Mount Sinai Elementary School has a new principal in Rob Catlin — a passionate administrator from New York City who, like his predecessor, puts kids first.
Catlin, 36, principal of River East Elementary School in Harlem from 2011 to 2016, was appointed by the board of education during its May 9 meeting, effective in July. The appointment came just months after longtime principal John Gentilcore, who served the district for a total 30 years, announced he would be retiring at the end of the school year.
Prior to his five-year principal gig, Catlin, a Babylon native, taught first grade and served as a math coach and staff developer at PS 11 in Chelsea, Manhattan. He’s since worked in the New York City Department of Education Central Offices.
He and his wife, Michele, after years of living in the city, look forward to settling down on Long Island with their three-year-old son, Ben. Mount Sinai, Catlin said, was a perfect fit.
“What drew me here was the warm, tight-knit, small community — it was the kind of place I could see myself in,” Catlin said. “As a principal, I’m very involved with the kids and try to build strong relationships with the families and students. To me, it’s important to build trust. I want to make sure parents know they can come to me, send an email, stop by my office.”
As principal, Catlin added, he likes to empower teachers to make decisions and kids to be independent thinkers.
“Coming into a new setting, I’m looking forward to spending lots of time in the classrooms, listening to concerns, listening to what people hold dear and love about the community, maybe some things we could do better,” he said. “And use that to really drive the vision of the school.”
Catlin, who graduated from New York University with a degree in elementary education and then Hunter College with a master’s degree in literacy, beat out seven other candidates screened by the district’s school-based organizations, staff, administrators and board following Gentilcore’s February announcement.
“[Rob] Catlin emerged as the favorite after impressing many members of each committee,” wrote Superintendent Gordon Brosdal in a statement on the district’s website.
Catlin said the school’s commitment to the arts, recent integration of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project — with which he has plenty of experience — and overall climate made him feel right at home during the interview process.
Following in Gentilcore’s footsteps, Catlin said he’s also not the kind of principal to hide behind closed doors and be seen as an intimidating authority figure. Even if he’s in a meeting and a student peeks his head in the door, Catlin laughs, he’ll invite them in.
“I always want to be accessible to the kids and want them to see my office as a place to just come talk, or tell me about concerns they [might] have,” said Catlin, recalling a River East student he used to bond with as principal. “I would talk to him, spend time with him whenever he was having a bad day … and if I was having a bad day, I would go talk to him. I get as much out of these relationships as the students do.”
Jessica Davis, the mother of one of Catlin’s River East students, Orion, regarded him as “a great and attentive leader,” who would stand outside the school to greet the kids as they got off the bus every morning.
“He always kept time open to greet children and parents and converse with them — he knew many of them, if not all of them, by name,” Davis said. “He has a very good spirit — one time [for Halloween], my son dressed up as Mr. Catlin and pretended to be the principal. Mr. Catlin took him around the school with him.”
River East Principal Mike Panetta, who served as assistant principal under Catlin, said Catlin is easy to get along with, sets clear expectations and has good interpersonal relationships with teachers and students.
“I think [Rob] is going to be successful wherever he goes — he really cares about kids and wants to do what’s best for them and the school,” Panetta said. Catlin, he added, “brought a lot of socio-emotional programs and clubs for kids and expertise in math” to River East.
Stating “Gentilcore is the kind of principal I aspire to be,” Catlin said he looks forward to getting advice from the veteran administrator this summer before he bids farewell.
In an email, Gentilcore wrote: “I would like to extend my congratulations to Mr. Catlin and wish him the very best in the years ahead.”