Superintendents fail to set an example for students on citing sources

Last week, student journalists at Newton South High School noticed that several passages in graduation speeches delivered by Newton superintendent David Fleishman bore a resemblance to remarks by Governor Deval Patrick to Boston University graduates in May. For example, Fleishman’s exhortation “We saw social media lead to revolutions in the Middle East, but did it bring peace?” is very similar to Patrick’s remark “Social media, as we have seen, can start a revolution. But can it bring peace?” After the students published a story in the Lion’s Roar, the school paper, Fleishman admitted he had heard excerpts of Patrick’s speech on the radio and apologized for not properly citing the governor. He was fined one week’s pay by the Newton school board.

The fine was certainly deserved. But a spate of recent plagiarism incidents by school officials in Massachusetts — including one that led to the ouster of Mansfield superintendent Brenda Hodges earlier this month — suggest that superintendents, principals, and teachers should take a second look at their texts before mounting the podium. This isn’t simply a matter of correcting sloppy errors: Educators need to be able to hold students accountable for the integrity of their own work at a time when essays on any theme are just a Google search away. It’s encouraging that Fleishman’s errors were reported by students themselves. As for graduation addresses, superintendents should follow a simple rule: When offering platitudes, at least make sure they’re your own.