School committee members in Everett, Massachusetts, have voted not to renew superintendent's contract, raising questions about the reason for their decision to seek a new leader.
At an Everett School Committee meeting Monday night, students, parents and community members spoke in support of Priya Tahiliani, but members voted 6-4 against extending her beyond the next year.
"What we know is the impact she has made in such a short amount of time since her tenure on the lives of the students and the community, especially in the context of access and equity," said Rev. Myrlande Desrosiers of the Everett Haitian Community Center. "There was no explanation, nothing that would justify that decision. I think it's a tragedy."
Tahiliani became the first person of color to lead the Everett Public School District in 2019, taking the helm just before the COVID-19 pandemic started.
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She was awarded the President's Award by the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents in 2022 for her courageous leadership.
MASS Executive Director Thomas Scott described her as "Somebody who is bright, competent, visionary and has a certain set of principles in terms of students and student outcomes."
"She has left a mark for someone who has been in that job for so few years she has certainly left an impression on people," Scott continued.
Six school committee members, including Mayor Carlo DeMaria, voted against renewing her contract.
"What kind of puzzles me is the last couple years, the committee as a whole has voted proficient, meaning she is doing a good job. I can't understand it," said Committee Chair Mike Mangan. "I think she's done a really good job and deserved the contract extension, and I'm disappointed."
"What I took from it is we told people that you can do all the right things, you can, in fact, be exceptional, and it's still not enough," said School Committee member Samantha Lambert. "It's only made harder when you are a woman, especially a woman of color."
Lambert voted in favor of renewing the contract.
Last year, the Boston Globe reported that Tahiliani had filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, accusing DeMaria of "blatant and overt acts of discrimination and retaliation" against her, alleging racism and sexism.
Those who voted against Tahiliani's contract being renewed seemed to suggest the superintendent was responsible for intimidating and retaliating against opponents.
"I'm sick of the bullying and intimidation," School Committee Member Millie Cardello, who voted to oust the superintendent, said at the meeting. "My vote tonight is going to be totally based on what I know, what I feel, in my heart, is the right thing to do, not because anyone has promised me anything, threatened me with anything."
Committee member Cynthia Sarnie also claimed she experienced bullying and harassment in her comments before the vote.
DeMaria echoed those sentiments in a statement to NBC10 Boston Tuesday.
"I make decisions about school related issues based solely on what I think will benefit students and their families. When Everett selected a new Superintendent in 2019, the city needed someone who could bring positive change and create a new culture of trust and collaboration that was free from fear of retaliation," DeMaria wrote. "Unfortunately, over the past couple of years individuals have shared with me examples that show that these goals have not been realized because we still have a culture in the district where collaboration and different views are not embraced completely. I hope they now feel free to come forward and share their experiences more broadly without fear of intimidation or retaliation. My individual vote at last night’s school committee meeting reflects my commitment to ensuring that all of our students and their families, teachers and staff deserve to be fully represented and have a positive experience in the district."
The other committee members who voted against renewing the contract did not respond to requests for comment.
"We certainly are having issues with superintendents of color in many communities in terms of their leadership role. It is a major concern to us that many of our superintendents of colors and leaders of color are viewed and treated differently and we certainly feel that is a serious issue that needs to be addressed statewide," said Scott.
"It begs the question, it justifies what people have been saying for a very long time. It becomes a culture of our city," said DesRosiers.
"A lot of people feel like Priya has been put in an untenable political environment, which has really been detrimental to what's in the best interest of kids," said Scott. "I hope the city of Everett begins to take a serious look at itself in terms of what needs to be done here … This is an injustice, there's no question in my mind, and for many others, and hopefully that there is an opportunity for self-reflection and think about the decision they have made."
Tahiliani did not respond to requests for comment.
"My desire to continue serving as the superintendent of Everett Public School is as strong as ever," she said during Monday's meeting. "I am energized by our work and our team. The pride I feel for what we have accomplished is exceeded only by the optimism I have for the future and I cannot speak with any more certainty when it comes to my dedication to Everett Public Schools."
Tahiliani's current contract ends in March of 2024.
"I want you to know I am more motivated than ever to work tirelessly on your behalf," she said Monday. "When I think about our district, I see endless opportunity not an ending and to the committee I think an extension will allow us to continue the work we’ve started to meet our immediate and long term goals. I am committed to improving our relationships, accepting and adapting to the feedback you provide me and working in partnership. I promise to grow as a leader with your support and guidance."