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Candidate Profile: Rich Russo

This is the Carnation’s candidate profile series. All candidates running in Tewksbury were invited to respond, and we appreciate those who took the time to help the Carnation inform voters.

Name: Rich Russo Seat sought: School Committee

1. Why do you want to serve on the School Committee? 

My desire to serve on the Tewksbury School Committee is simple, I’m enthusiastic about the educational experience for all students and believe that every child in Tewksbury deserves a first-class education.  I will bring a financial mind to the current committee based on my education and professional experiences.  I also believe that the Tewksbury school district has the ability to be a leader in education within the Commonwealth.  

2. Give us a brief bio: Where you grew up, family, interests.

My name is Rich Russo.  I have lived in Tewksbury since 1985, a graduate of Tewksbury High in 1998, homeowner, and parent of three children in the Tewksbury schools.  My wife, Wendy, is also a long time resident from Tewksbury.  My family and I have chosen to stay in Tewksbury because it has a real sense of community.  Wendy and I are still friends with other Tewksbury residents that we have known since elementary school, something that I’m enjoying seeing with my own kids and the friends that they have.  I’m actively involved in our community.  I am currently a member of the Tewksbury Finance Committee.  I am the President of Tewksbury Youth Football & Cheerleading, I also have served for 6 years on the Tewksbury Youth Baseball board and 4 years on the Tewksbury Boys Basketball League board over the years.  I also recently served on the Reopening Schools Task Force in 2020-2021 as a parent representative.  

3. What is your education?

I am a CPA and have held many financial leadership roles throughout my career.  I graduated from Bridgewater State University with a Bachelors Degree in Accounting and a Masters Degree in Management with a concentration in Accounting.

4. What is your “day job,” and how do your past or current professional experiences prepare you for service on the School Committee? 

I am the Chief Financial Officer and Chief Executive Officer of a medical device manufacturing company.  I am a CPA and have held many financial leadership roles throughout my career.  I believe my professional experiences prepare me as a financial expert in being able to add value from a budgeting and overall spending of tax dollars in our community.  I also believe that the executive positions that I have held have prepared me to be able to make tough decisions and have tough conversations when necessary.  Being the CEO of my company, I have to be very strategic and visionary.  Executing, and delivering results is something that I do for a living, my proven track record and leadership skills allow me to be engaging on various committees and subcommittees that will ultimately impact not only our children and their education experience but also the residents of our community.

5. If elected, what do you hope to accomplish in the next three years? What is your platform? (feel free to include a link to your website or Facebook page)

I think there are several important tasks and decisions that the school committee will be working through over the coming months and years.  I believe they are:

  • Hiring and continuous evaluation of the new Superintendent
  • Budget approval
  • Ongoing contract negotiations with various unions
  • Ensuring minimal learning gaps from the fall-out of remote learning
  • Merging into the new elementary school and all the facets that brings
  • Establishing a focus on improving student achievement
  • Working with the administration to provide quality, targeted, meaningful professional development
  • Hiring of a new High School Principal
  • Social and emotional learning support for all of our students

A link to our campaign Facebook page is as follows:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/288987326531086

6. How do you define your budget priorities if tough decisions have to be made? 

More than half of the revenue dollars that the town collects go toward our schools.  It is a very large checkbook.  Our community deserves someone on the school committee that understands this, understands how financial budgets work and understands the right questions to ask and sometimes be able to make tough decisions.  As a financial leader in my career, I understand this better than anybody.  As our debt starts to come down over the coming years and as the costs of other items in the budget increase, it is important to keep these items in balance so that we are not pricing out the residents in our community, especially our senior citizens.  With over 2/3 of the total budget dedicated to personnel costs, a big priority with the budget is assuring that the teachers and support staff have the resources and support that they need, which will help ensure that our students have the most optimal chance for success.  My promise on this topic, is to not only work with the committee on approving the budgets over the next few years, but to also work with the district administration, town manager, and finance committee as each budget cycle comes up to ensure that the residents of our community’s tax dollars are being spent wisely and fairly.

My promise to the residents of this town, employees of our district and to the students in our schools, is that when making tough decisions, I will always focus on putting student achievement ahead of other priorities.

7. Describe an activity, group or committee you’ve been involved with in town and what you accomplished as part of that team. 

When I joined the board of Tewksbury Youth Football and Cheer back in 2016, and took over as President in 2018, I never thought it would grow to what it has become today.  Our tackle football numbers are up 17%, our cheer numbers are up 14%, our flag football numbers are up 24% and overall approximately 20%.  The tremendous growth we have seen over the last 6 years has been absolutely incredible and a very humbling experience and is truly a testament to the product we deliver.  We have been able to provide a first-class experience with football and cheerleading all while keeping registration fees significantly lower than other surrounding communities.  I’m proud of what our board and other volunteers within the TYF community have accomplished and look forward to continued success with the program.  I want to translate the achievements that we have had with running a successful program within our community to achievements for the students within our school district and the residents within our community.

8. We know that Covid will be an ongoing challenge. What are three additional, non-Covid-related issues you see in our schools, and how will you address them? 

I think there are several important decisions that the school committee will be working through over the coming months.  I believe that the top 3 are the following:

  • Hiring of the new superintendent. Some of the qualities that are important in a new superintendent are the following:
    • Proven track record in the administration of the education system and working knowledge of MA frameworks to move our district forward
    • Has answers to tough problems that exist today and is also willing to adapt through a tenuous time period
    • Strong communication skills and operates transparently with not only the school committee, but also with the administrators and other district stakeholders
    • Has the ability to develop and maintain collaborative decision making and appropriate authority delegation.

