Rowland Unified School District

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Assistant Superintendent Dr. Tony Santorufo Retires from RUSD

Administrator retires after many years at Rowland
By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer
Highlander (8/16/2007)
 
"Find your passion and go for it!"
 
Great advice from anyone. Better advice from someone who has followed it for the past three decades.
 
Assistant Superintendent Anthony Santorufo is retiring from the Rowland Unified School District after 34 years of service.
 
The administrator has gone from teaching at Rincon Junior High in West Covina to the second highest spot in the district. Along the way, his salary has grown from $5,000 to $150,000.
 
For the past decade and a half, has overseen the daily operations of the district's secondary schools and special education programs.
 
"Tony Santorufo is one of the best-kept secrets in California," "He is an expert in secondary teaching and learning, and Rowland students have benefited from his dedication, love for learning and bulldog-like insistence on excellence."
 
And to think Santorufo almost became a doctor. In fact, that was his goal when he moved to sunny California from his home in Brooklyn, N.Y.
 
"I wanted to study medicine at USC, but I couldn't get into medical school," recalls Santorufo.
 
"Still I wanted to work with people, so I began teaching at Bishop Amat. It was funny, here was a thin 21-year-old teaching 18-year-olds from the football team," the top teacher said.
 
Soon, the young instructor moved to Rincon School in the Rowland Unified School District.
 
"Back then, we literally had cows across the road from the school," the 59-year-old laughed. "Rowland Heights was a different place in the 1970s."
 
Though he loved teaching, Santorufo still wanted to go into medicine. So the young man began working weekends at what is now Citrus Health Partners.
 
"I ended up working in the emergency room as a nurse's aide. I loved it, often working a double shift from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.," the Upland resident said.
 
The eighth-grade teacher also continued his medical studies, earning a master's degree in physiology from USC.
 
"I got straight As and a recommendation from the dean, but I still wasn't accepted to medical school," Santorufo said.
 
Fortunately, the energetic man of Italian descent had found another calling in teaching.
 
In 1988, Santorufo became the principal at Nogales High School, a bustling place with more than 3,000 students.
 
"I really enjoyed the responsibility. But I couldn't understand why the bathrooms stank, and there were paper towels or soap in them, no doors on some of the stalls," the new principal said.
 
When Santorufo was told the students were damaging the bathrooms, he decided to hold "responsibility" assemblies.
 
"We had a huge freshman class, and I remember telling them that I was ordering paper towels, new doors and mirrors. I told maintenance to paint the bathrooms every day there was graffiti," Santorufo said.
 
Gradually, these efforts made a difference in the students' behavior and things got better at the high school.
 
Shortly afterward, Santorufo decided to apply for assistant superintendent for the secondary division, a position he held until this August.
 
"I have known many secondary educators, and I can say with confidence that Tony stands out as one of the top leaders in the state and nation," Ott said of her trusted lieutenant.
 
Santorufo earned a doctorate in education from the University of La Verne. He said his science training didn't go to waste because "it has really helped him with problem-solving in the district."
 
"I think one of our biggest successes was the career certification program that we began in 1991. We asked businesses what they were looking for," Santorufo said.
 
Today, the pioneering program mixes academics with practical business experience. High school students have to prove their knowledge with projects and practicums.
 
Many of the secondary schools have received state and national honors on Santorufo's watch.
 
"He is `student centered' and he's always willing to go an extra mile to help students achieve their personal goals. His commitment to education and the community of caring philosophy is reflected through his excellent leadership skills," said Director of Special Education Elizabeth J. Blanco.
 
When asked why he had stayed in one district for three decades, Santorufo replied, "It's a very stable school system. I've only worked for four different superintendents since 1970."
 
And the assistant superintendent is proud of the district's support for the arts.
 
"We really value arts in our education," Santorufo said.
 
Since his days as principal at Nogales, Santorufo has been a huge supporter of the high school band. He says he has traveled to Hawaii, Arizona and Orlando with the band.
 
"He has been a true friend to the Noble Regiment as long as I have been here," said Nogales band Director Brad Pollock. "He had more fun on some of our trips than the kids did! It was great to have him be a part our success and knowing that he was always there for us."
 
In his spare time, Santorufo likes to garden and travel. He said he had been to China every year for the past four years, as well as Taiwan and Singapore.
"I've been all over Europe. Once I traveled to Sicily, where I found a cousin," Santorufo said.
 
So what will he do with all his time in retirement. Will he venture off to the wilds of Alaska, the dark reaches of Africa?
 
"I want to apply for the physician's assistant program at Western University in Pomona," Santorufo said.
 
If accepted to the two-year program, Santorufo will find his schedule full of medical studies.
 
"I'd like to work in a family practice, where I can help whole families stay healthy," the former educator said.
 
"We will miss Dr. Santorufo as he leaves to pursue his life-long goal of working in the medical profession. I expect that we will meet him in the hospital emergency room, continuing to help students and their families in his new career," Ott said Superintendent Maria Ott.
 
(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2801
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