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Friends Having Breakfast

Meet Me in Medford | Paul Ruseau School Committee

Paul Ruseau may have chosen Medford on a whim, but he's firmly planted roots here, becoming an integral part of the community. From his unexpected journey to finding a home in the Hillside neighborhood to his unwavering commitment to advocating for accessible education, Paul's story embodies the spirit of dedication and community engagement. 

As a School Committee member, avid nature enthusiast, and proud resident, Paul's commitment to his community shines through in every aspect of his life. We spent some time with Paul to learn how he found his home, literally and figuratively, in Medford. 

You are originally from NH, yes? What drew you to Medford?

My soon-to-be husband and I were living in Somerville on Powderhouse Boulevard — a stone’s throw away from Medford — and to start a family, we were searching for a single-family home. It was the height of the housing bubble in the early 2000s, with people making cash offers or paying way above the asking price. We were stressed about it because we felt like we couldn’t compete, and we decided to take a break and relax. Not long after, our close friends purchased a two-family on Orchard Street, and while we were helping them move some stuff in, we noticed a realtor setting up for a first open house directly across the street. For some reason, we had excluded condos from our search. I think in our minds, the American Dream meant a single-family house, but we decided why not look? So we went over, looked around, and turned to each other to say, “Wow, this is nice and big enough; plus, the backyard is HUGE!” That was a big bonus for us; there aren’t that many large yards in Medford.

We returned to our friends' place and floated the idea of moving in — more like, “Would it be weird if we moved in across the street?” — and they were totally on board. So we returned to the realtor and suggested putting in an offer on the spot at the asking price, and she agreed. So that’s what we did! All without knowing a thing about Medford!  It was probably the most impulsive thing I’ve ever done, but it was one of our best decisions ever.

What do you enjoy about your Medford neighborhood? Why do you continue to choose Medford as your home? 

When we first moved here, we had friends right across the street. We adopted our kids, and then our friends had their own kids. It was perfect because it gave us instant community! We walked in and out of each other's homes unannounced — we were family and still are. They later moved to West Medford because they needed more space as their family grew, but we remain very close. There were other kids in the neighborhood, too, and over the years, there have been cycles — for a while, no other kids, but now there are a few more little ones.  It’s fun to watch these seasons of life in other people.

I was born in Massachusetts but grew up in very rural New Hampshire. Until I lived in Medford, I had no clear concept of a community-based location. Living on Orchard was my first taste of that, and it turns out I really like it! I didn’t know what I was missing until I experienced it. My husband and I were set on a few things for our family — we wanted to stay in one place to give our kids a sense of “this is home” beyond the household. Over time, however, we had watched neighbors with young kids move to Arlington and Winchester “for the schools,” so naturally, we became concerned. 

I remember a conversation with a close friend on Orchard Street. They made a point that stuck with me: "MCAS data doesn't necessarily reflect what people assume it does." Carl Sciortino, our State Rep back then, elaborated, highlighting how MCAS scores are more reflective of family wealth and educational background than a school district’s ability to educate. It was my first time dipping my toe into the topic of education, so what Carl shared was a revelation for me.

This is a great segue to your role on the School Committee; what inspired you to run, and what inspires you to continue to serve?

I am in my fourth term on the School Committee. It's pretty remarkable to reflect on—I had little to no knowledge of what a School Committee entailed a mere year before my election, and I had never considered running for office at all in my entire life. Like many people who run for office, someone asked me to do it.  Yes, we are still friends, although I think she has some guilt now that she knows how much of my life has been consumed by this work.

I like to do my research, although buying my home would suggest otherwise! So, I started attending School Committee meetings in March 2017. When I say attended, I mean I attended every meeting and stayed from the beginning to the end, even while the Committee was in Executive Session. I remember the members and Mayor Burke telling me I could go home when the Executive Session was after the regular meeting — there was no more public session — but I refused and sat and waited, no matter how late the session ran. I felt if I couldn’t handle the schedule, I needed to know that before I ran. I think some of the members and certainly Mayor Burke were impressed by my dedication — but I wasn’t doing it to impress them— I was doing it because I felt this was vital work, and I needed to be all in if I was going to do it.

The other backdrop, if you can call it that, was that the 2016 election had been traumatic for many folks, myself included. I felt that complaining online wasn’t enough. Not everyone has the advantages necessary to run for office and serve — but I did, and it felt important to use my skills to serve the public. I saw that Medford Public Schools needed someone in leadership with the types of skills I had. I’m a software engineer, and logic, clarity, vision, and seeing into the future, or at least planning for it, came naturally to me.

I remain committed to this work. I’m grateful I did not know how much work was really going to be involved. It is truly a full-time job, at least for me. The list of policies and projects I have written up in my own documents but have not pushed forward would keep Medford Public Schools busy for a decade if there were nothing else to do, such as educating our kids! I have certainly learned to be a far more strategic person since being elected!

Since I ran for office, one of my principal goals on the school committee has been to make public education genuinely free. Many people mistakenly believe it's already free, but it costs thousands of dollars per child for every family. If public education is meant to be free, it should truly be free—no buying paper, markers, or paying for sports. We shouldn't expect families to cover these costs or rely on assistance for those who can't afford them. I often share in my speeches that as someone who grew up in deep poverty, I realized early on that I was one of the kids who couldn't afford certain things, which affected my participation. It's heartbreaking to see students lose interest in activities simply because they can't afford to participate. That's why I advocate for genuine accessibility to education for all students, regardless of their financial circumstances.

