By Gemma Schneider
Carol Murphy first met Jay Pilnick when she was interviewing to be his co-assistant principal at Roslyn High School. Pilnick was sitting beside the student government president at the time, cracking jokes that his student mentee couldn’t help but laugh at. Later that day, Murphy recalled, she had to ask a talkative Pilnick to leave the room so that she could finish up a writing sample. He respectfully obliged.
“He made quite the impression on me before I was even hired,” Murphy, who was later appointed to the position, laughed.
Pilnick joined the Roslyn community in 1983, when he began working as a special education teacher at the Roslyn Middle School. In 1997, he moved on to become an assistant principal at the high school, where he’s served ever since.
Murphy’s first encounter with Pilnick offers a perfect encapsulation of the person that he is. Funny, loud, passionate, and a real friend to his students, Jay Pilnick managed to make “quite the impression” on most everyone whom he met during his 37 years at Roslyn. As he retires from his assistant principal position this year, these attributes, which become strikingly palpable within only a few moments of meeting him, are what Pilnick’s students and co-workers will miss the most.
“I will miss his great sense of humor and all the memories we shared together,” Murphy said. “Mr. Pilnick gave his heart and soul to Roslyn High School. He leaves a huge legacy behind.”
Pilnick’s students – former and current – have long enjoyed his vibrant personality and marked affability. Luhan Yang, who graduated from Roslyn in 2018, said that she will never forget the way in which Pilnick would wait outside the high school each morning, without fail, to greet all of his students as they entered the school building. Daniella Futoran, Roslyn Class of 2020, still marvels at the fact that Pilnick already knew her name when she walked through the doors of Roslyn High School on her first day – “he studied just as hard as any of us,” she remarked. Jessica Yeroshalmi, Roslyn Class of 2019, recalled that she could always hear Pilnick’s voice from across the hallway when he chatted with students. She wistfully shared that, as much as she would tease Pilnick about his loud enthusiasm, his voice “made Roslyn a warmer place… one that felt like home.”
Pilnick will also be remembered by Roslyn students for his wit. Solidified through everything from lighthearted jokes to elaborate pranks, a piece of Pilnick’s legacy undoubtedly rests in his keen sense of humor.
“Mr. Pilnick would always say I was his number one fan because there wasn’t a single joke he told me where I wasn’t laughing,” Emily Mintz, a member of the Roslyn Class of 2019, said.
Futoran also recalled a moment from last year in which Pilnick sent her and another student a series of emails that led them to believe that they “were in serious trouble.” When they arrived at Pilnick’s office, his secretary prepared the students for a sit-down meeting to “discuss their behavior.”
Soon, a smiling Pilnick arrived at the scene. They weren’t in trouble at all. Rather, as Pilnick soon divulged, he had called the pair to his office to announce that they had both earned the 2019 Bruce Cutler Memorial Award, which celebrated their work as flag bearers for the Roslyn Marching Band.
“He knew excessive details about our lives and joked relentlessly about them,” Futoran reflected. “He kept us in check.”
Perhaps most important to Pilnick’s legacy, though, is the way in which he was there for his students in all circumstances – not only when someone needed a buddy or a laugh.
“He was always around the building, chatting with students… and making sure things were as they should be,” Marguerite Barone, who worked as Pilnick’s co-assistant principal before Murphy came to Roslyn, said.
Yang remembered a particular time in which Pilnick offered her an important hand of comfort and support. Yang was feeling sick, but, because the school day was officially over, the school nurse’s office was no longer open. So, Pilnick stayed by Yang’s side, not leaving until he was able to confirm that she would be alright.
“He genuinely cares about the well-being of students in the school,” Yang shared. “He made Roslyn a warm and welcoming community.”
Some of the most prominent initiatives that Pilnick launched during his time at Roslyn were centered on tapping into students’ individual needs and emotional health. He helped bring Challenge Day, a freshman workshopping event that is now held annually, to Roslyn High School. The collaborative workshop seeks to build compassion and foster feelings of acceptance among participating freshmen.
He was also instrumental in the creation of the Roslyn Hilltop Academy, which is Roslyn’s alternative high school, where students can receive personal counseling and support at a level that’s not readily accessible in most other high school settings.
“To say Mr. Pilnick was dedicated to Roslyn is an understatement,” Murphy reflected.
Pilnick’s retirement doesn’t mark an end to his engagement with the Roslyn community. It merely opens up a new chapter of involvement. Pilnick’s retirement ambitions include plans to visit and read to classes at The Heights School, as well as intentions to advise high school students who may be in need of an experienced mentor. He also looks forward to being in the audience at Roslyn High School concerts, plays, marching band competitions and sporting events.
Pilnick related that when he was first appointed to the assistant principal position in 1997, his primary goal was to become “the assistant principal who always kept students first.” In the 23 years that followed, this vision became a reality – Pilnick’s voice became a source of warmth for students, his jokes became providers of relief, and his professional initiatives became vehicles for meaningful change. Although Pilnick’s voice will no longer fill the halls of Roslyn High School, its reverberations will continue to echo throughout the school for years to come. The promise of this lasting legacy clearly suggests a job well done.
Gemma Schneider is a contributing writer for Anton Media Group