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-Principal 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
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.
Chris Jensen 2012
Chris is an Associate Professor of Science at Pratt Institute. He is a dedicated ecologist and also
teaches courses in evolutionary biology. Chris’s work in the sciences expands in many directions
including blogging and a recent foray into webcasting.
Visit his website at Christopher X J. Jensen.com