Education

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With the start of the school year less than a month away, school officials and parents are in the midst of adjusting to stricter state immunization requirements for children that will eliminate exemption from vaccines due to religious beliefs.  

The new measure, which took effect immediately after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed it into law June 13, comes in the wake of numerous measles cases throughout the country including cases in Brooklyn and Rockland County. This year, over 1,000 new measles cases have been reported — the highest in 27 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

“We are responsible for implementing the new state immunization regulations exactly as they are written.”

— Marianne Cartisano

New York joins four other states — California, Maine, Mississippi and West Virginia — in eliminating the religious exemption.

While school districts have been notifying parents and guardians about the new requirements through posts on their websites and letters sent in the mail, the new law remains to be a divisive topic. 

Advocates of the religious exemption say that eliminating it violates their freedom of religion rights. 

South Setauket and Setauket parents Dayna Whaley and Trisha Vasquez, respectively, both ardent anti-vaccine advocates, both said they had a religious exemption for their children but they and others are now considering home-schooling or even moving out of the state. 

“God made us in his image and didn’t make us with an incomplete immune system that needed to be injected with toxic chemicals in order to keep us healthy,” said Vasquez, 50. She added she does not subscribe to any one religion but still believes in God. She has a 9-year-old child in the Three Village Central School District. 

Whaley, 41, of the Jewish faith, said the options are very limited for her daughter, Grayson, who will be entering kindergarten. 

“With religious exemption eliminated, what other things can I look at that maybe could get my child [back] into school,” she said. 

In mid-June, the Three Village school district sent out a letter to parents/guardians alerting them of the new legislation signed by the governor. It advised them that every student entering or attending public school must be immunized against poliomyelitis, mumps, measles, Haemophilus influenzae type b, pneumococcal disease and meningococcal disease. 

Other school districts have also had to quickly deal with the law over the summer. Marianne Cartisano, superintendent of the Miller Place School District, said the number of exemptions in the district was estimated at 60 students, but the number has been reduced over the past several weeks. 

“Miller Place School District remains committed to ensuring a safe school environment for all of our students, while understanding parents have the right to choose if and when they immunize their children,” the superintendent said in an email. “We are responsible for implementing the new state immunization regulations exactly as they are written.”

“You look at the plastic bag ban — you have until 2020 to adjust to that, but our children are thrown out of school immediately and we are scrambling to figure out what to do here.”

— Dayna Whaley

The Miller Place super added the district has no option but to comply.

“We have no authority to deviate from these regulations and must adhere to the guidance provided to our district from the Department of Health and or Office of Children and Family Services,” she said. “During this time of potential transition, we look forward to supporting students and families throughout the vaccination and enrollment processes.”

The New York law requires that parents and guardians provide proof of their child’s immunization within 14 days after the first day of school. Also, within 30 days of the first day of school, parents or guardians must show that they scheduled appointments for follow-up doses for their children. 

Some required immunizations include those against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (chicken pox).

Until June 30, 2020, a child can attend school if they receive the first age-appropriate dose in each immunization series within 14 days from the first day of school attendance and can show within 30 days that they have scheduled age-appropriate appointments for required follow-up doses, according to NYS Department of Health officials. By June 30, 2020, all students attending school should be fully up-to-date with their required immunizations. 

One option Whaley and others have looked at is seeking a medical exemption from state, but she said it is extremely difficult to obtain one as an individual has to fit a certain medical profile. 

“Even if we wanted a medical exemption, try finding a doctor that will write one for you or even allow you in their practice,” the South Setauket resident said.

Anti-vaccine proponents are a small but growing group of advocates who argue against vaccination. The group often relies on scientifically disputed pieces of information. The vast majority of the scientific and medical communities have rejected their arguments. 

Beyond the scientific arguments, the Setauket parents took issue with the law going into effect immediately. 

“You look at the plastic bag ban — you have until 2020 to adjust to that, but our children are thrown out of school immediately and we are scrambling to figure out what to do here,” Whaley said. 

Both parents say they are weighing potential co-op and home-schooling options for their children. They said moving would introduce its own host of difficulties.

Dr. Sharon Nachman, division chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, said she is glad to have this level of protection for all children in Suffolk County. 

