Not surprisingly, where I am today has a lot to do with where I came from. My passion for teaching, driven in large part by the faith that educators can transform the lives of their students, predates my arrival in higher education. My first teaching jobs were in New York City middle schools, where I was lucky enough to teach alongside talented and committed educators. One such educator was Fortunato “Fred” Rubino, who served as one of the Assistant Principals at Intermediate School 318 (I.S. 318) in Brooklyn, where I taught science from 1994-2001. Tragically, Fred died on April 2nd, just a few days short of his 57th birthday.
In recent years, Fred had really begun to receive the credit he deserved for his tireless work on behalf of everyday Brooklyn kids. He had been promoted to superintendent of District 14 after spending a decade as the Principal of I.S. 318. He was profiled in the documentary Brooklyn Castle, which chronicles the experiences of students on I.S. 318’s championship chess team. But long before Fred received this more formal acknowledgement of his work, I got to experience some of the things that made him a powerful educator. Fred supported me and my fellow teachers in creating really innovative programs, and his support was as often delivered in the form of his labor as his administrative blessing.
For years, Fred was in charge of I.S. 318’s “morning program”, an extra period of enrichment activities that allowed gifted and talented students to experience focused academic pursuits outside of the normal curriculum. I was involved in the school’s Ecology Center (run tirelessly by Roy Arezzo), which hosted one of these morning programs. I actually taught a morning program for several years dedicated to weather prediction (“the weather station”). Every morning, Fred would be there bright and early to greet the students with his characteristic “Gooooood Morning”; the enthusiasm Fred conveyed directly to the students was matched by all the indirect support he provided to these programs.
Although I am thankful for the support that Fred provided in my formal teaching, in many ways I can say that my most inspiring interactions with him occurred away from the year-long curriculum of my science classes. Fred was at his best in helping support and organize special programs for his students, the kinds of programs that enriched the lives of under-privileged urban kids. Over eight years Roy Arezzo and I took students who had shown exceptional academic effort (if not absolute achievement) on fifteen overnight ecology-themed camping trips. Such a trip was risky, but our then-Prinicipal Alan Fierstein had the chutzpah to let us take these risks — as long as Fred was there. Allocating the time of an over-loaded Assistant Principal towards such a trip was generous, but more generous was Fred’s consistent willingness to give up his time in support of the trip. Without Fred’s generosity, literally hundreds of Brooklyn kids would never have gotten the chance to go camping in their own borough; Fred accompanied us on all but one trip, a trip which coincided with the birth of his youngest son. A classic part of every trip was singing around the campfire with Mr. Rubino on guitar. Fred’s enthusiasm for the kids and their needs shone through on these camping trips, and I will forever be grateful to him for being willing to come along, because these trips have created some of my best teaching memories.
Fred also helped Roy Arezzo in his effort to turn a vacant-lot-turned-illegal-trash-heap into a community garden across from I.S. 318. Again, having Fred there on weekends provided us with the administrative cover to take on huge projects. But Fred was so much more than just the resident administrator making sure that no one got hurt on school grounds: he accumulated a lot of sweat equity in I.S. 318’s garden, building raised beds and benches and even a small performance space. On one of numerous work weekends dedicated to transforming the space into a garden, you might not have guessed who the guy in charge was, because Fred was hard at work.
As I consider that the world no longer has a Fred Rubino, I am deeply saddened. I am sad for his family, who got to experience his joyful outlook on an everyday basis. And most of all I am sad for future generations of Brooklyn kids, who by rights should have had a Fred Rubino making sure that they enjoy the educational experiences they deserve for several more decades. Fred’s early passing is a great loss for all of Brooklyn, whether most of the borough appreciates that or not. All I can do to make myself feel a little bit better about his passing is to make sure that I keep bringing that passion into my own teaching, and spread a bit of Fred around for as many days as I have left.
Below are some pictures of Fred in action on various camping trips. These pictures do not completely capture the valuable role Fred played in making these trips happen, but they give you some idea of the vibrancy of a camping trip with Assistant Principal Rubino along for the ride:
You can read more about Fred on these sites:
Intermediate School 318
School Book “Fred Rubino, a Popular Brooklyn Superintendent, Dies”
AssailedTeacher “Fortunato Rubino: Profile of the Possible”
The New York Post “B’klyn ed. ‘prince’ Rubino dies”
GreenLine “Fortunato ‘Fred’ Rubino passes away”
Ed Notes Online “A Giant is Lost: Fortunato (Fred) Rubino”
The Brooklyn Paper “Beloved North Brooklyn educator dead at 56”
The Greenpoint Gazette “Death Notice: District 14 Superintendent Fred Rubino“