Orange, Petersham superintendent leaving Tuesday after 7 years

  • Superintendent Tari Thomas and Principal Scott Hemlin hand out diplomas to graduating seniors at the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in a drive-by graduation ceremony held last month. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Tari Thomas, superintendent of Mahar, Orange and Petersham schools, is shown in 2014. RECORDER FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/29/2020 4:35:27 PM

ORANGE — When Tari Thomas announced in April 2019 her plans to step down as superintendent, she never could have imagined what the next 14 months had in store.

The world had not yet heard of COVID-19, and the ensuing global pandemic and preventive measures put in place have created unprecedented times. It is not the way Thomas wanted to walk away from her job as superintendent of Ralph C. Mahar Regional and Orange and Petersham elementary schools, but she acknowledges it is the hand she and the educational community have been dealt.

“It’s hard to leave a position when you have so much planning and uncertainty and emotions at the surface,” she said last week. “It’s kind of bizarre that we’re living through this right now.”

Tuesday is her final day, wrapping up seven years on the job. She grew up in the Berkshires and said the North Quabbin region was an ideal setting for her.

“I’m especially fond of Franklin County and the people there, and how much they value their community and their children,” she said from her home in Amherst.

Thomas, 58, said she is moving to the White Mountains region of New Hampshire, where she will serve one year as the interim superintendent for the five school districts of SAU 35 (School Administrative Unit). She said she is intrigued by the idea of moving to a community to bolster a school district in the short-term and she may want to continue that line of work when she is done there.

“It dawned on me that I still had a lot of caring left in me,” she said. “So I threw my hat in the ring and found myself with a job pretty quickly.”

Peter Cross, a longtime Mahar School Committee member who became chair at the same time Thomas became superintendent, said Thomas will be sorely missed.

“It has a been a pleasure (working with her). I have enjoyed pretty much every moment of it. I think she’s done a wonderful job,” he said. “I know she did not expect to retire in this fashion, but I think our school is better for her having been there.”

Cross said Thomas has hired many high-quality administrators during her tenure. Thomas will be replaced Wednesday by Dr. Elizabeth Zielinski, whose most recent post was superintendent at Oxford Public Schools. Cross said he is confident Zielinski will take the reins seamlessly.

Thomas said she earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from Lesley University in Cambridge and completed advanced graduate studies at Northeastern University in Boston.

She said she started her career in Naples, Maine, where she taught various grades and eventually moved on to Lenox Public Schools. She was later principal at Shutesbury Elementary School for five years and at Clifford M. Granger School in Agawam for the same amount of time. She also served as assistant superintendent of Ralph C. Mahar Regional and Orange and Petersham elementary schools for two years before being promoted to superintendent.

Thomas said she plans to keep her home in Amherst and rent an apartment in New Hampshire for a year.

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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