“Just as seat belts protect all kids, even those that don’t like them or feel they are too confining, vaccines will now protect all of our children,” the division chief said. “There is abundant data that shows that when we vaccinate all kids, we not only protect them, but also their parents and grandparents. The vaccine law is not specific to measles and includes all vaccines appropriate for school-aged children.”

“Just as seat belts protect all kids, even those that don’t like them or feel they are too confining, vaccines will now protect all of our children.”

— Sharon Nachman

According to a report by the New York Health Foundation, 26,217 students statewide, had religious exemptions from vaccinations during the 2017-18 school year. 

Nachman said with the implementation of the new requirements, she and her colleagues have seen an increase in both questions about vaccinations, about the numbers of children who are getting their initial vaccines as well as those who are getting up to date with their vaccines. 

“Community protection is a real event,” Nachman said. “As we have seen with the recent measles outbreaks, the only way to combat these outbreaks is by protecting all the children in our community.”

Nachman said the Pediatric Infectious Diseases division at Stony Brook often discusses the scientific data with families who have questions, but those who come in with their minds made up about the risks and benefits of vaccines, especially those who are against them, will rarely agree with the need to vaccinate.

Northport power plant. File photo

At the Long Island Power Authority’s July 24 board meeting, Larry Kelly, a trial attorney, described at a public comment session how LIPA in 2006 and 2007 instituted what he called “the largest tax fraud” he’s seen in his 35 years as a lawyer, according to Huntington Town councilman, Eugene Cook (R).

Cook has independently asked New York State’s Public Service Commission Chairman John Rhodes in a letter dated Aug. 6 to review and “forcibly address” the issues. 

According to Cook, Kelly alleged that LIPA used the tax system to extend tax exemptions and reductions to Caithness power plant, which was awarded a contract to build a new 350-megawatt power plant in Yaphank, and then used those low taxes to argue in court that National Grid’s four aging power plants on Long Island were overassessed.

“I also request the PSC review LIPA’s ‘unclean hands’ in the Northport filings, and the impact that should have on LIPA’s continued operations,” Cook’s four-page letter concluded. The letter was sent on a town letterhead, but was not signed by other town board members, the supervisor or the town attorney.  

Councilman Eugene Cook

The term “unclean hands” is a legal defense which essentially references a legal doctrine that states a plaintiff is unable to pursue tax equity through the courts if the plaintiff has acted unethically in relation to the subject of its complaint. 

The allegations are surfacing just weeks after closing arguments were presented July 30 in LIPA’s tax certiorari case with the Town of Huntington for the year 2014. It is unclear how the allegation could potentially impact the outcome of the case as post-trial deliberations continue. The unclean hands defense was not part of the town’s defense, according to the Town Attorney Nick Ciappetta, who offered no public comment on the allegations.  

Kelly, a Bayport resident who ran for a New York State Supreme Court judgeship in the 2018 election, is unaffiliated with Huntington’s case, but said his obligation as a trial lawyer is to act as a steward of the law. 

LIPA did not respond to email requests for comment on the public allegations. 

A LIPA press release dated Jan. 25, 2006, stated that the Caithness plant in Yaphank would include a $139 million payment in lieu of taxes agreement with $100 million over 20 years going to Bellport’s South Country school district. 

LIPA’s 2019 Property Tax Reduction pamphlet, which is publicly available and published on its website, highlights the value of Caithness plant in contrast to the Port Jefferson, Northport and three other plants. On page 14 of the report, LIPA stated that in 2016 Caithness paid $9.7 million annually in taxes, while the Northport plant paid “eight times” as much in taxes, or $81 million, and Port Jefferson paid “three times” as much in taxes, or $33 million.  

The report also stated on page 14 that LIPA reimburses National Grid under its contract more than it earns in power revenue, a sum that factors in property taxes. 

“Those losses, the amount by which costs exceed the value of power, are paid by all 1.1 million electric customers,” the report said. It indicated that LIPA’s goal for filing tax challenges in 2010 against Nassau County, the Town of Huntington, the Town of Brookhaven and the Village of Port Jefferson “in an attempt to obtain a fair tax assessment on the four legacy plants.” 

