Everett School Committee appoints interim school superintendent with deep experience and deep ties

Superintendent Priya Tahiliani was put on leave while complaints against her are being investigated. Supporters say she was “set up,” and the school committee swiftly appointed an interim.

By Liz Neisloss WGBH News

The Everett School Committee Thursday night chose the current head of Everett’s board of assessors to serve as interim school superintendent.

Williams D. Hart – a former community college administrator with deep political ties in Everett — steps in for Superintendent Priya Tahiliani, who was put on paid administrative leave Monday pending an investigation into complaints from ten unnamed school employees, including bullying and favoritism. Supporters call the superintendent’s removal politically motivated.

Hart received an “emergency” superintendent’s license from the state less than two weeks before the school committee voted to put Tahiliani on leave.

Minutes into Thursday night’s meeting to discuss interim candidates, school committee member Jeanne Cristiano nominated Hart. Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, who had led the charge to sideline Tahiliani, swiftly signaled his support.

“I know we all know Bill, and we all love Bill, OK? And we need somebody to fill a void for a short period of time, and he can definitely do that,” said DeMaria to his fellow school committee members.

Hart previously taught at Bunker Hill Community College where he also worked as vice president of communications and headed the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges, which represents the state’s 15 community colleges. He has also served on Everett City Council and the city’s school committee.

While no names had been formally raised in advance of the meeting, Hart was already sitting in the room and was invited by the mayor to speak.

“I’m not commenting on what came before me or what may come after me, I’m just telling you we need to keep focused, and if we don’t do that we will lose great strides,” Hart said.

William Hart speaks to the Everett School Committee just before his appointment as interim school superintendent while behind him a member of the public holds a sign of support for Priya Tahiliani, Everett’s school superintendent who was placed on leave. City of Everett Community Television.

What came before is a batle between the current school superintendent and the mayor that has played out publicly over the past three years.

Monday’s move to put Tahiliani on paid administrative leave was the latest twist in a byzantine situation involving clashes between the mayor and Tahiliani over hiring, school spending, the curtailing of her powers, and the redevelopment of a former school.

The mayor blames Tahiliani for encouraging a student walk-out protesting racism. Tahiliani has filed a lawsuit against DeMaria, the city and the school committee claiming racial and gender discrimination, and workplace retaliation including allegations surveillance cameras were installed in the ceiling of her office.

Tahiliani’s forced leave likely ends her tenure in Everett; her contract expires at the end of February and was not renewed after a push by the mayor not to extend it.

Her supporters – including parents, community groups, students and teachers – have called to keep her in her post.

Damain Allen, who has two children in Everett’s schools, praised Tahiliani’s work. He cited support for non-English-speaking students and parents, and her expansion of summer programs but said her “biggest accomplishment was energizing a student body and giving them agency.”

Allen said he viewed her ouster as the “result of a long pressure campaign.”

“Maybe she did too much to help the underserved in Everett and some felt excluded,” Allen said. “There are a litany of reasons I have heard for why she isn’t a good fit, but the ultimate answer is the mayor deemed her unacceptable, and he had the right people in the right place to make her exit inevitable.”

The mayor through his spokesperson declined to be interviewed on the topic of the superintendent.

Tahiliani also called the vote to put her on leave politically motivated and questioned its timing. The vote occurred just one week before local elections, which could bring a new school committee in January potentially less aligned with the mayor. And despite not having her contract renewed, Tahliani has expressed an eagerness to be rehired as superintendent.

“I think this is definitely about making sure that I’m removed. You know, before any changes could potentially be made otherwise,” Tahiliani said.

The Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents gave Tahiliani its president’s award in 2022 for her outstanding service to public education. After Tahiliani was sidelined this week, MASS Executive Director Tom Scott was blunt: “The manner in which the school committee handled this goes contrary to how it occurs in other districts. This felt like a setup.”

Tahiliani said she has not seen the complaints against her and was given no information before the vote to put her on leave. Robert Galvin, the school committee attorney, informed the school committee Monday night there was no requirement to remove Tahiliani during any investigation.

The complaints against Tahiliani were brought directly to city hall’s human resources department rather than to Everett Schools’ human resources team or the teachers union. The mayor told the school committee meeting that those employees had come to city hall because they were fearful of retaliation.

“You had ten employees who feared coming to the HR department in the school,” DeMaria said to the school committee members Monday night. “Let’s get this investigation going.”

Tahiliani said she’d been told the report of complaints had been “crafted by Everett City Hall” and noted that Everett School Committee Chairman Michael Mangan is also an employee of city hall which she said “clearly demonstrates the clear conflict of interest.” Mangan did not respond to a request for comment.

Tahiliani, an Indian American, is the first person of color to serve as school superintendent in Everett, leading a school district where nearly 85% of the school population are students of color but the majority of teachers are white.

She was hired in the wake of the removal of longtime school Superintendent Frederick Foresteire who was convicted of indecently assaulting three female school department employees. He’d served nearly 30 years in the job, and Everett school employees said he’d created a culture of nepotism and fear in the school system.

Tahiliani said she’d been hired to transform that culture and in making changes angered those who had been sidelined or passed over for promotion.

“Now that I serve in the role and do not support the cronyism and nepotism that have ruled here for decades, will not turn a blind eye to bad behavior and will not engage in bad behavior myself, this city and school committee are accusing me of being hostile,” Tahiliani said.

A letter signed by more than 50 teachers called on the school committee not to put the superintendent on leave saying “the action is not justified.” The letter also called on the school committee to end the current search for a new superintendent.

Everett’s teachers’ union has also raised concerns about the impact of removing Tahiliani on the students and the school community.

Juan Solaremos, an Everett High school junior, was among those who held signs of support for Tahiliani Monday night.

“She gives a voice to those who traditionally haven’t been heard in our district, those students and teachers of color,” said Solaremos. “She gives parents a voice. She will take time out of her day to respond to emails at 2 and 3 in the morning, because she’s responded to me.”

He and other students said her departure would be a blow to cultural change in Everett’s schools.

“I feel like we are taking a step back,” he said.


Re-printed with permission of WGBH News. The preceding article, in its entirety by Liz Neisloss, appeared on WGBH News.

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