The head of the Newton school system, one of the largest in the state, announced on Thursday that he is stepping down at the end of the school year to take a job running Jewish Vocational Service in Boston.
David Fleishman will take over as chief executive in July at JVS, one of the biggest workforce training nonprofits in the Northeast.
Fleishman broke the news in an e-mail to Newton parents on Thursday afternoon, in which he called being the city’s schools superintendent “the privilege of a lifetime.”
“While very different from a school district, the core mission of JVS aligns with my personal and professional commitment to advancing issues of economic and social justice through the lens of education, skill development, and support,” Fleishman wrote.
Fleishman, who has led Newton’s schools for 12 years, is the latest in a string of superintendents of major local school districts to step down. Along with the pandemic, Newton has been wrestling with nearly $4 million budget shortfall, and Fleishman had proposed cutting 39 positions to close the gap and eliminating 14 more due to declining enrollment.
At a School Committee meeting Wednesday night, officials announced a $1.5 million one-time infusion of cash from the city for pandemic-related expenses and $164,000 in budget cuts to help narrow the deficit. This will allow the schools to reinstate about 20 full-time positions, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said Thursday night.
“These include elementary literacy interventionists and math intervention aides at all elementary schools, two and four teacher teams at the middle schools, and secondary school guidance counselors,” Fuller said in a weekly newsletter to residents.
Fleishman said Thursday that the timing of his departure is unrelated to the district’s money issues.
“I’ve been a superintendent for 12 years, which is a wonderfully long time,” he said in an interview. “This isn’t the first time we’ve had budget challenges in Newton. … It was really about me being really excited to take on a dynamic position at JVS for an organization that does terrific work.”
Fleishman said, though, that the last two years have been a trying time for anyone leading a school district.
“Being a superintendent, you always make hard decisions,” he said. “I think those have been magnified during the pandemic, and there is no question about that. Superintendents have been on the front lines during the pandemic, and it’s really challenging.”
Mike Zilles, president of the Newton Teachers Association, said the timing of Fleishman’s announcement was “odd, because we’re in the middle of these budget cuts and … a new School Committee, with a new chair, and a lot of public airing of disagreement, which is unusual. Our school committees have not historically done that a lot.”
Zilles said, though, that he thinks it is a good time for new leadership in the district, chosen by the new School Committee. He said it is difficult for anyone to remain a superintendent for a tenure a long as Fleishman’s.
“It’s a very hard job, and you’re dealing with lots of controversy,” he said. “And over a 10-year period, the conflict itself creates camps … and it becomes harder for someone to navigate that over a long period of time.”
Newton City Council President Susan Albright said she wishes Fleishman well in his new job and that ultimately the timing of his departure isn’t that important.
“When somebody in the leadership decides to leave, it’s always a disruption, so I don’t think it matters,” she said. “There’s always something going on. He did probably what he needed to do, and the timing worked out the way it did. … We’ll be fine.”
Fuller congratulated Fleishman Thursday, saying his new role at JVS “aligns perfectly with his deep commitment to education” and praising his accomplishments as superintendent.
“David is rightfully proud of instituting full day kindergarten and making real strides in embracing diversity, equity and inclusion as well as constructing three new elementary schools and transforming NPS with 1:1 technology,” Fuller said in a statement. “Perhaps his greatest legacy will be his gift for recruiting and hiring exceptional educators.”
At JVS, Fleishman He will be replacing longtime chief executive Jerry Rubin, who is retiring at the end of this month after a 15-year tenure in which he tripled the organization’s size. JVS now has a budget of $20 million, employs about 200 people, and helps at least 16,000 people each year, many of them adult immigrants.
Rubin also helped build the organization’s reputation as a leading workforce training center. While its name reflects its origins helping displaced Jews who came to the US in the 1930s, the mission was expanded over time to help a broad range of immigrant groups, starting with the Vietnamese who settled in Dorchester in the 1970s. Nearly half of the group’s current revenue comes from government funds, while most of the rest comes from donations and philanthropic grants. Just under 10 percent of its revenue comes from employers paying for services.
Joe Zeff, chairman of the JVS board, said the organization will be overseen by its existing executives and board members in the interim period between Rubin’s departure and Fleishman’s arrival. Zeff declined to say how much Fleishman will earn in his new job. (Rubin earned base compensation of $252,000 in 2020, and another $44,000 in other compensation.)
“From the beginning, we were looking for someone who could articulate a great, grand strategic vision for JVS, somebody who is passionate about our mission,” Zeff said. “In coming to know David, we learned just how driven he is by his passion for learning [and] his passion for furthering the cause of social justice and equity. ... We know we can’t clone Jerry. We never set out to find a carbon copy of Jerry that we could just slot in [but] there is massive opportunity for JVS as an organization to build on the successes we have had.”
Fleishman will be leaving a much bigger organization in Newton, where he oversees a budget of $252 million and about 2,500 employees. He’s had the Newton job for 12 years, but is intrigued by the opportunity to start a new chapter in his career. He said he’s excited to take the reins at JVS, which runs the state’s downtown Boston MassHire career center, at a time when so many companies are having a hard time finding workers and there’s such a premium placed for retraining, to help fill all the open jobs.
“We have this tight labor market, this intense focus on job and wage quality,” Fleishman said in an interview. “To me, that is just an incredible opportunity. ... I consider it a pivotal moment for JVS, and that really excites me [and] I look at this as a wonderful opportunity to contribute in a different way.”
Fleishman is the latest in a string of superintendents of major local school districts to step down in the last year or so. Along with the pandemic, Newton has been wrestling with a $5.2 million budget shortfall amid declining enrollment and last month said it may need to cut up to 74 positions.
John Hilliard of the Globe staff contributed to this report.