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Ruscito welcomes challenge of enhancing learning

Steven Ruscito, Cambridge College alumnus
Steven Ruscito MEd '93, Cambridge College

Steven Ruscito, the new director of secondary education for Warwick schools, isn't afraid of a challenge; rather he likes to face them head on.

After five and a half years in the Marines, Ruscito, now 56, attended Rhode Island College for undergrad and received his Master's in Education from Cambridge College in Boston.

He taught history and political science in North Providence for 15 years before taking a position as an assistant principal at South Kingstown High School. After three years in that position he moved to Middletown where he served eight years as a principal at the high school. Prior to taking the position in Warwick this past summer, Ruscito was working as the principal of Westerly High School. Throughout this time Ruscito remained in the Army Reserves, retiring three years ago as a lieutenant colonel. He also coached indoor and outdoor track, wrestling as well as cross country and ran numerous clubs throughout the schools he's worked in.

A self-declared "workaholic," Ruscito was attracted to all the changes happening in Warwick and is excited to be a part in seeing them executed well.

The first change Ruscito made was to remove the desk from his office and replace it with a conference table. He believes through this design the room becomes a more collaborative environment.

"The work that needs to be done can't be done in a vacuum, in isolation," Ruscito said.

He said that to do what's best for Warwick's students, solutions can't come from the top down, but all parries have to "come around the table" and discuss face to face the problems facing the district.

"Warwick has a bunch of challenges, like consolidation, facing it right now and I'm honored to have the opportunity to help the district reinvent itself not only for their students, but for this city and future generations," he said.

Between contract negotiations, consolidation, and the various other concerns facing Warwick Public Schools, Ruscito thinks one of the biggest challenges for the district is public perception, and ensuring schools are "delivering on the promise" to the community of investing in the best educational practices for students.

He believes there are many different motivations concerning schools and as of now "we are not all rowing in the same direction."

Ruscito hopes that through his position he can assist in keeping the focus on teaching and learning despite the turmoil of consolidation, facility improvements, relocating students, merging staffs and negotiations.

"I hope my voice can help keep that foundation so that our students are not lost in the dust, in the storm of all of this," he said.

This is easier said than done, when the very concept of education is beginning to change. Ruscito sees a "shift" in education that requires more from students than ever. He believes teachers have become more facilitators of learning than the "direct instructors" and schools need to position themselves so as to best prepare students for after graduation.

"The district needs to look at where our students are going after graduation and the expectations of them in those spaces," Ruscito said. "The work environment has changed radically since we were teaching students' grandparents and even parents."

He said looking at the job market there are positions that didn't even exist a generation ago. Even those jobs that seem similar have different expectations than they once did. He used nursing as an example; although the title hasn't changed and there is the same end goal of caring for others, the way the job is done is "nothing like it was just 10 years ago."

Alongside the traditional reading, writing and arithmetic skills, students also need to be adept at critical thinking, problem solving, working on a team and be able to navigate the digital world.

"This is what is expected in universities and across all career fields," Ruscito said. "I don't think any community is truly cognizant of that; with traditional teaching methods we may not be preparing students for the world they will be entering."

Education needs to be personalized, according to Ruscito, and students need more opportunities to explore their educational passions. He believes students deserve a more diversified and larger curriculum. Already he has expressed interest in joining the Department of Education's Advanced Coursework Network, which would allow Warwick students to take various advanced courses through other schools when they are not available here.

Similarly, he would also like to accept credits for Virtual High School courses, a global collective of courses taken in union with students across the world online.

He would also like students to have the opportunities to receive credit or at least recognition for their efforts and achievements outside of the classroom. As an example, Ruscito used a student who has played piano for 10 years; although the skills weren't learned in the school itself, the student could possibly receive fine arts credits, opening up their schedule to other course options.

"Students have so many passions they explore outside of school. They should be worth something," he said. Similarly, Ruscito wants to offer high school students the opportunity to graduate in less than four years and more chances for dual en¬ rollment. He believes there is no better demonstration that students are college ready than having them pass and excel in college courses while still in high school.

Ruscito said, "I'm excited to be with Warwick at this point, on the precipice of launching the new Warwick district. When this is all done and we see the differences, the improvements in the student experience, we can say we got it right." RUSCITO: Steven Ruscito, the new director of secondary education for Warwick Public Schools, has a lot of plans for the district's middle and high school education, but wants everyone to remember the focus should always be on teaching and learning.