In a telephone interview, Kelly referred to a Feb. 15, 2012 meeting with the Town of Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, which recorded a Caithness representative explaining that “LIPA pays the PILOT to Caithness who then makes the PILOT payment to the IDA, and then they get a check back from New York State which is then returned to LIPA.” 

The minutes further stated, “This is the only power plant on Long Island that the ratepayers are not paying any real property taxes net out of pocket for the first 10 years, resulting in a saving of $80 million.” 

Kelly and Cook, in presenting the allegations publicly and to the commission, claimed that Bellport’s school district, South Country, which Cook said in his letter is comprised of 40 percent minority populations, were shortchanged tax revenue that could have funded school programs. Representatives from the South Country school district did not respond to email and telephone inquiries about their tax revenue from Caithness. 

The Public Service Commission has said that it has received and is reviewing the letter from Cook. It offered no other response to questions related to its potential response.

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Students will walk through security vestibules come first school day

Workers construct the vestibule in Terryville Road Elementary School. Photo by Kyle Barr

With $32 million in the Comsewogue school district’s pocket from a recently passed bond, school buildings are seeing various amounts of renovation and reconstruction throughout
the district.

The Terryville Elementary cafeteria flooring is being replaced. Photo by Kyle Barr

Phase I is a $5.8 million chunk of the $32 million, which voters approved 768 to 315 back in 2018. Work is well on its way this summer, with projects going on in all six of the district’s educational facilities, many of which focus around the same theme, security vestibules.

“They are security traps, so there is a staging area between the two doors,” said Susan Casali, associate superintendent. 

Vestibules are being installed in each of the six buildings, though they’re not uniform in shape and design, having to mold around the current entrances. In the Terryville Road Elementary School, the building’s office is being moved closer to the entrance to allow for windowed access into the vestibule, “like you would see at a bank,” Casali said.

A new addition to the parking lot at Terryville Elementary. Photo by Kyle Barr

This works with the school’s Raptor Visitor Management System, a web-based monitoring software designed to track visitors and electronically check them against public databases. In addition, all employees now use lanyards that can be scanned at the schools’ front entrances to gain access to
school buildings.

All vestibules are expected to contain bullet-resistant glass. It was something that school officials said was part of the planned bond project during committee even before the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, last year. That particular shooting set off a wave of calls for increased school security. If the glass is not installed by the time school starts Sept. 3, the district plans to install it before Jan. 1, 2020.

“We wanted to really increase our security,” Casali said. 

New refrigerator equipment is being installed at several Comsewogue schools. Photo by Kyle Barr

Other than the vestibules, this year’s part of the bond project includes repaving the parking lots and replacing sidewalks at Terryville Road Elementary School and Boyle Road Elementary School. At Terryville, the work has created an additional parking lot for school staff on the north end of the lot, as well as replacing the cafeteria flooring for asbestos abatement. This accounts for a large portion of Phase I funds, with work at Terryville and Boyle costing a combined total of $2,733,435.

All elementary schools will see new kitchen equipment, including a new kitchen walk-in cooler at Terryville and gas conversion and cooled condenser, replacing an old freezer and refrigerator at Boyle Road, Clinton Avenue Elementary and Norwood Avenue Elementary. Norwood will also be getting a replaced kitchen ceiling and serving line reconfiguration. The high school kitchen and cafeteria ceilings are also being replaced with new lighting where the kids will sit and eat.

Associate Superintendent Susan Casali demonstrates the ID system. Photo by Kyle Barr

In addition, doors throughout the district with knobs are being replaced with levers that are American Disabilities Act-compliant.

Phase II, taking more than twice that of Phase I from bond funds at over $11 million, will mostly go to reconstructing sidewalks and roads at the high school and Norwood. The project is also expected to add a batting cage to the high school’s upper gym, renovate the JFK Middle School auditorium, replace Terryville’s roof and replace waterless urinals and sinks throughout the district.

Additional information and pictures about phases I and II of the bond projects can be found at www.comsewogue.k12.ny.us/school_board/bond_status_updates_summer_2019.

