.

“People are going to have concerns,” he said. “Even with this selection, there are naysayers criticizing our selection. All I can say is a lot has happened in a year and I think we’re ending 2019 on a high note, and on a much better note than the end of 2018.”

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