Pleasanton school leaders believe they have found their superintendent for the long haul in Rick Rubino.
Since taking over the position on July 1, Rubino has been focused on what he calls "hitting the ground learning," familiarizing himself with the Pleasanton community by meeting district employees and attending local events such as the city's National Night Out and the "Moonlight in Vines" dinner fundraiser for nonprofit Sunflower Hill.
A Walnut Creek resident, Rubino, 63, has served in multiple leadership roles in the education field during a career that has spanned nearly four decades, most recently as the superintendent of Gridley Unified School District in Butte County for the last four years.
"Pleasanton Unified has always been a place that's stood out for me as a leader in education in Alameda County," Rubino said during a recent interview in his office. "When the opportunity became available I was very excited to put my application in, and I was honored to have been selected."
Pleasanton school board president Jamie Hintzke has come away with a good initial impression of Rubino.
"He has the leadership of that person you expect to be the CEO of an organization. He exudes, 'I am in charge,' but not in an arrogant way," Hintzke said. "I also really like his approach with how he wants to work with the board. It feels more collaborative than in the past."
Rubino arrives in Pleasanton on the heels of some unsettlement in the district.
He was hired after a five-month superintendent search that ended with the school board's approval of his contract in May. Rubino replaced former Amador Valley High principal Jim Hansen, who stepped out of retirement to fill the superintendent seat for the 2015-16 school year while the district searched for a permanent successor to Parvin Ahmadi, who left the district in June 2015 after five years to take a superintendent post in Castro Valley.
The school district also found itself scrambling late last school year when it realized one-time state funding it had been using for district positions would not be renewed. PUSD was able to rehire all elementary and middle school librarians that were set to be laid off, though there were still reductions in site technology specialists.
District officials also spent more than two years of contentious debate on the district's instructional calendar before the school board voted to change it earlier this year, shifting the start and end of school up by one week and pushing the first semester high school final exams before winter break.
As a result, the 2016-17 school year starts on Monday, and Rubino said he is now looking ahead to what could be a momentous time for the district.
The school board approved a resolution July 30 to place a $270 million general obligation bond on the Nov. 8 ballot. The money generated from a tax of $49 per $100,000 of assessed property value would fund needed facilities improvements throughout Pleasanton Unified, including a new elementary school, if the bond measure is approved by 55% of Pleasanton voters this fall.
"I've worked on school bonds in several districts, so I'm very aware of the time that is required for a school bond," Rubino said. "Doing the superintendent job entails a lot of responsibilities, and you overlay that with a school bond campaign of the magnitude of Pleasanton Unified -- that's always going to be a challenge to balance my time."
But with over 35 years experience in a career that started nearly 3,000 miles away, Rubino is ready to take on that challenge.
Inspired early on
Rubino knew as a teenager that he wanted to become a teacher.
As a ninth-grader growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., he enrolled in an after-school program tutoring elementary school children who struggled with reading and writing. Three days a week he and his peers would work one-on-one with children in offices, helping them make connections and chip away at their struggles.
"Going through that experience really convinced me being a teacher was something I wanted to do," he said.
He taught in New York for four years and earned a master's degree in special education from State University of New York. Then, he said, he got the call to "go west, young man" and moved to San Francisco.
Rubino taught for seven years in Fremont before being tapped for the principal job at Glenmoor Elementary School in Fremont, a position he held for eight years.
He left Fremont Unified in 1997 to take the opportunity to help build James Madison Elementary School in San Leandro. Rubino came on a year in advance, working with architects to design it. Rubino hired the school's staff and served as its principal for four years after it opened.
Pursuing the next phase of his career, Rubino decided to go into human resources. He became the director of certificated personnel in Mt. Diablo Unified School District, based in Concord. After three years there, he sought an opportunity in Martinez that eventually led to an assistant superintendent position in the Martinez Unified School District.
Rubino was in Martinez for eight years when he started feeling strongly about leading his own district. With no superintendent jobs available in the immediate Bay Area, he started looking elsewhere and saw an opening in Butte County's Gridley Unified School District, about 30 miles south of Chico.
But taking the helm of a school district did not come without personal sacrifice. By then, Rubino and his family had lived in Walnut Creek for several years and were entrenched in the community.
Commuting became the answer, so as superintendent of a school district over 100 miles away, he spent four years in a familiar weekly routine.
Rubino bought a small house in Gridley and would drive up there late Sunday. He would stay the work week, then take the two-hour drive home late Friday afternoons and spend the weekend with his wife Brenda and three daughters Sophie, Jamie and Melissa, who were teenagers at the time.
Although the separation was new, Rubino had realized years ago that such an executive position was not a 9 to 5 job. From his days in Martinez and Mt. Diablo Unified school districts, he grew accustomed to coming home late after board meetings or school events, so the weekdays offered few hours for bonding.
So when Rubino arrived back from Gridley on Fridays, weekends were for family.
"We would make it a point to reserve as much time on the weekends to do fun family activities, even if it was just watching a movie together," he said.
His wife and daughters -- now 24, 20 and 19, respectively -- are happy to have Rubino working closer to home again.
"They're thrilled having me there and they're happy I'm not traveling and doing all the driving," Rubino said.
A Walnut Creek resident since 2002, Rubino was already familiar with Pleasanton. He saw Main Street evolve, attended the county fair with his family and visited Harvest Park Middle School when he was helping build James Madison Elementary, to see how its library was designed.
Now he hopes to bring some of his experiences and ideas from over three decades as an educator to the Tri-Valley.
As Rubino sees it, this is one of the most important times in public education in his lifetime.
For the last 100 years, he said, classrooms have been operating under a system designed for the Industrial Age, a time when jobs in factories and on assembly lines were prevalent.
But the jobs of the 21st century now rely more on analyzing, creating and synthesizing and less on memorizing, Rubino said.
"It's not about what you know anymore -- it's about what you can do with what you know. Because everything you need to know is here," Rubino said, gesturing to his smartphone. "I'm excited about this time in education where we really need to be shifting the kinds of activities we're doing with students."
To go along with that shift, the district hopes to create new facilities that would foster 21st century learning. Nearly $100 million in funding generated by a successful bond measure would go toward creating such environments, including new science and technology facilities.
The bond measure, along with the three school board seats up for election in November, will make for an intriguing and busy first semester in PUSD.
"I can't advocate (for the bond), but I can say, 'Here's the need,'" Rubino said. "If you take a quick look at Amador Valley High School, it may look fine from the street. But when you get into all the nooks and crannies, you see how great the need is."
But first, Rubino will concentrate on implementing his entry plan. The crux of that will include doing what Rubino refers to as "hitting the ground learning" by doing outreach with teachers, parents, local officials and others. He plans to take down what he learns in a transition report.
"One of the most important steps as I come into the district is building relationships," Rubino said.
He added that one of the skills he's most proud of is his ability to be a team builder, and he wants to ensure moving forward that the right people are hired for each position.
Above all, Rubino said he wants to be cognizant of why he and any PUSD employee is there to begin with.
"I'm kids first," he said. "Sometimes superintendents can get lost in the business of the day-to-day, and that takes your attention away from the real reason we're all here. These buildings, these jobs, none of us would exist if it wasn't for the children we serve."