Mount Sinai community stands in rain and shine at vigil for principal

Mount Sinai community stands in rain and shine at vigil for principal

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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.