In the early 1960s, Joe DeRuvo was waiting to be drafted into the Army and shipped off to Southeast Asia, when he got a call from the principal at St. Crysostom School in the Bronx.
By Sarah Varney
In the early 1960s, Joe DeRuvo was waiting to be drafted into the Army and shipped off to Southeast Asia, when he got a call from the principal at St. Crysostom School in the Bronx. “I heard they were looking for teachers so I went down there. I met with the principal, she looked at me and told me that since I was just the right height, I would be teaching seventh grade,” he says. (Two friends who applied at the same time were assigned to classrooms in the fifth and sixth grades because they weren’t as tall.)
Now, after 45 years in the Rye City School District, DeRuvo has decided it’s just the right time to retire.
DeRuvo’s first assignment in Rye was at Osborn School in 1969 teaching a combined fifth and sixth grade section. There were no grades. Report cards were completely anecdotal and the books and presumably the curricula used at the three elementary schools was not the same. “It was a problem whenever we had kids who moved between the schools,” he recalls.
In 1990, he moved to the newly formed Rye Middle School, where he was an “intern” under then Principal Dr. Farnum. For the first four years, the school comprised just the seventh and eighth grades. The sixth grade was moved to RMS in 1994 and DeRuvo became Dean of Students, a title he held until just a few years ago when he became Assistant Principal. “Some people always addressed me as ‘Dean.’ I was never quite sure whether or not to take that as a compliment,” he jokes.
At times, he did aspire to the top spot at RMS, but after a while he decided that the number two slot was better. “I liked not being at the top because it gave me the opportunity to be closer to the kids,” he says.
Middle schoolers who find themselves in hot water are usually sent to him for straightening out, but his approach is based more on reason than draconian measures. “I had a kid in here recently who had used one of those words in class and the teacher had sent him down to me. I said to him, ‘Look, am I going to stand here and tell you that I’ve never used that word myself? No, I’m not. But there’s a time and a place and it isn’t here, so don’t do it again.’”
Not that much has changed over the years in terms of what kids do or say that lands them in the assistant principal’s office and sometimes it’s hard to keep a straight face. DeRuvo tells the story of a young girl who ended up in his office after talking back to her teacher years ago. What set the girl off was the teacher’s well-meaning habit of addressing the students as “friends.” The young girl said to me ‘Wait a minute. I want you to know that she calls us friends. Well, I don’t want to be her friend. I mean, would you want to be friends with her? Just look at the way she dresses!’”
Any parent of an adolescent girl will tell you that a fixation on fashion, an obsession with how things look and sound, and general contempt for anything or anyone who seems insincere is still the norm. Boys struggle to be mature one minute and then throw in the towel and wrestle with friends on the sidewalk the next. But inside, kids are still the same.
“They mostly just get taller. They’re more technologically advanced and they’re exposed to much more, but they have the same concerns,” DeRuvo says. “I love this age group. I never have a dull day.”
Asked what he’ll miss the most, DeRuvo replies, “The kids and the people I work with.” But he’s not going to miss the mounds of paperwork generated by the increased number of standardized tests required by the Race To The Top initiative. “It takes an incredible amount of time and an incredible amount of paper and it never ends.” He adds, “It takes time away from your contact with the students.”
DeRuvo made the decision to retire late this spring. He and his wife Maryann, a former teacher in Bronxville who retired five years ago, are very involved with their grandchildren, ages 6 to 15, who live close by. But it’s unlikely that DeRuvo will be sitting in a rocking chair watching them during the workweek.
“I might look into working part-time at a parochial or private school. I’m not the sit-around type.”