TORONTO — Robyn Shiner touched a diverse range of students, colleagues, friends and family members, as evidenced by the standing-room-only crowd of just over 1,000 people at her funeral last week.
The Toronto Jewish educator, who was just named general studies principal at Netivot HaTorah Day School in June, worked previously at Leo Baeck Day School, Bialik Hebrew Day School and Associated Hebrew Schools.
She died Aug. 16 at Mount Sinai Hospital, 10 days after returning from a vacation with her husband, Mark, and learning that she had leukemia. She was 55 years old.
Reuven Stern, Netivot’s head of school, told The CJN that Shiner was “a unique person, very committed to the field of education, very caring, giving… willing to go the extra mile for the student,” in addition to mentoring new teachers, developing new curriculum and services, and being available to families.
Although Stern said it’s not necessarily uncommon for a woman, particularly a non-Orthodox woman, to become principal of an Orthodox school, he said Shiner was “an uncommon woman” for her ability as a pedagogue and an administrator. She was well-liked and respected, he added.
“We all valued her opinion and looked toward her for her insights,” he said. “She will be missed by everyone on staff.”
Shiner had been at the school for 20 years, first as an employee of JVS working in special education. She served as general studies vice-principal for the past decade, and was originally hired as head of student support services (special education).
A graduate of the University of Ottawa, Shiner studied education there while Mark was in law school.
In an interview, her son, Daniel, called it “a beautiful juxtaposition” that his mother was inspired by big ideas and often stayed at work late to run meetings, while at the same time, she spent lunch hours eating with students and talking about their problems. “It’s almost a snapshot of the type of person and educator she was.”
Mark added that the lunches “gave her a real insight into the dynamics of being that age, and let her understand which children were in need.”
Family friend Peter Seligman – who knew Shiner for almost 40 years, since their high school days – described her in a eulogy as “a beautiful, elegant and gracious human being who shared her warmth, intellect and calm wisdom, providing a guiding light.”
Only six weeks ago, he said, they went on “a hell of a hard seven-mile walk” – one of “countless” power walks – and she wanted to go farther.
Rabbi Michael Dolgin, also speaking at the funeral, said Shiner “was the type who somehow always got it right, never overstepping and never underachieving.
“It speaks volumes about how she transcended what so often divides people,” he said, “that she’s recognized as such a gifted part of the Netivot family.”
The school encouraged her to study to qualify as a principal, and she took the course for Jewish school principals at York University the first year it was offered, he said. The following year, she was asked to teach it.
Rabbi Dolgin called Shiner a “gifted” educator, but he had even higher words of praise for her as a mother. “So many teenagers stop talking with their parents,” he said. “It sounds like [daughter] Laura had to compete with her friends when she was a teenager to find time to talk to Robyn, because so many found her counsel so valuable.”
Shiner leaves her husband Mark, daughter Laura and son Daniel, her parents Arnold Morrison and Wilma Morrison Friedman and their spouses, and her siblings Stephen, David and Lisa Morrison.