By Melody Burri
Retired Victor Central School District Superintendent Dawn Santiago-Marullo talks life, values and the future of public education
Q: You’ve enjoyed many career accomplishments. What gives you the greatest joy as you look back?
A: I’ve been blessed to have done work I loved for 37 years in the same district. I have so many fond memories of former students and colleagues. So many of my former students are working, raising families and making a difference in the world — it’s heartwarming. I’m proud of leading the Victor Central School District through the recession. It was quite challenging, but everyone worked together to continue our mission of preparing our students for their futures.
Q: How has your own life changed since retiring?
A: I enjoy spending more time with my family, especially my husband and granddaughter. During the pandemic, we had our now 10-year-old granddaughter, Lucy, two days a week from March 2020 until students returned to school in person full-time. We were so fortunate to have all that unexpected quality time with her. We played, read books, made art, baked goodies and went for a lot of walks.
Q: What hobbies are you pursuing in your new-found “spare time?”
A: I’ve always loved reading for fun. I’m really enjoying having more time to read and have joined a couple of book clubs. I also like doing complicated jigsaw puzzles. Tom and I planned to travel a lot once we retired, but haven’t done much since March 2020. Before the pandemic, we went to Italy and Australia, returning from Australia on Feb. 23, 2020. Fortunately, neither of us have had COVID.
I’d like to go to Greece some day, so in April 2020, I started learning Greek using the app Duolingo. I grew up bilingual — English and Spanish — because I lived in Puerto Rico until I was 10. I’ve always enjoyed studying languages. When I was in school and college I studied French, German, Russian and Italian. I only remember a few words from these languages, but I’ve found them all helpful for learning Greek.
Q: What was one unexpected retirement challenge you’ve encountered?
A: I went from 60 miles per hour to 0 miles per hour overnight. At first it felt very weird to have so much time on my hands. That’s not a problem anymore. I’ve found a lot of rewarding ways to use my time.
Q: What specific benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle have you experienced?
A: Being retired has helped Tom and I prioritize our health. We eat better and exercise daily. I’ve walked — Tom runs — a lot in the neighborhood and area trails. I usually do between three and six miles. Last spring, we decided to walk/bike the Erie Canal from Lock #29 in Palmyra to Lockport in short segments, traveling three to five miles each time. By Fall 2021 we made it to Middleport. We’re looking forward to finishing the goal this spring.
Q: What’s one core value that has served you well through your career and continues to shape your retirement?
A: Working hard, giving back to the community and caring about others. One of my new interests is serving on the Greater Rochester Chapter of the American Red Cross board of directors. I’m currently vice chairperson and will be chairperson in July.
I’m also an adjunct professor for the University of Rochester, Warner School of Education. I supervise PreK-12 educators who want to become school administrators. Since September 2019, I’ve worked with 33 educators. I’m enjoying being part of their preparation to be school leaders. It’s an opportunity for me to ‘pay it forward.’
I’m volunteering as the executive director of the foundation I started when I was superintendent. The Victor Central Schools Educational Foundation supports the district by providing funds for educational opportunities not already funded by the district. Our website is https://vcsef.com/
Q: What’s one thing that gives you hope about the future of education and the next generation stepping into adulthood?
A: Young people today care a lot about others, our environment and leading balanced lives. I believe the next generation will make this world a much better place.