Fred Rubino, the newly appointed head of North Brooklyn schools and a beloved former principal who nurtured the IS 318 chess club and saved it from city budget cuts, died from a heart attack in Greenpoint on April 2. He was 56.
Rubino recently earned the title of superintendent of District 14 after serving as a principal and administrator in the Walton Street middle school for three decades, where he became a fixture in the community and a regular sight at chess club meetings, academic functions, and school hallways.
Several thousand mourners said goodbye to their friend, colleague, and mentor last week at Evergreen Funeral Home and at St. Cecilia’s Church in Greenpoint.
“So many students said he greeted every child ‘hello’ in the morning, and they always felt they could start off the day in a special way,” his wife, LeeAnn, said.
Rubino was born in Greenpoint and grew up on Kingsland Avenue, attending St. Cecilia’s grammar school, Brooklyn Tech High School, and Baruch College before getting a job in the public school system in 1980.
He spent much of his professional career in Williamsburg schools, at IS 318 in particular, where he taught special education and worked as an assistant principal before becoming the school’s principal a decade ago.
Former students remembered Rubino as a joyous, inspiring figure who believed in them — and encouraged them to follow their dreams.
“His son is one of my best friends and he was a father to me since I didn’t have a dad,” said Dylan Degaetano, 17. “He always had faith in me to do whatever I wanted to do and to strive to do as good as I can. That’s why I looked up to him.”
And teachers remembered Rubino as an avid banjo player and a supportive colleague who nurtured their creative streaks.
“He loved playing music as much as anyone I ever played with,” said Michael Lorenz, an English teacher at IS 318. “He was a facilitator. He could make you become a better musician.”
But Rubino is perhaps best known for guiding the school’s national champion chess team and rallying the community behind the club to protect it from city budget cuts — a role reprised in an upcoming documentary about the team, “Brooklyn Castle,” to be released later this year.
Lisa Johnston, whose chess-playing son graduated from IS 318 last year, praised her principal for being a fighter.
“He was wonderful — his office door was open to any student and any parent,” said Johnston. “He treated every student equally and made sure every student got the same education.”
And those who knew him best, including his family and his longtime childhood friends, grieved with the community for their shared loss.
His brother, Charlie, was touched by the neighborhood’s response to his passing.
“He wasn’t just my brother, he was my best friend,” said Rubino.
Fortunato “Fred” Rubino is survived by his wife, four brothers, one sister, two sons, and several extended family members.