By Karen Billing
This June will be R. Roger Rowe teacher Maureen Cassarino’s final curtain call, as she retires after 27 years of teaching at the school and 20 years leading the Rancho Santa Fe Children’s Theater.
Cassarino has spent a total of 34 years in education, “an amazing and fabulous teacher who puts the needs of her students in front of all else,” according to the Rancho Santa Fe School District.
“Working in Rancho Santa Fe has been super rewarding, I’ve had so many opportunities to grow as a teacher and working in such a collaborative community, it has been a dream job,” Cassarino said. “I feel grateful to have been here,”
In her first act, Cassarino had actually envisioned a career in music and moved to New York City from Michigan to follow her dreams. Since high school, she had always enjoyed working with kids and she began teaching in private schools in New York. She discovered not only her true calling but also her husband and together they moved from New York to San Diego.
In San Diego, she enrolled in the teaching certification program at San Diego State University while teaching at a parochial school, St. Martin in La Mesa. At St. Martin, she made the acquaintance of fellow teacher and future Rancho Santa Fe School District Superintendent Lindy Delaney.
Delaney told Cassarino about a Rancho Santa Fe school that was hiring and they both applied to R. Roger Rowe School and have been at the school ever since.
“Maureen Cassarino has dedicated her life to the growth and education of our students. Since arriving in Rancho Santa Fe, she has worked on many projects, programs, and served as a volleyball coach as well as leading our district in adopting the Columbia Reading and Writing Program,” said Delaney. “We wish her the best life has to offer, she will be missed and will remain in our hearts forever.”
At Rowe, Cassarino has taught the fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades. She currently teaches eighth grade and is the literacy coach for the middle school.
She wears many hats at Rowe, serving as the student council advisor, working with the Kind to the Core student community service group, and every year she wrote a musical for the MARE (Marine Activities Resources and Education) Week program.
“There have been many singing fish shows over the years,” Cassarino said.
Cassarino is also the school’s go-to reading resource. She said she voraciously reads children’s literature because she always wants to be able to recommend a good book to a student. She said many children don’t like to read because they can’t find something that will capture their imagination — she loves the “magic” she can create when she knows exactly what a kid might enjoy and gets a student to enjoy reading more.
In addition, she has been doing Children’s Theater for the last 20 years at the RSF Community Center, which she founded with fellow teacher Harriet Joslyn, who retired last year. They started off doing three to four shows a year, but now produce two shows a year.
Because of the new MUSE program at Rowe, which targets the older age group, the Children’s Theater now caters to the younger set of second through fourth graders and Cassarino has had a lot of fun working with the little ones.
Her last show was “The Jungle Book,” which ran on May 21.
As Cassarino helps out all the school’s readers, the middle schoolers and the young actors and actresses, she is well known across nearly every grade level at the school.
“I feel like a rock star walking around here,” she said.
Of all the grades she has taught, eighth grade is her favorite,
“Part of it is that the kids are looking for truth. They know when things aren’t fair and they are looking for what’s right,” Cassarino said. “It’s a great age to offer them other ways of seeing things and broaden their perspectives.”
Through the literacy program, Cassarino helps her students tackle a lot of social justice issues and through Kind to the Core, encourages them to find ways to solve problems and help others in need.
“Kids are going to be leaders in the future and to make a bigger contribution, they need to learn to be empathetic with issues going on in the world,” Cassarino said.
There have been many changes over the last 27 years at Rowe and in the way students learn in the classroom. One of the biggest transitions for Cassarino was in technology, as the district moved to iPads.
“I was the person who said you’d never get me to give up my reading and writing notebooks,” Cassarino said. “But it’s all I do now. The world is different and you have to keep up.”
At first she was scared the kids would be distracted by the technology and she couldn’t picture the success they would have on the devices. But she has been impressed with how great the iPads have been as a learning tool and the incredible access students have to information. If they don’t know something, Cassarino said the answer is always right there at their fingertips.
She also loves the creative ways technology allows students to publish their work and get it out into the world, whether through e-books or movies or interactive presentations.
In the summer Cassarino will kick off the next act of her life, moving to Nashville with her husband. She is looking forward to the “Green Acres” lifestyle — she loves to garden and they hope to get chicken and goats.
The move will bring her closer to her family — she picked Nashville because it is near her son, who plays the double bass in the symphony orchestra in Birmingham, Ala., and her daughter and “adorable” grandson, who live in Michigan.
She is looking forward to seeing both of her children more, to being a grandmother (which she says is the best) and to having the gift of time to read more great books. She admits she will miss the classroom and her fellow teachers and staff members, and the familiar song of the school year.
“I’m still trying to decide what that word ‘retire’ means. I can’t imagine not working with kids on some level,” Cassarino said. “I’ve always thought of September as my ‘New Year’ so that will be interesting to have fall come around and not have a classroom to go to.”
The district will host a celebration for Cassarino on June 6 at 4 p.m. Anyone interested in helping plan for the retirement celebration, should contact Sandi Lubenow at (858) 756-1141 or firstname.lastname@example.org.