By Kevin Redding
A beloved Mount Sinai administrator, whose kindness and compassion have served the district for nearly four decades, is retiring at the end of the year — leaving behind huge shoes to fill.
Every morning for the last 17 years, principal John Gentilcore has stood in front of Mount Sinai Elementary School to greet his students with his warm trademark smile as they hop off the bus.
As part of his daily routine, he also makes a point to put time aside in his administrative schedule to visit classrooms and engage with the kids, oftentimes sitting, legs crisscrossed on the floor with them. When lunchtime rolls around, Gentilcore pulls up a chair and eats with them in the cafeteria, making sure to sit at a different table each day.
“I definitely get more from the kids than they get from me … they’re so genuine,” the principal said, adding that there’s something about the kids that brings a smile to his face.
When Gentilcore became principal in 2000, kindergarten teacher Willow Bellincampi noticed right away just how much the kids loved him.
“Sometimes with the principal, kids are afraid, but when John comes through the door, they’re so happy,” she said. “He’s always around, he gets down to their level, looks them in the eye when talking to them and not a lot of adults do that. ‘I’ll send you to the principal’ is never a threat to them because they love him. He’s compassionate.”
At 60, Gentilcore admitted although it wasn’t an easy decision, retiring at this point in his career will give him more time to spend with family and friends, and travel.
“I definitely get more from the kids than they get from me … they’re so genuine.”
“I’ve been really proud to be part of the Mount Sinai district and I will miss the people, the great faculty, staff, and, first and foremost, I will miss the children,” he said.
Before becoming principal of the elementary school, Gentilcore taught several grade levels and coached girl’s varsity soccer at Friends Academy, a private school in Glen Cove, after graduating from SUNY Oneonta.
As the son of a superintendent — his father — and an elementary school principal, Gentilcore said he received informal education at the dinner table with them.
He was first named principal at the school in 1987, before being named the assistant principal at Mount Sinai Middle School in 1991, and principal in 1995. Ultimately, he landed back at the elementary school in 2000, where he said he “felt at home.” In 2003, he received his doctorate from Hofstra University.
“There’s something about kids that is very refreshing,” he said. “The elementary school is where their educational journey begins and it’s where we can start a real foundation together. Throughout the day, if a little one needs my assistance, I’ll conference with them. I try to make each day a little bit better than the day before.”
Although reluctant, the school board voted to accept Gentilcore’s August retirement.
“He is the consummate elementary school principal, a gentleman who deeply cares about his students, and we will miss him as a board and a school district,” Board trustee Robert Sweeney said during the Feb. 15 meeting.
Assistant principal Elizabeth Hine considers Gentilcore the best mentor she could ask for.
“I can’t say enough about how wonderful he is as a boss and a principal,” she said. “He taught me how to handle students, parents, everything … he’s just amazing. He enjoys what he does. It’s all about the kids, and he keeps that in the forefront of his mind and that’s how he makes all his decisions. It’s going to be a challenge for a lot of teachers to come in on a daily basis knowing he’s not going to be there.”