The Newton School Committee gave Superintendent David Fleishman high marks for his guidance of the school district through a tight budget, teacher contract negotiations, special education restructuring, and the arrest of an elementary school teacher on child pornography charges.
As committee members look toward the launch of another school year, they also highlighted issues they hope to tackle with the superintendent in the coming months, including burdensome student activities fees, the pressure of increasing enrollment on existing school zones, the desire and cost associated with full-day kindergarten, and the lack of minorities in school leadership roles.
The committee discussed the superintendent’s draft evaluation Monday morning and representatives hope to meet with Fleishman later this month to go over the points. The feedback from the evaluation will lay the groundwork as the school committee and Fleishman negotiate a new contract.
Fleishman’s current contract expires in June 2013. He earned $254,573 last year.
There is “overarching, overwhelming support” for Fleishman, who has been the leader of Newton Public Schools since the spring of 2010, said Claire Sokoloff, the school committee chairwoman.
School committee members praised Fleishman for successfully helping negotiate teacher contracts and developing new teacher evaluation guidelines that require more frequent evaluations, unannounced observations of teachers, and continuous growth plans.
Newton Schools also expanded its middle school special education program so that more students can be taught in the district, instead of being sent to regional programs.
Many school committee members gave Fleishman good grades for his management after the arrest of David Ettlinger, a 12-year veteran of the district, who is facing federal and state charges related to his alleged assault of three girls and alleged participation in a global child pornography network.
After Ettlinger’s arrest, Fleishman met with parents and teachers numerous times and brought in outside counselors. The district also expanded its background checks and will crosscheck new employees against a sexual-offender database.
But as the Ettlinger case illustrates, the district needs to improve its communication with parents, said School Committee Chairman Geoffrey Epstein.
Parents raised concerns about Ettlinger’s behavior with students, but most of those were handled at the school level and failed to reach central office administrators.
The district plans to hire a community engagement and communications manager that should help with parent and public outreach, school committee members said.
Several committee members also said they want to see the school district more thoroughly integrate technology into the curriculum and use data. The district developed a long-term technology needs list earlier this year, but funding it has been a challenge. A proposal to sell the naming rights to high school spaces to raise money for technology appears stalled.
Beyond the evaluation, school committee members said other issues also deserve further discussion, such as the activity fees. Last school year, fee collections increased by 33 percent to $2.3 million, irking many parents who had to pay for their children to participate in sports, high school drama, fifth-grade instrumental and other activities.
Steven Siegel, a school committee member, said he wants to see less of a reliance on fees, especially since some of the afterschool activities are academic and are part of educating a child.
Those activities should be part of the budget, Siegel said.
School Committee Member Angela Pitter-Wright urged Fleishman to come up with
diversity goals for administrative and teaching positions and partner with local colleges to bring more minority student-teachers into Newton classrooms.
“In Newton we’ve gone from seven African-American principals to zero minorities in principal positions and no administrative representation except at the high schools,” Pitter-Wright said in her individual evaluation.
Considering the variety of issues that Fleishman will face in the coming year – such as planning for school replacements and renovations and implementing the new teacher evaluations – school committee members said they hope the superintendent will keep his focus on student achievement.
“A bunch of really big problems are being solved,” Epstein said. “I fear that will dominate a lot of David’s time.”
Still, school committee members said they felt Fleishman would balance all the district's needs.
'We really have a lot of faith in him," said Diana Fisher Gomberg, a school committee member.
Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org