Artie Gross, behind him his office at the SWR middle school. Photos from Gross

“It was a good time. I enjoyed the opportunity to teach a lot of talented kids,” said Artie Gross, reflecting on a more than three-decade music teaching career, much of it spent at Shoreham-Wading River. 

Gross, who has been a mainstay in the Shoreham-Wading River school district as a middle school vocal music teacher for the past 35 years, retired at the conclusion of the 2018-2019 school year. 

“He was the ultimate professional.”

— Kevin O’Brien

“I just knew it was time,” he said. “Thirty-five years is a good number.”

Gross said that since he was a kid he knew he had a passion for music. As a young man he remembered constantly playing guitar and singing.

“I would bring my guitar to school — I was the class musician, I got involved in some of the school’s shows and plays,” he said. 

When it came time to decide what he wanted to pursue as a career, Gross said he knew his parents wouldn’t pay for guitar lessons. 

“It was pretty obvious I wasn’t going to school to be a guitar performance major,” the Port Jefferson resident said. 

Despite that, Gross found his answer while being in a high school chorus class.  

“My high school chorus teacher made such an impression on me and I was like ‘This is what I want to do,’” said Gross.  

After graduating high school, he went to the University of Rhode Island for one year before transferring to SUNY Buffalo to complete his bachelor’s in music education. Gross would then go get his master’s degree at Ithaca College. 

From there, Gross got his first gig teaching in the Bethpage school district, filling in for a music teacher who was out sick for the year. 

“From February to June of that year I was full-time teaching strings,” he said. “I ended helping out with shows and doing a little bit of singing.” 

The following year, Gross initially thought he would be going back to Bethpage but the district told him it was now a brand-new position and would bring him down to starting sub-salary. 

“They told me I’d be teaching seven elementary school classes a day and I was like, this doesn’t sound good,” he said. 

While Gross ultimately decided not to stay at Bethpage, he had heard there was an opening for a music teacher at SWR and called to see if the job was still available. 

“They told me it was still available. The superintendent didn’t like the person we sent up,” he said. “I met with the assistant principal and principal — and boom, I was hired that day. Just a few days before the school year [in 1984].”

Gross said during his first year he wanted to build up the chorus program in the middle school. After one year it went up from 48 kids to more than 100 kids participating. 

After his first year in the district, Gross began splitting time at the high school and middle school as a traveling teacher. During his time at the high school he was involved in music direction for shows as well as taking charge of the chorus. Starting in 1990, he came back to the middle school full-time. 

Linda Jutting, a former orchestra teacher at SWR, first met Gross during his first year on the job in 1984.

“It wasn’t until 2002, when I came back to the district, that I worked with him at the middle school for 15 years until I retired,” she said.

Jutting said her own three children had Gross as a teacher and said he had an amazing work ethic.

“He was really dedicated to his craft and his students,” she said. “He went above and beyond.”

Gross said he had a strong passion for what he did and wanted to share it with the kids. 

“I think one of my strengths is being able to connect with middle school kids and treat them like young adults,” he said. “I think one of the most important things is believing in them and getting them to believe in themselves.”

“He was really dedicated to his craft and his students.”

— Linda Jutting

Kevin O’Brien, district band director at SWR, said he can’t say enough good things about Gross. 

“I worked with Artie in the same building for 12 years. He mentored and helped me during my first couple of years in the district,” he said. “He was the ultimate professional.”

Gross mentioned when he retired, he received a signed poster from former students. He realized all the people he had affected positively.  

“I was just doing my job, I didn’t think I was doing anything special,” he said. “One girl told me, ‘I became a social worker because of the way you treated me.’”

Gross said he is looking forward to practicing playing his guitar more and hopes to visit his children in Wyoming and Australia. The Port Jefferson resident also hopes to be involved in the middle school shows in the future and is currently giving private lessons. 

“I had a good career. I got to share something that I loved, which was music,” he said.

 

Stony Brook University has been awarded more than $2 million in grants. TBR News Media file photo

Stony Brook University has been awarded more than $2 million in grants that will go toward funding mathematics, engineering, physics and other science education.

On July 26, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) announced the university had been awarded five grants.

