David Robert Ruenzel
November 8, 1954 – November 25, 2014
David Ruenzel was an education journalist and teacher who spurred both national debate and reform, who challenged convention yet championed the classics of English literature-but always with a good-humored irreverence. A published author, essayist and poet, words were his oxygen, ideas his abiding intellectual and emotional sustenance, and solitude in nature his time for reflection. Two days before Thanksgiving, David was hiking a trail in the Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve in the East Bay near his home when he was shot and killed.
Born in Milwaukee, WI, David earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy at University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 1977, he worked in a printing company in Germany and hitchhiked through Europe-he enjoyed the simple freedom of the open road and had travelled the American West in high school. He returned to Madison, working part-time as a pharmacy technician while courting his wife-to-be, Nancy Aldrich. He was accepted into the MFA in Creative Writing program at Indiana University-Bloomington, studying under poets Roger Mitchell and Philip Appleman, along with fellow students such as Texas State Poet Laureate Dean Young. David's poems and short stories were published in The Iowa Review, The Southern Review, and The Antioch Review, among others.
He began his education career as an English teacher at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis (1981-83)-with a brief detour as an advertising copywriter in Milwaukee. In 1988 he became the English Department Chair at the University Lake School, in Hartland, Wisconsin. He left full-time teaching in 1990 to raise a family, and to work on a novel. Arguably the only stay-at-home dad in his Shorewood neighborhood at that time, he wrote over 200 articles and book reviews for Teacher Magazine, Education Week, and other publications on such topics as middle school reform, peer review, authentic assessment, progressive education, Montessori education, the Paideia Program, Waldorf education, writing curriculum, John Dewey, African-American private schools, Bill Ayers, sex education, and Harkness education. During his 10-year tenure as Features Writer for Teacher Magazine he was a National Magazine Awards finalist for excellence in public affairs reporting for a story he wrote on a gay teacher who had come out to his class (unusual for 1995).
In 1996, he moved with his family to the Bay Area and began to focus on education policy analysis, working with national education policymakers such as Michael W. Kirst and Bruce Fuller and the Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), EdSource, WestEd and the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE). In 2000 and 2001, he edited the books Inside Charter Schools (Harvard University Press); and From High School to College: Improving Opportunities for Success in Postsecondary Education (Jossey-Bass). In 2003, David joined The Athenian School Humanities faculty and for a decade taught Journalism and Literature.
Most recently, David was a member of "The Cadre of Writers" team at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, authoring blogs and features on teacher effectiveness and the Common Core. A spiritual man who volunteered his time, David taught reading skills to young adults at West Oakland's Next Step Learning Center and led the adult education program at Our Lady of Lourdes.
David is survived by two children-Stefan Ruenzel (Lina Lopez), a filmmaker, and Margaret Ruenzel, a musician; his wife of 33 years, Nancy Aldrich-Ruenzel; and his 8 month-old grandson Soloman Ruenzel. Predeceased by his mother, Dorothy Genz Ruenzel, David is also survived by his father, Fred Ruenzel, sister Liz Gustavson (Steve Gustavson), brother Rick Ruenzel (Mary Taves), and nieces Lydia Ruenzel, Eva Gustavson, Sophie Gustavson, Annie Gustavson, and nephew Donald Gustavson.
A memorial service in David's honor begins at 11 a.m., Saturday, December 13, at Our Lady of Lourdes in Oakland (2808 Lakeshore, Oakland, CA), followed by a reception. In lieu of flowers, please make donations in David's name to the Regional Parks Foundation (http://www.regionalparksfoundation.org
Published by San Francisco Chronicle from Dec. 11 to Dec. 12, 2014.