The Wayland School Committee voted Friday to hire former Newton superintendent David Fleishman to lead the Wayland school system, finalizing the board’s decision to replace Superintendent Omar Easy, who members placed on leave in February amid mysterious and controversial circumstances — and without public explanation.
The unanimous vote to enter negotiations with Fleishman to serve as acting superintendent from July 1 through June 30, 2024, when Easy’s contract expires, essentially closes the chapter on Easy’s tenure.
The School Committee will continue to pay Easy, who has alleged he was the victim of racism, to stay on administrative leave until his contract expires. The current Acting Superintendent Parry Graham, previously Easy’s assistant superintendent, will leave the district in July to become Lincoln’s superintendent.
Fleishman spent 12 years as superintendent of Newton, a significantly larger district than Wayland at 12,000 students. He also previously served as superintendent in Chappaqua, N.Y., and as assistant superintendent in Wellesley. Committee members were impressed with Fleishman’s experience and the reviews from his references.
“I actually kept asking references for something, ‘Is there anything negative to say?’” member Jessica Polizzotti said. “I talked to a variety of people, the people he provided as well as a bunch of other people, and I could not come up with anything. Everyone kept consistently saying he was fantastic.”
The committee interviewed four candidates in addition to Fleishman: Natick Deputy Superintendent Timothy Luff; departing Lincoln-Sudbury Superintendent Bella Wong; outgoing Weston Superintendent Midge Connelly; and retired Stoneham superintendent John Macero, who withdrew his candidacy before Friday’s meeting.
Committee members praised all four candidates but quickly settled on Fleishman. Committee Chair Chris Ryan called Fleishman during the meeting and said Fleishman agreed to proceed with contract negotiations.
The committee members did not refer directly to Easy, but said they needed someone who could “hit the ground running” given the district’s “situation.”
“David was pretty straightforward about viewing this as a one-year thing and that he would come in to help us for a defined period of time,” said Vice Chair Ellen Grieco.
A couple of members had qualms about the size differential between Newton and Wayland and worried that Fleishman was too focused on staff over students.
“Our staff do need that kind of support, so I guess I feel like having someone really experienced come in and approach it that way might be really, really helpful to us,” Grieco said.
Easy, Wayland’s first Black superintendent, faced a series of controversies in his year-and-a-half tenure, including tension with some administrators and the teachers union and accusations he bullied subordinates over the alleged mistreatment of a Black teacher by white colleagues. He also faced overt racism, including someone spray-painting “OMAR = [racial slur]” in large, white letters next to the high school.
After Easy threatened to file a discrimination complaint in February, the committee placed him on leave.
Easy then filed the complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, detailing a litany of allegations. The commission is still investigating. Among other accusations, the complaint says an outside investigation into Easy’s conduct exonerated him, but the committee has not publicized that fact.
Easy’s lawyer, David Brody, declined a request for comment.
Easy has said the district hired him to make changes and help it live up to its pledge to become antiracist. During his time in office, he stood up for the district’s few Black students and teachers, responding to racist incidents in ways that sometimes generated controversy, according to the complaint and multiple interviews with families and staff.
The district hired an outside law firm to investigate allegations that Easy bullied subordinates at an October meeting where he discussed issues including teacher-on-teacher bullying, according to attendees, but they have yet to release any findings.
Polizzotti on Monday said she was concerned about how the district could afford another superintendent’s salary in addition to Easy’s salary. Easy’s contract calls for a base compensation of $215,000 in the coming school year.
“Does this mean we’re cutting teachers?” she said.
“I think it’s more important to have a stable plan in place for our district with leadership,” said member Jeanne Downs. “And then we work the money part out.”
During public comment Friday, resident Jeff Sklar said the district should only hire an acting superintendent at will, given it is still paying Easy.
The town has been divided over the controversy. Some say racism is the problem, and a school district resistant to change. Others blame Easy’s management style.
At School Committee meetings this week, some residents expressed concern at the secrecy as to why the board placed Easy on leave.
“I don’t want Wayland to be a town where a person of color doesn’t want to move here,” said John Ballam, a Wayland resident. “How can the community heal if we don’t know what happened? We can’t.”
But other residents have backed the School Committee. Sejal Srinivasan said she trusted the School Committee to make the right decision, as its members are the only ones who know the full context of what has transpired.
“We as the public just don’t have all the information and we probably never will,” she said. “We need to trust these are all elected officers that we elected.”