“Whether it’s educating the next generation, helping us protect our planet or pioneering the future of mathematics, Stony Brook University is on the front lines of research and innovation,” said Zeldin in a press release. “Driving this critical federal funding back to some of the brightest minds of our generation, located right here on Long Island, will go a long way in helping these scientists carry out their vital work.”

Of the five grants, the university’s engineering academy will receive the most funding with more than $1.1 million going to the program.

The academy’s stated goal is to increase students’ motivation to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The program will prepare middle school students for advanced science and math courses as well as potential engineering careers down the line.

Stony Brook University has been awarded more than $2 million in grants. Photo from SBU

“The programs we have in place targeting K-12 students, teachers and counselors, as well as undergraduate and graduate students at Stony Brook, are key building blocks in constructing a diversity pathway in STEM,” said Fotis Sotiropoulos, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “Targeted to middle school students and teachers, this unique program will engage them in the excitement, challenge and opportunity in engineering as a field of study and potential career.”

The remaining funds will go toward research studies. More than $365,000 will be used to study physics and climate regulation. Also, researchers will look into understanding radiative balance and precipitation changes in tropical weather patterns.

Close to $300,000 will fund a study spearheaded by Anatoly Frenkel, which will look at electro-chemo-mechanical processes at the atomic level. According to Sotiropoulos, Frenkel’s research has the potential to transform a wide range of vitally important technologies, ranging from focusing devices in the cameras of cellular phones to fuel injectors in automobiles.

In addition, more than $300,000 will be used to fund two mathematics studies through the mathematics department.

“There is no greater catalyst for scientific discovery than research universities,” said Michael Bernstein, the recently appointed Interim President of Stony Brook University. “The grants we have received allow us to address society’s most pressing challenges. As Long Island’s sole public research institution, we remain committed to advancing scientific knowledge throughout our region and around the world.”

The five grants were awarded by the National Science Foundation, an agency created by Congress in 1950, which promotes the progress of science; advances national health, prosperity and welfare; and works to secure national defense.

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Shoreham-Wading River school district is considering converting the closed fitness center into a wrestling center. Photo by Kyle Barr Photo by Kyle Barr

Shoreham-Wading River’s ailing fitness center may see a new lease on life, should the puzzle pieces come together.

At a July 8 meeting, Superintendent Gerard Poole presented the idea to the school board that the district could convert the old Joe Ferreira Fitness Center and turn it into a wrestling center, while at the same time taking the auxiliary gym and turning that into a new fitness center.

Though the thought is still up in the air, the plan would require making major renovations to the old fitness center, located just to the east of the main high school building. The fitness center, built in the 1980s, was closed in July last year when an assessment of the building by the school district’s internal engineer showed the flooring was not up to code for constant physical activity. The building would require additional steel supports, toilet renovations to make it ADA compliant, new HVAC, emergency lighting and an upgraded fire alarm system.

Last October, the district said the renovations could cost upward of $200,000.

The district moved exercise equipment into room A101, right next to the cafeteria. Room A102 will also be used for fitness come September.

In a survey sent to students by the district about whether they would use a fitness center within the high school, 75 percent responded yes.

At the July meeting, Poole said the district had originally included the fitness center as part of its 2015 bond project, which is currently in the midst of renovating the high school parking lot. Though the school district could use additional funds left over to remake the fitness center, it won’t know how much funds it has left until the end of August, the superintendent said. There is no current funding in the 2019-20 budget to convert either the auxiliary gym or old fitness center.

Local residents who once extensively used the old fitness center for exercise during non-school hours have said they wished to be allowed to use the machinery, though Poole said they would have to look at hours and access for nonstudents on the off hours.

In addition the district said this change would potentially allow them to use the outside building as a polling place, instead of the usual gym space. School’s being used as polling places has been a sore spot for several North Shore school districts as they continue to look at security concerns.

Poole said, in speaking to the Suffolk County Board of Elections, there is no requirement that the district reuse the same space.

“It’s a matter of looking at the layout seeing where everything can fit,” Poole said.

 

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Shoreham Wading River school district earlier this month began construction of a new parking lot at the high school. This is the latest project in the district's 2015 bond renewal project. Photo from Google Maps

Shoreham-Wading River High School students and staff will return to a newly renovated building in September as this month the district began the next step in its 2015 renewal bond project.

