Schools chief Tari Thomas to retire

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Staff Writer
Published: 4/25/2019 10:57:09 PM

ORANGE — After nearly eight years on the job, Superintendent Tari Thomas has announced her retirement.

In a letter sent to colleagues last week, Thomas, superintendent of the Orange Elementary Schools, Ralph C. Mahar Regional School and Petersham consolidated school districts, said she is entering her last year in education, and her retirement will be official in August 2020. 

“It has been said that, when it is time to make the decision to retire, you will know it,” Thomas said. “For me, that time has arrived.”

Thomas has been superintendent of the three neighboring — and overlapping — districts since July 2011.

She is entering her 37th and final year as an educator, having started as a second grade teacher in rural Maine in the 1980s, then teaching in Lenox before becoming principal of Shutesbury Elementary School and then Clifford M. Granger School in Agawam. 

“This is a bittersweet moment for me, as I am saddened to leave colleagues and friends, yet excited and optimistic about the next phase of my life,” Thomas said.

“It has been an honor and privilege to serve as your superintendent for the past eight years with one more to go. Together, we have fought many battles on behalf of our students, overcome many obstacles and experienced many successes,” she added. 

As superintendent of three districts, Thomas was the lead administrator in the education of Petersham elementary school students, Orange elementary school students and middle and high school students from Orange, Petersham, New Salem and Wendell — around 1,500 students.

Thomas presided over an increasingly synthesized relationship between the three districts, administrating from a central office in Orange. 

Recently, she has advocated for regionalization of eastern Franklin County schools in a model that would add the Orange elementary schools and Petersham Central School — both of which she is already superintendent — to the Mahar district in order to “streamline” education and professional development. 

Thomas has also been a staunch advocate of further state funding for rural schools, which face high costs in areas like transportation compared to their urban counterparts. 

Her superintendency has not been without controversy, and a petition calling for her resignation was submitted to the Orange Elementary School Committee earlier this year.

The petition was rejected by the School Committee because there was no way to vet the signatures. But the petition centered on the treatment of former Fisher Hill Elementary School Principal Maureen Donelan, who was on paid leave for most of the school year before being fired, according to Donelan, with little explanation from administrators.

At one point, Donelan’s absence sparked protests in downtown Orange, where protesters called for the reinstatement of Donelan, who was cleared by the state of allegations of abuse and neglect, and Thomas’ resignation.  

In her letter, Thomas mentioned she is about to hit her full maximum benefit under the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System, and that school committees will be mentioning her retirement publicly. She also thanked the “truly special group of professionals” she has had as colleagues. 

“It has been an experience that I will always cherish and one that has given me a never-ending collection of wonderful memories to take into my retirement,” Thomas said. 

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268. 




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