by Sarah Wei, Managing Editor
photo courtesy of NPS
After 12 years as superintendent of Newton Public Schools (NPS), on April 7, David Fleishman announced that he will be leaving the district at the end of the school year to become president of Jewish Vocational Services, a nonprofit organization that provides career services to the Greater Boston area.
During his decade-long tenure, Fleishman oversaw the remodeling of several school buildings, the 1:1 computer initiative and, most recently, the navigation of the district through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fleishman said that a key focus for his administration has been providing students with adequate resources to thrive at school.
“Whether it’s mental health or academic support … our district continues to improve as the needs of students change,” he said.
During Fleishman’s tenure, NPS established the Department of Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in 2020. The department, composed of administrators from across the district, investigates and implements efforts to combat racial discrimination. The addition was a key step to addressing issues of inequality in NPS, Fleishman said.
“I’m also proud of how we’ve been able to embrace diversity and equity inclusion in a really thoughtful way. We certainly have a lot of work to do, but our focus on racial justice district-wide, as well as having an excellent DEI department, is something that I’m really proud of,” he said.
History teacher Brian Murray said that these endeavors have created a large shift in South’s culture
“As a classroom teacher, it’s pretty clear that he’s been moving the district in a particular direction in terms of social-emotional learning and trying to make the curriculum more inclusive,” he said. “You can see some significant, if not massive changes, in the school.”
An essential part of the superintendent’s role is interacting with students and teachers directly, Fleishman said. He said that this responsibility was important in fostering a welcoming learning environment.
“I love engaging with students and educators. I’ve really enjoyed working with really passionate, smart and committed adults who care deeply about students,” he said. “I’m proud of a lot of the relationships I’ve made with people because at the end of the day, education’s a people business, and we want to make sure that people feel connected in school.”
English teacher Deborah Bernhard said that Fleishman’s appreciation for educators is apparent.
“He remembers people — he can meet you once and he knows your name. He knows where you work out of 30 schools. He’s very personable in that way … when you interact with him, you feel like he knows who you are.”
Fleishman said that another key part of his job is resolving issues, especially those with conflicting points of view.
“People have very different perspectives on what education should be,” he said. “For certain issues, it’s hard to get consensus, and that’s just a part of the job you always have to do — collect lots of information, get advice, but at the end of the day, you’re often the decision maker and that’s hard because you can never please everybody.”
Math department head Alex Kraus said that it is essential for the next superintendent to be thoughtful about these complex decisions.
“There is always a really fine balance that one needs to strike when coming into a leadership role. Everybody comes in with their own preconceived notions about how you do something effectively and how you do it well,” he said. “I will be paying a lot of attention to how [the next superintendent] finds a balance between … their own priorities and vision and being a good listener and learning about the community before [they] take any major steps.”
Some NPS community members said that they hope the next administration will improve on communication.
Junior Willa Foster said that the administration should provide students with more information and opportunity to voice their opinions.
“There’s a lot of stuff that happens behind the scenes and gets put out, and students are like, ‘What? This isn’t better for us. We’re not happy with this,’” she said. “I wish there was more communication between the superintendent and students’ wishes because these are policies that are affecting our lives.”
These issues also extend to district parents, South parent Christine Lecesse said.
“Communication with the parents is something that I would really love to see improved,” she said. “I would love for it to be a little bit easier to get information from the schools. I feel like things are so disparate.”
New leadership means the opportunity for growth in these areas and in NPS as a whole, Fleishman said.
“It’s been a privilege to be in the job, but I think change is good for organizations, and I think change is good for individuals as well,” he said. “I’m optimistic about the future of the Newton Public Schools, and I’m grateful to have worked with so many terrific people and gotten to know so many wonderful students.”