Work at the high school commenced in early July and the building will be going through a number of renovations.

“The bond has really given a sense of renewal to the school district,” Gerald Poole, superintendent of schools said.

Last summer, Prodell Middle School’s cafeteria was renovated as part of the bond project. Photo by David Luces

The project will include the reconstruction of the high school’s main parking lot as well as adding an additional bus drop-off loop meant to improve student safety. Renovations will be made to the high school kitchen and cafeteria, main office, guidance office, psychologist and social worker’s office and nurse’s office. Ceilings throughout the building will be repainted.

“The bond [project] will be the first major renovation/construction work since the inception of the high school in 1975,” Poole said.

The high school auditorium will also undergo additional renovations to sound and lighting fixtures after it received new paint, carpeting and seats last summer. Poole said the project will run through August and everything will be done before the start of the school year.

“Over the summer, the auditorium will be getting a downstairs audio/visual booth,” the superintendent said. “It will have a state-of-the-art lighting and sound system. Students in the theater and arts program will really enjoy it.”

Since the bond project was approved four years ago, the district has undertaken a slew of projects.

The first phase of the bond project was completed in 2016 with the reconstruction of Shoreham-Wading River High School’s tennis courts and roof. The high school’s football field was also upgraded with new turf. Phase two involved renovations at both Miller Avenue and Wading River elementary schools. Miller Avenue’s parking lot was reconstructed with additional parking as well as a new bus loop that goes to the rear of the building. The school was also expanded with the addition of new kindergarten classrooms.

Last summer, the middle school got a new cafeteria and kitchen as well as a renovated main office area and library.

The renovated bus loop at Wading River Elementary School. Photo by David Luces

“I am so grateful to the community for supporting this bond back in 2015, it was much needed work,” Poole said. “It has been exciting these past summers and seeing the work happen.”

The superintendent said it has been a satisfying feeling when students, staff and parents come back and they’re just proud of the new spaces.

“It’s been a boost to the school district,” he said.

During construction, the district office will remain open although parking for the North Shore Library will be relocated to the rear of the high school building. In order to access the temporary parking for the library, drivers should bear left at the fork in the driveway toward the district offices rather than right, toward the high school. Also, there will be limited access to the high school campus. Tennis courts, fields and trails will be closed throughout the summer. High school staff will be relocated but phone systems and extensions will remain intact.

“We are pushing to get the parking done as soon as possible,” Poole said.

After renovations are complete, the superintendent said they will be taking a look back at the bond project and evaluating where the district is at.

“We’ll look at the priorities of the district going forward and keep looking for areas where we can improve on,” Poole said.

 

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District to rename high school after Robert Grable

The Mount Sinai community held a vigil remembering Robert Grable on July 22. Photo by Kyle Barr

The storm loomed large and dark from the west, just as members of the Mount Sinai community were starting to say their goodbyes to High School Principal Robert Grable, who passed July 19.

However, instead of turning around and running for their cars, the Mount Sinai community, family and friends of Grable, turned and moved into the high school. His vigil would continue, rain or shine.

The Mount Sinai community held a vigil remembering Robert Grable on July 22. Photo by Kyle Barr

“On July 19, as he went about his business, his usual routine going off to the gym, Rob Grable passed away,” said school board President Robert Sweeney to the assembled crowd. “Use his name. It keeps him with us. No matter what we do, no matter how hard this is, what would he want us to do? Do your best, be professional, be strong.”

Grable joined the school district in 1998, teaching fourth, fifth and sixth grade before moving up to assistant middle school principal and in 2005 to middle school principal. He would become high school principal in 2010, during a reshuffling of staff where TBR News Media reported at that time he was there to help facilitate a “diversity of staff.”

In his earlier years, before he entered education, Grable played Major League Baseball for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies. He can be found in the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame. The 49-year-old was a lifelong resident of Connetquot and father of three girls.

But if his true calling was education, it showed, according to both those who worked with him and those students he guided.

Lynn Jordan, a Mount Sinai resident who had been on the board of education since 2007 until this year, said the high school is where he truly thrived.

“That was his building — that was where he belonged,” she said, only a few hours after learning of his passing.

