Messages of love and condolences continue to be shared throughout the community and on social media as Staten Island mourns the loss of beloved P.S. 56 Principal Phil Carollo, who died of a heart attack earlier this month on March 1.
The 49-year-old husband and father of two loved his family, his job and his students. And they all loved him back.
“Phil had a knack for making everyone feel special and important,” his wife Erin Carollo said. “He loved being a principal and he loved P.S. 56. He was one of the very few people I know who got up each day and loved going to work. He loved the kids.”
Carollo, who lived with his family in Tottenville, had a passion for teaching that resonated through the school every day. He was charismatic and fun, according to Erin, and wasn’t the type to stay in his office all day–he preferred engaging with the students. He was at every arrival and dismissal, giving high-fives to the kids. He was even known to break out a boom box, crank up the music and hold impromptu dance parties in the hallways.
The beloved principal’s passing has left parents and students feeling a tremendous loss. Heather Gambaro, whose 6-year-old son, John, is a student at P.S. 56, is heartbroken.
“He was an amazing principal. He wanted students to not only learn, but have fun doing it,” Gambaro said. “My little guy would run to him every day to get hugs and high-fives, and do Spiderman poses. They’d have a full on conversation about movies.”
Gambaro recalled a time when Carollo helped her through some difficulty her oldest son, Marc, was experiencing when he was a younger student attending the school.
“I remember we were having some problems with my older son, so my husband and I had a meeting at the school,” Gambaro said. “Principal Carollo helped us and listened. He always believed in Marc and made him feel like he could accomplish anything.”
Carollo was a fan of singer, Post Malone. Linda Acevedo, a special education teacher at P.S. 56, is organizing a petition asking the singer to record a brief video to honor the late principal. To date, the petition has over 1,400 signatures.
The friendly and fun principal was well-known for popping into classrooms at any time to pose for selfies with the kids. He organized many events and fundraisers for P.S. 56 and made student- and school-safety a priority.
“He really understood that in order for kids to learn, they need to feel safe and loved,” Erin, who is also a teacher, said. “That’s the atmosphere he created in school. He did a lot of fun things with them which gave him the in to give them what they needed academically. They took such pride in being students at that school that they really did thrive.”
His fun-loving teaching style and engagement with the students didn’t stop when COVID-19 started. During the pandemic, Carollo made it a point to stay connected with his students every day by reading them bedtime stories on Facebook. He was also a strong advocate for having technology in his schools, even before the pandemic hit.
As passionate as he was for his career, Carollo didn’t always want to be a teacher. Some of his earlier jobs were in finance and construction. It was when he began coaching his nephews in baseball that he realized his passion was in teaching.
“It sparked something in him and he knew that he wanted to work with children,” Erin said.
After going back to school to get his education credits, Carollo began his teaching career in 2000 at P.S. 44, Mariners Harbor. Ten years later, he became the assistant principal of P.S. 22, Graniteville, before taking the role of principal at P.S. 56, Rossville, in 2017.
Coaching baseball is not only how Carollo discovered his passion, but how he met Erin, too.
“Phil and I met at a South Shore Little League game where he was coaching his nephews. I was there to see my friend’s brother and some kids I used to babysit, and I saw him there. Phil used to always tell the story of how as soon as he saw me, he told the other coaches, ‘that girl doesn’t know it yet, but she’s gonna be my wife.’ I met him that day, and we were inseparable since.”
The couple was married for 17 years. His two children—Sophia, 15, and Giovanni, 10—brought him so much joy, and his family meant the world to him. He loved them very much.
Carollo’s Italian heritage was also important to him. He had a very close relationship with his parents, who are trying to cope with their son’s death.
“It sounds cliché, but Phil really was the American dream. His parents were immigrants from Sicily. They wanted to give him all the opportunities that they didn’t have,” Erin explained.
Carollo also leaves behind a sister, a sister-in-law and two brothers-in-law.
His dog, a Lhasa apso named Chewy, still waits for him to come home.
Condolences and Support
While it’s been very difficult for Erin and her children, having the support of family, the school and community is helping her through this tragic time.
“I think it’s so important for my kids to see how much their father meant to so many people,” Erin said. “To my kids he was ‘dad,’ and we loved him because he was ours. But it’s important for them to see the impact he made on so many people.”
Dr. Marion Wilson, superintendent for Staten Island public schools, spoke about Carollo’s dedication to his job and his students.
“Phil Carollo was a beloved principal in District 31 and a true champion for children,” Wilson said. “Phil had high expectations for his students and provided his teachers with all of the support to ensure students were socially, academically and emotionally successful. He touched the life of everyone he met, and his legacy will remain with us forever.”
David Banks, NYC schools chancellor, shared his condolences.
“I offer my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Philip Carollo and the entire school community at PS 56 for this tragic loss. It is clear that Principal Carollo was a truly beloved leader at P.S. 56, filled with school spirit and passion for his work. I know he will be missed dearly, and I am so grateful for all the work he has done to support his students over the years, touching the lives of so many.”
Erin and her family continue to be thankful for the condolences and support from the community.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “From the day I met him, I knew that he was something special. I’m just glad that the world got to see what I always knew.”
Phil Carollo was laid to rest in the Cemetery of the Resurrection, Pleasant Plains, on March 5, 2022.