Since being chosen as the new Chelsea High School (CHS) Principal last March, Priti Johari has been serving on an interim basis and learning the ropes.
This month she has taken those ropes and turned them into reins and is ready to drive the City’s high school further down the right path.
In a surprise move during spring vacation last year, long-time Principal Joe Mullaney announced that he was going to step down from his position for personal reasons – mostly to spend more time with his family.
That left a vacancy that Superintendent Mary Bourque quickly filled with the up-and-coming administrator Priti Johari, who has only been at CHS for a short time, but has shown a great deal of promise.
After learning all she could from Mullaney since last March, this month she officially took on the principal duties.
“There’s definitely a learning curve for me, but Joe really helped me with the transition,” she said. “I have taught and grew up in very diverse areas and I think that’s why it’s so exciting working in the community of Chelsea. I think I grew up with a similar background to the students and families in Chelsea. When the job opportunity came up, it just felt right. Now, I’m transitioning from the district redesign role to the principal role. I’m really looking forward to building more relationships with parents and community members this year.”
Already, she’s compiling a leadership team, including bringing on Assistant Principal Sean Tamarisk and Special Education Coordinator David Zimmer.
And while there is a blossoming new story unfolding at the high school, Johari, 34, has quite a storied path that she travelled before coming to Chelsea three years ago.
By and large, that story is steeped in education.
Johari’s parents immigrated from India to Michigan, where she was born, in order to pursue graduate studies.
“Both of my parents came here from India, but my Dad came explicitly for graduate school,” she said. “They are so supportive of the education and opportunity in this country. They have deeply ingrained in me the value of education and how it allows you to control your own destiny.”
Though she was born in Michigan, Johari grew up in the San Jose, CA area – eventually teaching English at the very high school that she graduated from.
That public high school was also very important to her father, Johari said, and her family’s insistence on public schools is largely what steered her to pursue urban public education as a career.
“My dad always explicitly believed in going to public schools,” she said. “He thought it was very important to go to your community’s public schools and learn from your peers. He didn’t want to pull me out and put me in a bubble. I think learning from everyone and going to a community’s schools allowed me to learn from a diverse group of people. That was important to my father and to our family – the idea that a village raises a child. I fully believe that it is a village, or a community, that raises a child.”
Johari left San Jose and attened the prestigious University of Chicago, but after graduating there she decided she wanted to go back to California. There, she took classes and completed a Master’s Degree in Public Policy at the University of Southern California (USC).
However, teaching was quickly becoming her calling and she decided to teach English – doing stints for four years at her old high school in San Jose and at a high school in East Los Angeles.
Her path to Chelsea came when she decided to pursue another Master’s Degree at the Harvard Graduate School Leadership program. She and her husband moved to the area and she even had a teaching position at the Boston Arts Academy for one year.
While there and at Harvard, she kept hearing Chelsea come up when urban public education was discussed.
“People pointed Chelsea out to me and said a lot of interesting work was happening here,” she said.
Johari has spent the last three years in Chelsea as the District Redesign Administrator – working hard to prepare CHS and the district for the new Common Core program. She also has been working on the PARC exam – which is associated with Common Core – that will be administered next year in the elementary and middle schools. CHS will implement it in 2018.
All of that hard work has been in an office, however, and behind the scenes.
Now, she will be out front, giving the speeches, meeting the parents, talking to community leaders and trumpeting the successes of CHS.
Already, before the year has even started, Johari has become a quick study in being able to point out successes. She said this week that the school received a very high pass rate last year for Advanced Placement (AP) testing – a program for which CHS has already received a national award.
“Nearly 400 AP Exams were administered this past school year and we had an impressive 48 percent pass rate,” she said. “As the principal, I Iook forward to supporting and deepening the work of our already established AP program.”