Newton schools chief fined for use of Patrick’s words
The superintendent of the Newton public schools was docked one week’s salary by the city’s school board Thursday for his failure to credit Governor Deval Patrick in two graduation speeches he delivered last month.
A week after the superintendent in Mansfield resigned amid complaints of plagiarism, Newton’s superintendent, David Fleishman, admitted he was wrong not to cite Patrick as the source of several passages. “That was my mistake,” he said in an interview.
The questionable passages became public Wednesday, when the Newton South High School student newspaper called attention to five sentences from Fleishman’s June 9 remarks at the school’s commencement ceremony that echoed the governor’s speech to Boston University graduates in May.
“Real human connection, the nuance of empathy and understanding, is often more gradual and elongated than Twitter,” Patrick said.
“Lastly, personal connection, the nuance of empathy and understanding, is often more incremental and complex than Twitter,” Fleishman said, according to the website for the student newspaper, the Lion’s Roar.
In his speech, Patrick said, “Social media, as we have seen, can start a revolution. But can it bring peace?”
Fleishman, three weeks later, said, “We saw social media lead to revolutions in the Middle East, but did it bring peace?”
Fleishman delivered a similar speech to Newton North High graduates June 10.
In an interview, Fleishman said he had heard excerpts of Patrick’s graduation speech on the radio, but did not review a written transcript when he wrote his speech.
He declined to say whether the similarities between the passages constituted plagiarism, but acknowledged his responsibility for the episode, and said he accepted the School Committee’s punishment.
“In my judgment, it is essential that public officials not only accept critical feedback but acknowledge when we have made mistakes,” he said.
Fleishman said the five passages were a small part of his overall speech. He said he cited historian David McCullough in his remarks.
Fleishman said the episode was a reminder that he and other public officials need to be “as careful in their spoken remarks as they are in their written remarks — something that too often gets lost.”
He described the Lions Roar article, which was posted in a special edition of its website on Wednesday, as “an invaluable reminder of the importance of doing so.”
Newton South students found to have plagiarized receive a zero for the assignment, and a second offense results in a one-day suspension, according the school’s student handbook.
Newton’s public schools are known for their high achievement levels, and Fleishman has received praise for his engagement with the community and for keeping the district’s financial house in order.
He became the Newton system’s superintendent in July 2010, and makes $254,000, or $4,890 a week, the school district said. He was previously superintendent for five years in Chappaqua, N.Y., and served as assistant superintendent in Wellesley.
School Committee members said questions about the speeches surfaced late last month, when a Newton South teacher contacted Matt Hills, the board’s chairman. The teacher had been in touch with one of the students who wrote the article, Hills said.
After several calls and meetings with Fleishman, the board settled on the fine.
“We agreed with Superintendent Fleishman’s acknowledgment as to what, in retrospect, he should have done,” the board wrote in a statement.
In their statement Thursday, board members praised Fleishman’s performance as superintendent, and expressed confidence he is the “right leader to continue moving our system forward.
“We have seen exceptional growth and progress in our schools during his four years,” they wrote.
“It is disappointing and disillusioning to imagine we cannot expect the best from the highest ranking Newton Public Schools official, especially on a widely attended day designed to celebrate student achievement and serve as an educational capstone,” the article said.
According to the newspaper, Cohen-Kaplan contacted Fleishman, who acknowledged hearing clips of Patrick’s speech on the radio and “building” on some of its themes.
Cohen-Kaplan declined to comment Thursday.
Brian Baron, the head of the English department at Newton South, said a student came to him shortly after graduation to express her concern. He said he believed the fine was an adequate punishment, and that the matter was over.
“I think the School Committee has done what they have done, and David has said what he said, and the kids have said what they’ve said,” Baron said.
Last week, the Mansfield schools chief, Brenda Hodges, resigned after complaints that she had plagiarized a speech by a Navy admiral to the University of Texas Austin. The superintendent denied she had plagiarized the admiral’s remarks, but conceded she had taken some passages from another speaker and had not properly credited him.
“Moving forward, I do not believe the school system can continue to make the progress it has made if this issue remains a distraction,” Hodges wrote in her resignation letter.