I.S. 318 Loses a Hero

 

With heavy hearts we said goodbye to Fortunato “Fred” Rubino at St. Cecilia’s Church in Brooklyn on April 8. He was 56 years old. Hundreds of people filled the pews to pay their final respects to this father, friend and educator. Looking around the church, my husband and filmmaking partner Nelson turned to me and whispered, “This is what it means to touch lives.” I had been thinking the exact same thing.

In fact, Mr. Rubino – as he was known to his students at Intermediate School 318 – touched literally thousands of lives throughout his career. First, as a special education teacher, then as I.S. 318’s principal and, most recently, as Superintendent of District 14. Born in Williamsburg, Fred and his wife Lee Ann raised their own two sons, Joseph and Rocco, in Greenpoint, just minutes from the I.S. 318 community he served.

We had the privilege of joining the I.S. 318 family when we began documenting the story of the school’s chess program, which was started by Mr. Rubino’s own brother more than 15 years ago. As many of you reading this probably know, it’s since become the best middle school chess team in the country. Mr. Rubino believed deeply in the value of educating the whole child and nurturing talents – dance, music, art, ceramics, robotics – that give 12 and 13-year-olds self-confidence and reasons to love school. It’s no surprise to us that he valued these special programs so much: He himself was a musician, a cook and a basketball player.

Mr. Rubino made a direct connection with his students and made sure they knew he cared. We saw this again and again in shooting. Several times, we were there when Pobo Efekoro, who you probably know from the film, would drop by Mr. Rubino’s office and be invited to sit down and discuss what was on his mind. Mr. Rubino listened closely to Pobo’s concerns about school budget cuts and encouraged him to be a school leader. We witnessed firsthand the ways in which Mr. Rubino was honest, accessible and supportive to his students, and I think the film is a testament to that. The positive influence he had on Pobo and so many other young lives cannot be underestimated.

Without Mr. Rubino’s blessing, we would never have been able to make Brooklyn Castle. Thank goodness he not only let us document the story of I.S. 318, but was also willing to tell us himself – his presence in the film is a true highlight. When he talked about his school, a place he fought for when budget cuts threatened to destroy programs he worked tirelessly to support and nurture, his face would light up with the enormous grin we grew so familiar with while editing. That infectious optimism, even in the face of tremendous challenges, is what so many people – his staff, students, colleagues – were drawn to. We were, too.

The news of Mr. Rubino’s passing hit us hard because, even though we didn’t know him very long, we’ve been inspired by his enthusiasm about public education. His passion for teaching was palpable and his commitment to children unwavering. It’s regrettable that he never got to see the film. But through Brooklyn Castle, we know he will continue to inspire kids and teachers for years to come.

We will miss you, Fred. Your impact carries on.

-Katie and the Brooklyn Castle team

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IN MEMORY OF THE LATE FORTUNATO (FRED ) RUBINO, THE FAMILY WOULD APPRECIATE ANY DONATIONS BE GIVEN TO THE FOLLOWING:

RACHEL COOPER FOUNDATION
6615 THORNTON PLACE SUITE 1N
REGO PARK, NY 11374

FAITH IN THE FUTURE
PO BOX 780188
MASPETH, NY 11378

I.S. 318 CHESS CLUB
101 WALTON STREET
BROOKLYN, NY 11206