The high school principal would be instrumental in several programs that saw the high school thrive, Jordan said, including a “collegial observation process” that had teachers sit in on other instructors’ classes, having them learn from each other. While the program met with some initial resistance, it soon became an important part of teachers mentoring each other, especially for those just coming into the district.

“Teachers are very funny about having other people in their classrooms while they’re teaching,” she said. “It grew tremendously. I think about every teacher was participating in the collegial rounds eventually.”

Scott Reh, the district’s athletic director, knew Grable for nearly 20 years, having been one of his closest comrades. He said the principal cared about the students like they were his own children.

“He had a vision — he was a presence in the high school,” Reh said. “If you look at the Mount Sinai High School, Rob created that, he made it.”

Vincent Ammirato, who taught and coached alongside Grable, would later work under him as principal. He said he remembered joking, saying Grable once worked for him, and he was now his boss. Even with him moving up in the district, Ammirato said the principal never lost that personal connection to his students.

The Mount Sinai community held a vigil remembering Robert Grable on July 22. Photo by Kyle Barr

“The kids loved him, the parents loved him, the teachers loved him,” he said. “It’s very rare that you find that in education or any walk of life to be loved by so many people.”

Students who spent years with the principal, both in the middle and high schools, would come to see him as more than just an administrator.

Daria Martorana, a Mount Sinai native who graduated in 2014, said she had traveled the road from middle to high school with Grable, adding he was magnanimous to her and the other students.

“To say Mr. Grable was a passionate and dedicated educator is an understatement,” she said. “He has always been the one who his students could go to for a laugh when we were down, guidance when we were lost, and help when we were confused … he would even escort us to class, so we didn’t get in trouble for not having a late pass.”

Sidney Pirreca, a Mount Sinai graduate of the class of 2015, said Grable was a friend to students, even tacitly participating in that year’s senior prank where the soon-to-be graduates hosted a tailgate party in the faculty parking lot.

“I asked him to bring a tub of cream cheese,” she said. “He was a great person, friend, leader and mentor … A thank you will never
be enough.”

To those who paid attention to his methods, Grable took a look at teaching like a coach would on the baseball field, seeing how each individual student has strengths that had to be pushed and nurtured. He was adamant that students just looking to coast through easy courses should challenge themselves.

“[He] mentored them all through the year, making sure they were really getting what they needed,” Jordan said. “He worked with kids. He tried to make the final outcome better.”

Grable spoke at the 2019 senior commencement ceremony just last month, June 28. Jordan said that, even though he had spent nearly 19 years in the district and could have moved up higher in administration, he considered the high school his home.

The Mount Sinai community held a vigil remembering Robert Grable on July 22. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Robert Grable was so much more than a principal,” said Gabriella Conceicao, a 2014 Mount Sinai graduate who would later become a teacher in the district. “There are few educators who take the time to get to know their students on a personal level, and he was one of them. He built relationships that would last far beyond high school, and he touched the lives of countless students and faculty members … I feel so lucky to have known him as a principal, friend, mentor, and co-worker.”

Mount Sinai school district announced it would be changing the name of the high school in honor of its late principal.

“There are no words to show the impact Mr. Grable has had on each and every one of his students,” Martorana said. “We are so lucky to have had him as a mentor and teacher but more importantly as a friend.”

A scholarship fund has been created to help Grable’s three daughters. Checks can be made payable to Mount Sinai Administrators Association, mailed to Mr. Matt Dyroff c/o Mt. Sinai High School, 110 North Country Road, Mount Sinai, NY 11766.

 

David Badanes speaks at a Northport-East Northport school board meeting. File Photo by Eric Santiago

On July 15, members of the Northport-East Northport Union Free School District board of education gathered for their annual reorganization meeting. During the meeting new trustees Larry Licopoli and Thomas Loughran, as well as re-elected member Allison Noonan, were sworn in by the board counsel. Each member will serve for three years on the board.

   Additionally, the positions of board president and vice president were voted upon in which David Badanes and Allison Noonan were appointed, respectively. Both were also sworn in by the board counsel. Both Superintendent of Schools Robert Banzer and District Clerk Beth Nystrom took their annual oath of office, pledging to fulfill their duty in serving the district.

