The word “pride” is synonymous with the Greenport school community. The five-letter motto is instilled in the district’s students at a young age and carries on long after the final school bell has rung.
Over the years, the term has been used on posters and T-shirts, to name community parades and in countless headlines and speeches.
A “Porter” is expected to take pride in their school and few individuals embodied that spirit quite like Cindy Goldsmith-Agosta, friends, colleagues, former students and family members explained this week.
Ms. Goldsmith-Agosta, a special education teacher, was among a select group of district residents who walked the school’s hallways as a student and later returned as a teacher. She died suddenly Saturday after suffering respiratory failure leading to cardiac arrest, her family said. She was 47.
Ms. Goldsmith-Agosta had been dealing with another undisclosed illness prior to the new year before contracting COVID-19 on Jan. 1. Vaccinated, she believed she had gotten over COVID after testing negative twice, and returned to the classroom last week. She felt her students needed her after the holiday break, her family said. She later developed a new infection.
“Had she not been sick prior to COVID and not picked up another infection last week, she may have made it,” her mother, Linda Goldsmith, said. “Her body could not fight it.”
Following Ms. Goldsmith-Agosta’s death, the Greenport School District announced it would take the unusual step of closing school Thursday for a day of mourning, as the beloved teacher was laid to rest. In addition to her mother, she is survived by her husband, Salvatore, their son, John, her dad, Russell, her sister and a nephew.
“There are no words to describe the loss that we are experiencing with the news of losing Cindy,” Greenport High School principal Gary Kalish said in a statement. “Our hallways, classrooms and community will never be the same. She was a beloved member of our faculty, a trusted and well-respected colleague who cherished our school and our children. She had a dynamic personality that we all loved. Her contribution to all of our lives will not be forgotten.”
In a letter to parents, Greenport Superintendent Marlon Small said words cannot express how devastated the school community feels.
“[She] has been an integral part of the Greenport School District,” he said. “She was not only a member of our faculty, but a parent, a friend and a graduate of the Greenport School District. We are simply heartbroken by her untimely passing.”
In addition to the school closure, a candlelight vigil was held outside the school at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Hundreds of mourners attended to pay their respects to the beloved teacher. Even as the school parking lots filled, guests kept arriving. Police officers directed traffic to make sure everyone had the opportunity to attend.
“[Ms. Goldsmith-Agosta] had a special bond with anyone she encountered,” said Greenport High School graduate Shyane Jones, leaving her comfort zone to speak to the large crowd at the vigil. “She was warm, loving and caring. She was always thinking about the next person. Always putting people before her.”
Ms. Jones was one of a handful of people, including Mr. Kalish and family friend Frank Musto, to speak at the event. A group of seven students sang in tribute to her.
“In our grief it is difficult to put into words what she meant to all of us,” said Mr. Musto, a former substitute teacher at the school. “She was always a loving daughter, wife and a loving mother to her son. She saw goodness as being an integral part of her students and all the people she associated with. She taught with love.”
Ms. Goldsmith-Agosta was raised in East Marion, attending classes at Oysterponds Elementary School, where her mother, an educator, was a long-time school board member. She graduated from Greenport High School in 1992 and followed her mother into teaching.
Ms. Goldsmith said her daughter had a “fierce loyalty to her students.”
“Cindy was a great teacher,” Ms. Goldsmith said. “[She was] understanding and kind, but if a student needed an adamant nudge, she was on it. And her students succeeded. Some may not have gone to Harvard, but almost all of them have gone on and are living happy, full, productive lives and give back to their communities.”
“If you needed anything you went to Cindy.”Melanie Douglass
Fellow Greenport High School teacher Melanie Douglass knew Ms. Goldsmith-Agosta since their childhood days as students at Oysterponds. She described her as the “strongest supporter” for all.
“If you needed anything you went to Cindy,” Ms. Douglass said. “We knew that, her students knew that, everybody knew that … People were just drawn to her. She was a mom to all and purely genuine.”
Karre Brown of Riverhead said in her household growing up, Ms. Goldsmith-Agosta was referred to as her brother Michael’s “school mom.” Mr. Brown, who had cerebral palsy and died tragically in a 2010 car crash, was a student in Ms. Goldsmith-Agosta’s class, but the impact she had on him extended far beyond the classroom, his sister recalled.
“[She and Ms. Douglass] would come by the house and check on him and make sure his schoolwork was done and handed in on time,” she said. “And if he needed anything at all, it didn’t matter if it was a pair of shoes or if it was help with his car, Cindy and her husband and her family, they would just help out.”
After Mr. Brown was killed, Ms. Goldsmith-Agosta remained in his family’s life and supported the charity set up in his name.
That type of dedication is no surprise to those who knew Ms. Goldsmith-Agosta’s dedication to the school’s students.
Alexis Wachtel, a 2013 Greenport graduate who lost her dad while attending the high school, said that even though she was not in Ms. Goldsmith-Acosta’s class, the teacher frequently went out of her way to check in on her and make sure she was OK.
“She was a person who lit up the room and was a good role model for everyone,” Ms. Wachtel said. “It’s a tough loss for the community and her family. Everyone I spoke to [over the weekend] was in disbelief.”
Shanice Strickland, who also graduated in 2013, said she got to know Ms. Goldsmith-Agosta during a study hall period in high school, where they’d joke around to pass the time.
“She used to put her hand on her hip and call me girlfriend,” Ms. Strickland recalled Monday evening, laughing at a memory of Ms. Goldsmith-Agosta showing off a new pair of Coach shoes. “To this day it makes me laugh.”
But they’d also use that class period to discuss deeper subjects, like the young woman’s future.
“You’d second-guess yourself, but she had faith in you,” Ms. Strickland said, recalling how the teacher pushed her to pursue scholarships that seemed out of reach.
Ms. Strickland, who now works as a dental assistant, said she’s not sure she would have been successful without Ms. Goldsmith-Agosta’s support.
“She was an amazing woman.”
Jessica Dlhopolsky, was another former student at Greenport High School to pursue a career as a teacher there. She said she always marveled at Ms. Goldsmith-Agosta’s dedication.
“To say that she went above and beyond for her students would be an understatement,” she said. “I’d like to believe that Cindy is continuing her role, caring for students that have also left this earth too soon.”
Ms. Douglass said that when the pressures of teaching would get to colleagues, Ms. Goldsmith-Agosta, a former teacher’s union president, would open up her home to them as a place to decompress.
“Her son, her husband, and her family were her everything,” Ms. Douglass said. “My heart breaks for them and for us. I do not know what we will do without her.”
Speaking at the vigil Tuesday, Mr. Kalish spoke of the tight bond Ms. Goldsmith-Agosta had with the faculty and he delivered a message from them to the late teacher’s family.
“I want to express our deepest gratitude for sharing Cindy with us as her school family, and I know I speak for the staff at Greenport that we will do our best for her son, John,” he said. “Cindy will forever be in our hearts and she leaves a legacy that will not be forgotten.”
This story was published on the front page of the January 20, 2022 issue of The Suffolk Times. Versions of it appeared online earlier.