The Ramapo Indian Hills Community Welcomes New Superintendent, Dr. Rui Dionisio

Sarah Chagares, Editor in Chief

       Last June, lifelong educator Dr. Rui Dionisio accomplished a bucket list goal of jumping out of an airplane and sky diving 13,000 feet back to planet Earth. It was a risk, but he took the necessary precautions to manage that risk, in that he wore a parachute. He landed safely and just a few short months later the President of the Ramapo Indian Hills Board of Education announced that after an exhaustive search Dionisio was selected to lead the school district as the Superintendent of Schools. The resolution was approved unanimously by the Board at a special meeting on August 9, 2021. As a result, Dr. Dionisio became the District’s first permanent leader since Beverly MacKay announced her retirement effective August 1, 2020. Clearly, by accepting the position Superintendent of the Ramapo Indian Hills District, Dr. Dionisio was taking his second leap of faith last year, this time without a parachute. Leading the dynamic, eclectic, and demanding school district that is Ramapo Indian Hills is a herculean task and certainly not a job for someone who is faint of heart or afraid to take a risk.   

            Dr. Dionisio comes to the district with a plethora of experience. The seasoned educator has taught students at the elementary, middle, high school and university levels. Most recently he served as the Superintendent of the Verona Public Schools and had done so since 2014. Prior to that, Dr. Dionisio served as an administrator in the Ridgewood Public Schools and as Principal of Cranford High School. He was the recipient of the Bristol Myers Squibb Grants for Teaching Excellence and was recognized as Superintendent of the Year for Essex County in 2019.

            Dr. Dionisio earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership, Management and Policy from Seton Hall University. His dissertation examined the impact of inquiry-based science on non-cognitive outcomes and academic achievement. He holds a B.A. in Biology with a minor in Chemistry and an M.A. in Administration and Supervision from Montclair State University.

            As a child, Dr. Dionisio aspired to be a professional athlete. As he evolved as a young man and progressed down his educational path, however, he set his sights instead on becoming a physician. In fact, he was studying for the entrance exam for Medical School when his life’s trajectory changed dramatically. While in college he was offered the opportunity to tutor high school students in math and science. Dionisio recalled, “I quickly fell in love with the idea of teaching. It was the first time in my life that I felt that I was making a difference by helping students.” As we know, Dionisio eventually did earn the title of “Doctor” of which he aspired to as a youth, but it was in the field of education instead of medicine. 

            A young Dr. Dionisio began his career teaching 7th graders at a private school in Jersey City. Describing that experience, Dionisio reminisced, “That experience solidified it for me. It was with my 7th grade students that year that I learned that relationships matter more than any creative lesson that I could ever stand and deliver. Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” It was that experience that both fueled his passion and reinforced his commitment to pursuing a career in education. Over the years as Dr. Dionisio progressed in his profession, he honed his teaching skills as well as developed his teaching philosophy. As a result of his decades long experiences, he discovered what he believes are the most important attributes that an effective teacher should possess. He opined that, “The best teachers love helping students achieve their best self, are fueled with passion and committed to their craft, have an unquenchable thirst for learning, and last but certainly not least, are empathetic to others.” Dr. Dionisio also articulated how his personal skills will assist him in his new role, “I believe my most important attribute may be the recognition and understanding that by supporting our staff to achieve their individual potential enables our educators to in turn do their most important work to inspire our students.”

            Dr. Dionisio arrived at the RIH district with a vision to lead the community into the future. One item on that agenda includes working closely with the Board of Education to develop a strategic plan. He elaborated on that goal saying, “We will dedicate our time, talent, and treasure to the goals we value most, garnering support with a concerted effort as we work together in unison that will help us chart a clear path forward.” As a result, he has crafted his short-term objectives to support the long-term goals he has for the district. The Superintendent outlined that, “I will be intentional about my transition as I want to learn as much as I possibly can about the people, places, and processes in Ramapo Indian Hills. I have been focusing my efforts on my Superintendent Entry Plan by meeting with students, staff, parents and community members.” He continued, “I hope to develop a deep understanding of where our current strengths exist and where my attention should be focused to help guide our schools forward.”

            Of course stepping into the role of Superintendent of Schools in the middle of a pandemic could be fraught with unseen difficulties and challenges. But Dr. Dionisio is optimistic about steering the district through the obstacles that COVID-19 has presented. Facing it head on, the new Superintendent asserted that, “Helping navigate the ups and downs has had its challenges. But the future looks bright; as we will be returning to a new normal soon as the public health conditions continue to improve. I understand the stress that the pandemic has caused, but we must all be role models for our children, even when a difference of opinion exists.”

            Dr. Dionisio is looking forward to working with all of the community members and stakeholders that make the RIH district as outstanding as it is. His eagerness to do the job and his passion for education is obvious. He enthusiastically offered, “We have a dedicated Board of Education, exemplary leadership team, talented staff, engaged students, and supportive community. If we work together constructively and productively, the results will speak for themselves.” 

            Much like his recent experience of taking a risk and jumping out of an airplane at 13,000 feet, Dr. Dionisio is leading our district with an eye toward leading our students to new heights of success and achievement while ensuring that each student is equipped with skills needed for a successful life beyond high school. Although Dr. Dionisio’s goals for the district are lofty and sky-high, his feet are clearly planted firmly on the ground as he takes the first steps in his journey as the leader of the one of the greatest school districts in the State, and arguably the Country. No parachute is required.