Principal Robert Grable speaks at the 2019 high school graduation. Photo by Bob Savage

Mount Sinai High School Principal Robert Grable passed July 19. He was 49.

Mount Sinai High School Principal Robert Grable addresses the graduating class of 2015. Photo by Erika Karp

Grable joined the school district in 1998, teaching fourth, fifth and sixth grade before moving up to assistant middle school principal and in 2005 to middle school principal. He would become high school principal in 2010, during a reshuffling of staff where TBR News Media reported at that time he was there to help facilitate a “diversity of staff.”

In his earlier years, before he entered into education, Grable played Major League Baseball for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies. He can be found in the Suffolk sports hall of fame. He was a lifelong resident of Connetquot and father of three girls.

“The community, school district and its teachers, administrators and staff are devastated by his untimely loss,” the school district said in a statement.

But if his true calling was education, it showed, according to both those who worked with him and those students he guided.

Lynn Jordan, a Mount Sinai resident who had been on the board of education since 2007 until this year, said the high school is where he truly thrived.

“That was his building — that was where he belonged,” she said, only a few hours after learning of his passing.

The high school principal would be instrumental in several programs that saw the high school thrive, Jordan said, including a “collegial observation process” that had teachers sit in on other’s instructors classes, having them learn from each other. While the program met with some initial resistance, it soon became an important part of teachers mentoring each other, especially for those just coming into the district.

“Teachers are very funny about having other people in their classrooms while they’re teaching,” she said. “It grew tremendously, I think about every teacher was participating in the collegial rounds eventually.”

Scott Reh, the district’s athletic director, knew Grable for nearly 20 years, having been one of his closest comrades. He said the principal cared about the students like they were his own children.

“He had a vision — he was a presence in the high school,” Reh said. “If you look at the Mount Sinai high school, rob created that, he made it.”

Vincent Ammirato, who taught and coached alongside Grable, would later work under him as principal. He said he remembered joking, saying Grable once worked for him, and he was now his boss. Even with him moving up in the district, Ammirato said the principal never lost that personal connection to his students.

“The kids loved him, the parents loved him, the teachers loved him,” he said. “It’s very rare that you find that in education or any walk of live to be loved by so many people.”

Students who took spent years with the principal, both in the middle and high schools, would come to see him as more than just an administrator.

Daria Martorana, a Mount Sinai native who graduated in 2014, said she had travelled the road from middle to high school with Grable, adding he was magnanimous to her and the other students.

“To say Mr. Grable was a passionate and dedicated educator is an understatement,” she said. “He has always been the one who his students could go to for a laugh when we were down, guidance when we were lost, and help when we were confused… he would even escort us to class so we didn’t get in trouble for not having a late pass.”

To those who paid attention to his methods, Grable took a look at teaching like a coach would on the baseball field, seeing how each individual student has strengths that had to be pushed and nurtured. He was adamant that students just looking to coast through easy courses should challenge themselves.

“They mentored them all through the year, making sure they were really getting what they needed,” Jordan said. “He worked with kids, he tried to make the final outcome better.”

“That was his building — that was where he belonged.”

— Lynn Jordan

Grable spoke at the 2019 senior commencement ceremony just last month, June 28. Jordan said that, even though he had spent nearly 19 years in the district and could have moved up higher in administration, he considered the high school his home.

“Robert Grable was so much more than a principal,” said Gabriella Conceicao, a 2014 Mount Sinai graduate who would later become a teacher in the district. “There are few educators who take the time to get to know their students on a personal level and he was one of them. He built relationships that would last far beyond high school and he touched the lives of countless students and faculty members… I feel so lucky to have known him as a principal, friend, mentor, and coworker.”

Community reaction to the news on Facebook was swift in its condolences, with one resident calling him “one of the most compassionate educators Mount Sinai has ever had.”

The school district announced it would be closed at 3 p.m. Friday, July 19 until Monday July 22 in observance of Grable’s passing.

“There are no words to show the impact Mr. Grable has had on each and every one of his students,” Martorana said. “We are so lucky to have had him as a mentor and teacher but more importantly as a friend.”

*This post was updated July 19 with additional information and quotes.

** This post was updated July 22 with additional quotes

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