What inspires me is so basic and simple. Not long ago, I was at the Natick Mall while my son was at a birthday party with classmates. I sat down on a comfy couch and listened to my audiobook. While sitting and enjoying my audiobook, a father with his sleeping daughter, maybe two years old, came and sat nearby. He sat back on the couch while she slept. I found myself distracted by my emotions; what I saw was so beautiful, yet I felt sadness as it reminded me of something someone once said to me about the moments when your kids cuddle with you or fall asleep on your chest — “Enjoy them, you’ll never know when that was the last time it will happen.” I doubt anyone remembers the last time their child fell asleep on their chest — because why would you know it was the last time!?

So why does this inspire me?  Because my kids, your kids, all the kids of Medford, have such a short time to get the best education we can give them, and then it is over. There are no do-overs. I bring this urgency to the work I do for Medford’s children.

What are your favorite spots around the city? For folks new to Medford, where are the “hidden gem” spots you enjoy? 

I live in the Hillside neighborhood, where walking the Tufts campus is the obvious place to get off the pavement, which is lovely. It doesn’t provide the natural connection that the Middlesex Fells does, but I don’t need to hop in my car to get to the Tufts campus. I know the Fells get a lot of attention, and my goodness, it deserves it! I grew up in the woods in rural New Hampshire on a 300-acre farm embedded in protected forests at the foot of one mountain near Mount Monadnock. While the Fells may not match waking up in the woods of my childhood, it certainly offers the revitalizing experience of trees, moss, and bustling wildlife. My only regret living where I do is that I don’t live closer to the Fells, where I could just walk out my door and go into the woods.

The next best thing, however, and the place I don’t think gets enough attention, is the Mystic River, my go-to place. Growing up, I did not have a river nearby and always wanted to live near one. There were swamps and streams, but no river, so the Mystic is special to me because it fulfills that dream. I’ll walk the loop to Whole Foods and then along the banks of the river and back home, which takes no time at all. Sure, there are the cars on Route 16, which, with practice, you can tune out as you look out onto the river — you’re transported! Medford has a remarkable amount of nature for a city that is so dense, which is a real benefit.

Warning though, when you walk this route, you might have to walk by Goldilox Bagels —which I only warn you because once you start, you can’t stop eating their bagels. The Rosemary Salt bagel and the occasional special, the Garlic Salt bagel, are both delicious. And if you like Everything bagels, no one does it like them — every square millimeter of the bagel is coated in Everything seasoning— redefining what “Everything” really means.

If you like a milkshake —and I have no clue if it is a New Hampshire thing or just something I inherited from my father, but I love milkshakes— then Colleen’s in Medford Square is the place to go and where my daughter might be there to serve you!

The Farmers Market at the Condon Shell is another wonderful feature of Medford. The people who put this on are so dedicated. I’ve never thought much about farmers markets — I just assumed they just “happened”! I’ve since learned they are a LOT of work, and I’m grateful they put that effort in because I love the Farmers Market!

You’ve painted a great picture of life in the Hillside! If your best friend told you they were considering a move to Medford, what would you tell them? 

Of course, I’d start by saying we have great schools! My children attended Missituk Elementary and Andrews Middle School and received an excellent education. While my son and daughter will graduate from the current high school, I’m excited and looking forward to working to get Medford a new high school in the coming years, even though we have just begun the process.

At the same time, this is a tough question. There are several Medfords in Medford, each with its character and conveniences.

The Hillside neighborhood where I live has primarily two-family homes and many college students from Tufts who are overwhelmingly delightful and excellent neighbors. We have many food options within walking distance. The Danish Pastry House is another tempting place, and there’s Tamper for coffee and Tasty Cafe and Kitchen. We also have the Green Line now, so traveling into Boston from this side of town is very convenient.

South Medford feels more densely populated, probably because there are fewer trees there, but it’s home to Colette Bakery, and while I’ve never been to France, this is probably as close as I’ll ever get. I’m grateful I cannot walk to it because I’d eat there daily. I love Oasis Brazilian BBQ - although, like Colette, I’m glad I can’t walk there too quickly.

West Medford has a smaller town feel, is less densely populated, and has many more single-family homes. You can get ice cream at CB Scoops, grab a burger at Snappy Pattys, tacos at El Vaquero, or have a gourmet meal at Bistro 5 and other great food options.

North Medford amazes me. I drive up there several times each week, and when I say “up there,” you need to see it to believe it. Those are some serious hills! I love it, and every time I’m up there, I’m wowed by the views! Not only is the neighborhood beautiful and lush with greenery, the views of Boston are out of this world. I love that the homes are on the smaller side, not filled with mansions, although I assume there are a few larger homes tucked away since I haven’t driven the entire area. It holds a neighborly feel — I don’t know why I think that, but it’s something in my gut or that there are two little stores up there: Jim’s Market and People’s Corner Market.

There is the Wellington area — although I find the name odd — it implies the horrible traffic or the T station, at least if you don’t live there — but then there are all these cute streets with beautiful homes. It’s a little easier to navigate than North Medford because it’s more grid-like. You’re close to a lot of shopping in Wellington with Station Landing and Wellington Circle Plaza.

Like Wellington, the Haines Square area around Salem Street, which is more grid-like, has many gorgeous homes on wide tree-lined streets. There is good food and a bustling small business district, including Modern Hardware. I’m looking forward to how this city area will transform in the coming years.

No matter where you are in Medford, though, one thing is consistent — the people— they are consistently welcoming and consistently interested in our community. I have no data on this subject, and it could be because of my rural upbringing, but there seems to be a lot of civic engagement in Medford, and that’s exciting and bodes well for our future as a community. You can’t go wrong moving to Medford.

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