Obituary: Peter Holland, Formative Figure In Belmont Education, Has Died

Photo: Peter Holland was Belmont school superintendent until 2008

Dr. Peter Holland, one of the most formative leaders in contemporary Belmont education, died recently, according to an announcement from Belmont School Committee Chair Meg Moriarty at its meeting on Tuesday, April 23.

The former Belmont schools superintendent, who lived in Lexington, was in his 80s. A memorial service will be held on May 11 at Saint Brigid Parish, 1981 Massachusetts Ave., in Lexington.

“He was an innovative and progressive thinker,” said Moriarty.

“It is so sad. [Holland] was truly a wonderful man and administrator,” said Anne Marie Mahoney, who had just been elected to the Belmont School Committee before Holland was hired in 1988. “Peter was so thoughtful, so creative, so fair.”

Holland matriculated at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, receiving a master of science in 1970. He began his teaching career as a physics teacher at Mount St. Joseph High School in Baltimore. He earned a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1984.

Holland was hired as Belmont School Superintendent in 1988 following the controversial tenure of Dr. William Carey. Holland would ultimately spend 21 years at the helm, during which Belmont’s schools took major steps in earning a first-rate academic reputation regionally and nationally.

Speaking to Paul Roberts in 2008, Holland recalled that “Belmont was a really good school district when I arrived. But I think we’ve taken it to a different level.” Working with his long-serving assistant Superintendent Pat Aubin, he implemented state education reform in the district and enacted the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which he was not a particular fan of.

“The level of academic work is terrific. I think a lot of that has to do with the teachers, alignment of the curriculum, good staff development, and that’s all under the direction of Aubin. She’s done a masterful job with instruction and assessment. All four of those areas have to be aligned. Pat’s accomplished that.”

One universal praise during Holland’s tenure was his ability to hire the right person for the right job. His effort to fill the Chenery Middle School with young teachers energized the building and resulted in decades of solid educational gains.

“[Holland] was good at hires. He hired really good principals, really good coordinators and directors and they stayed forever. And he supported them. His administrative council was very cohesive and just worked beautifully. He was good at letting people do their jobs. It was awesome,” said Mahoney.

“Peter was involved with every hire,” said Moriarty. “He learned their names and something about them, so when he saw them in the hallway, he could always greet them by their names and mention something special about them.”

By the end of his incumbency, the number of AP courses taught at the high school had jumped from 5 to 26, the number of National Merit finalists had doubled, and approximately 50 high school students had achieved 800 perfect SAT scores by the early 2000s. Those achievements were later recognized by the state and published in publications. In 2009, US News and World Report’s annual Best High Schools in the US edition ranked Belmont as the 100th “best” high school in the US, trailing only Boston Latin in Massachusetts. (This week, Belmont was ranked 383rd out of 25,000 high schools nationally and 16th in Massachusetts which is the top state for high school education.)

Holland also brought his unique leadership talents to the district. One of his first acts as superintendent was reorganizing the central administrative office with new staff while cutting $100,000 from its budget line. He demonstrated his leadership prowess in successfully navigating two significant events in 1995: a teachers strike in January and a fire that closed the Chenery Middle School in July.

“He was just calm. It was like he was saying, ‘Everything’s great. We’re gonna get through this,'” said Mahoney.

He also established Belmont’s participation in the LABBB Collaborative, the cooperative special education program, and championed Belmont’s participation in the METCO program. While Belmont was a member of METCO, he didn’t believe it was an active member. This led to his founding the METCO Superintendents Group, which fought for equitable state funding.

Holland was especially proud of the level of students who participated in community service. When he left in 2008, 10 percent of Belmont High students received the Presidential Medal for volunteering up to 100 hours in the community. A week after his death, nearly 200 student athletes converged on Belmont Cemetary to prepare the grounds for Memorial Day.

“He felt good that students were involved with the wider society,” said Moriarty.

His involvement in Belmont education extended beyond the district office when, in 1993, Holland co-founded the Foundation for Belmont Education. As of 2024, the community group has provided $4.25 million in grants and assistance to finance more than 900 projects that support teachers and programs in the Belmont district.

The Belmont High School Library is named for Holland, who generously donated to its operation a few months before his death.