By Seth Daniel
Many years ago on the streets of the North End and the old West End, Paul Revere Principal Nick Quaratiello began his working career at 6 years old by barking out prices for his uncle’s fruit and vegetable pushcart.
Next week, on June 30, Quaratiello will finish his working career in the principal’s office of the Paul Revere School (now Beachmont).
“My uncle had a pushcart and he gave me a pocketful of change and taught me how to bark,” said Quaratiello. “I started selling things at age 6.”
In between those times, he has influenced thousands of students and parents, providing a school and classroom environment that was as friendly and joyful as it was innovative and educational.
Quaratiello, or Mr. Q, as the Paul Revere School community refers to him, was born in the old West End of Boston and his family moved to Roslindale when he was 7, because of the infamous bulldozing of that neighborhood.
After graduating from Boston Technical High School and Boston State (now UMass-Boston), Quaratiello found a place in Ipswich next to his mentor, Henry Dembowski, who stressed the need for more men in elementary education classrooms.
His first teaching job was in Marblehead, and for most of his classroom career, Quaratiello taught in the lower elementary grades, having been very motivated by Dembowski’s ideas. That’s typically not a place where one finds male teachers.
“I think kids need male role models right from the beginning of their education,” he said. “It really struck a chord with me when I heard [Dembowski] speak. I had children around me all my life…I felt I could understand them and children always came to me with questions…From a very early age, I felt I wanted to do something working with children.”
By the time Quaratiello got to the Paul Revere School, which was about 12 years ago, he had already honed a grass roots style that will be missed throughout the community.
Always wearing a suit and tie, Quaratiello was frequently seen playing his guitar and was known to have kids sent to his office for praise rather than punishment.
“I have always kept my guitar in my office because I want to let kids see me as a real human being with interests and let them know I am generally interested in them,” he said. “I have always worked to eliminate what I call the ‘Oh, Oh, here comes the principal’ syndrome.”
That syndrome, he said, comes when principals are only disciplinarians and they don’t get into the classrooms enough.
During his tenure at the Paul Revere, Quaratiello visited classrooms twice a day – getting right down and working with the kids alongside their teachers.
“I wanted it to be so that it wasn’t an event when I came to the classroom, but I was expected,” he said. “I was part of the fabric.”
Misha Gerson, an English as a Second Language teacher, said the entire school and staff would miss Quaratiello’s style and caring.
“We all really will hate to see him leave,” she said. “We don’t want him to leave.”
During his tenure, Quaratiello and the staff literally turned the Paul Revere around. The school handled the former bilingual program for all the city’s elementary grades. In many cases, that meant some of the most challenging situations came to the Paul Revere.
That also was reflected in some MCAS test scores that went downward and got the school on a state watch list. However, Quaratiello and the staff led the school back out of those problems, and now some of the best scores in the city come out of the Paul Revere.
Quaratiello will also be known for helping to start the annual Veteran’s Day program at the school, a program that has become a centerpiece for the entire city and has been highlighted by the Boston media numerous times.
However, it is the school’s annual sojourn to the Chelsea Soldier’s Home that is the greatest teaching moment, he said.
“Since we started our Veteran’s Day program, the day after we have always taken our fifth-graders to the Soldier’s Home and I would take my guitar and we would go floor to floor and wing to wing, singing patriotic songs to the vets there,” he said. “The children would write essays and draw pictures for them, too. The Soldier’s Home experience is the crowning jewel for what we do at the Paul Revere to honor our vets.”
One other part of Quaratiello’s career in Revere that cannot be ignored is the new Paul Revere School that is under construction.
When the principal stepped into his new job, housed in such an old building, he said he felt it was quaint and cozy, but soon realized the structure was more troublesome than sentimental.
Now, however, he won’t get to enjoy the new school – which will be online in September 2010. He will retire one year too early to find himself in a new office on the same grounds as the old school. He said, though, that he was happy for the community.
“I’m thrilled that in one more year they will get that new school,” he said. “I know it will make a difference. The old Paul Revere was charming, but it had outlived its usefulness.”
Instead of enjoying that new office, Quaratiello said he would enjoy his family and his music (he has been a working, professional musician as a side job during his entire teaching career). He is married to Cindi and has two adult children and one young granddaughter.
“My granddaughter is first on my list, and [I’ll be] continuing with my music and just taking a step back,” he said. “Who knows? Maybe I’ll decide to come back as a consultant or on a part-time basis, but not for a while…I’ll be enjoying family and friends.”