Essentially, we are hiring the Chief Executive Officer of our Tewksbury school district, and will have the right to speak on all district matters and be able to lead our district to a spot where people outside of Tewksbury want to move here because of the first-class education Tewksbury provides.  Being the CEO for my company, I know first hand the qualities needed to possess to be able to “steer the ship” effectively, in this case for 3,500 students and hundreds of teachers and support staff in our district. 

  • Ensuring minimal learning gaps from the fall-out of remote learning. Remote learning was hard, it was hard on our kids and it was hard on our teachers and support staff.  Kids lacked the ability to interact with their peers on a regular basis, an element so vital in their social and emotional growth and development.  Teachers lacked the ability to really connect with their students and in many cases had to work twice or even three times as hard to support their classroom needs.  All levels of students and teachers have suffered in some way as a result of this, whether it was our youngest, most impressionable students, with basic reading and writing skills or with our middle & high school students and their ability to keep up with a grueling academic schedule and extra-curricular schedule, or our students in most need of our support through special education and providing them the services that they so richly need and ensuring that gaps are narrowed.  I want the ability to work with our administration and district leadership on creative ways that we can continue to narrow any gaps that have occurred as a result of the pandemic.  This would align with helping the school committee focus on student achievement and enhancing it, something so vital for our district.
  • Merging into the new elementary school and all the facets of that. We are entering a new school in January 2023.  Not only does that require strong leadership to allow our Elementary School Committee to meet our timelines and ensure we are on budget, but it also requires an ability to adapt as things may arise, some even unforeseen.  There are a lot of people in our community that are impacted by merging 4 elementary schools into a new school, plus the administrative offices.  All of this will be occurring during the middle of the school year, this has the potential to be very disruptive for our students, teachers and administrative staff in an already chaotic time.  I want to support our teachers and other elementary personnel as they will be on the front lines of supporting our children through this transition.  The trick to doing this successfully is open communication, transparency through frequent meetings and in some cases creating smaller sub-committees with certain stakeholders and experts that are handling different aspects of the merge.  Having timelines and various deliverables and milestones established and executing on them, reviewing budgets frequently are all ways that I would work with the existing committee to ensure the best path forward.  

9. What are your thoughts on how contract negotiations have played out in Tewksbury? Are you in favor of making future negotiations open and transparent from the outset, or do you prefer a confidential process?

There are a lot of emotions out in the community on this topic.  My feeling on this topic is simple: I want to do what’s best for students first and foremost. This means supporting our teachers with what they need to deliver the best education experience they can. Sometimes that involves making tough decisions because the budget dollars just aren’t there. Regardless of where these negotiations end up, the children in our district will always come first, and we have to be able to pick up the pieces and move forward.  I have the ability to be an olive branch extender, a peace maker and a deal maker, this is something that I do every day being a leader in my organization.  I am a fan of future negotiations being open and transparent from the outset as my campaign philosophy is built on open communications and transparency.

10. In regard to Covid, what is your response to parents who want Tewksbury to defy DESE/State mandates on masking. How would that play out, and are you open to spending School Department funds on an attorney to defend your position?

With the DESE mandate being removed as of 2/28 to go to a more optional and choice based approach by district and by family, I feel that this question is a bit outdated.  COVID has taken up a lot of the focus in our schools over the last couple of years, and we as a district need to begin moving forward and putting things like student achievement and supporting our teachers and support staff at the forefront.

11. A bill to ban Native American mascots across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is currently in committee. Should this bill be signed into law, will you commit to complying in a timely manner? Why or why not?  

I’ve been a resident in Tewksbury for almost 40 years, I’m a man of traditions and take pride in that.  With that being said, if the State signed into law a ban of Native American mascots then as a committee we would have to address that in a timely manner.

12. What experiences, education and personal qualities would you prioritize in our new Superintendent?

As noted above, I would prioritize the following:

  • Proven track record in the administration of the education system
  • Has answers to tough problems that exist today and is also willing to adapt through a volatile time period
  • Strong communication skills and operates transparently with not only the school committee, but also with the administrators and other district stakeholders
  • Has the ability to develop and maintain collaborative decision making and appropriate authority delegation.

13. What would you say to residents to encourage them to vote for you?

I would tell residents in our community the following: 

Although I have never been a teacher or worked in the administration of public schools, I have been very active in our community, working for our families and our children since the moment I graduated college. I started out by volunteering at Saint Williams Church, serving the youth group ministry as well as working with our teenage population and serving for the TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) community.  When Wendy and I had children and they became school age, my community volunteer work expanded and I took on roles such as assistant coach, head coach, score keeper, facility and grounds keeper, referee, board member and now have been the President of Youth Football and Cheer for almost 5 years.  All of these efforts have one thing in common, supporting and mentoring the children in our community and providing a positive experience for not only those kids but for all participating families in our community.  Residents that I have had the privilege of working with and getting to know over the last couple of decades with various activities that I have been involved with know that when I commit to something, I go all in and lay it all on the line for the members in that particular group and I will do the same for the residents of Tewksbury when elected to the school committee.  

Donna Gill covers Senior Center and COA news for the Carnation.

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