This June, Dean Fusto took on the role of Head of School at the School of the Blessed Sacrament. The private Catholic school has two campuses — the 70th Street location is for students from PreK-3 through third grade and 52nd Street is the home of fourth through eighth graders.
The Upper West Sider began the multifaceted job, which he explained entails marketing, outreach and fundraising, in June after an extensive national search. With 30 years of experience in education, which includes work at independent schools across New England, the 54-year-old is thrilled to have the opportunity to be “the face of the school out in the community.”
The New Jersey native, who grew up in Saint Augustine, Florida, holds a master’s degree from Columbia and began the website teachlearnlead, which he described as a “one-stop place” that provides resources for teachers. He also started the Dominican Republic Orphanage Project and led students and faculty groups to live and work in an orphanage in San Cristóbal.
His commitment to serving others who are less fortunate continues to this day, and he can be found at The Church of the Blessed Sacrament’s soup kitchen on Sundays. He said one of the most touching things he’s seen while there is his fourth, fifth and sixth grade students volunteering. “They were there for two, three hours packing bags, helping to cook and prep,” he gushed. “And just watching the way they did that with such sincerity was very powerful.”
How did your job at Blessed Sacrament come about?
This is what’s known in the private school world as more of an executive search. So it was actually about a year in the making, meaning that they had a number of candidates. It was a national search. And I flew up, I think at least three times, over an eight-month period to meet with every constituency of the school because the role that I have touches upon marketing, outreach, fundraising, so I really met everyone, including the parish priest.
What does your job entail and what does a typical day look like for you?
It’s helping to have a vision for the sustainability and future prosperity of the school. So that includes really pounding the pavement, being a cheerleader and an ambassador for the school. I do a lot of outreach in the different parishes on the Upper West Side specifically, but also here at Sacred Heart. I’m at Hell’s Kitchen today, our other campus. So it’s one school, but two campuses. I think the other piece that’s important to note is after being a school for over 100 years, there’s a broad alumni base and I’m trying to reinvigorate that and reconnect with it, because I feel like it’s just not something that’s been done regularly over the years.
Do you do a lot of work with Father Nolan, the pastor of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament?
Yes, I’m real active specifically in the soup kitchen. I’m there every week so I’m part of that team that does that on Sundays. And then Father Nolan comes to visit our kids on both campuses once a week and checks in, answers their questions and then I try to be as active with him in other ways as well. That’s important, that bridge.
Tell us about the soup kitchen and how people can get involved.
That soup kitchen is all year round. There’s a central person there, Matt Collins, who coordinates the volunteer side of it. But we get a lot of people who will drop in after mass and ask how they can get involved. But usually it’s dropping in, taking a tour and getting a real sense of what’s happening there. And then we also get a lot of kids. These past couple weeks we’ve had students from Xavier, Regis and other schools volunteer.
What is the demographic of your students in each school?
The 70th Street one, definitely I feel like is more community based. We see lots of families from the West End buildings and Riverside, where I live. I’ve got families in my building. We get a lot from the Upper West Side who walk to school with their families and do drop-offs. You definitely would see that any day you walk by. Hell’s Kitchen, I think, is more of a combination, so it’s some of the neighborhood students, but also some commuters.
When did you know you wanted to go into the field of education?
When I decided that I did not want to be in the restaurant business. My parents were childhood sweethearts and owned restaurants for the duration of their 50-year marriage. I was the baby of three and I loved growing up in it, but I was always destined more for answering that call to be an educator and a school leader. I love that work.
Describe your website Teach Learn Lead and how that developed.
That was really reflective of my own need to want to be able to have a one-stop place where I could get all the resources I would want, links to leadership, school design, resources for teachers. And instead of keeping that just to myself, I started to develop it so I could share it out with teachers at first my school and then it became the U.S. and then it became global. That site is a non-monetized site. It’s a philanthropic site, really, meant to help and inspire teachers.
Explain your work at the orphanage in the Dominican Republic.
For about 20 consecutive years, even during winter semesters or in the summer, I led student groups and faculty groups to live in an actual orphanage in San Cristóbal, Dominican Republic. And it’s not a corporate program, it’s a homegrown program. I knew three different generations of a family that has two orphanages in the DR. And I had a long-term relationship with them and constantly brought our kids down to experience that life firsthand. So we lived in the orphanage, we worked in the orphanage, we established libraries and did projects they wanted us to do.
Do you keep in touch with your students?
I always keep in very close contact with my students. I hear from them and I work hard to stay in touch with them, especially alums who are now adults.
Share a memorable story about your students at Blessed Sacrament that touched you.
At Blessed Sacrament, what I’m struck by so far is just the love I see that kids have for doing service. This past Sunday at the soup kitchen, there were a number of students who were fourth, fifth, sixth graders. We fed about 75 to 100 people that day.
What are your future plans?
I want to be here to help support the Blessed Sacrament community, both the church and the school, in every way I can. Whatever skill set or talent I bring, I want to give it all to the students, the families, the faculty here. That’s really my main goal and why I took this role.