#schoolsafety | Beloved N.J. middle school principal dies from coronavirus

The beloved principal of a Caldwell middle school died from complications with the coronavirus, officials announced.

James Brown, 48, principal of the Grover Cleveland Middle School died from complications with COVID-19, announced school and police officials Thursday. Brown leaves behind a wife and three children, said Governor Phil Murphy, at a Friday afternoon press briefing.

Brown’s son, Jimmy, is currently a high school senior who plans on following in the footsteps of his father as an educator.

“Family meant everything to him. But outside of our family, he included his Caldwell family,” Jimmy Brown said. “And that’s why I think they respect him so much because of the way that he treated them. It was everything to him, whether it be us the Browns or the Caldwell community.

“He was very inspirational, and just the way that he treated people, he showed me the way that you’re supposed to treat people.”

Brown was an educator in the Caldwell – West Caldwell Public school district for 14 years, serving as the vice principal at James Caldwell High School for seven years before becoming principal at Grover Cleveland.

The middle school principal was rarely confined to his office, making every effort to be hands on with his students and faculty. When the school held a lip-syncing battle, he took the stage for a solo rendition of “Shout.”

To challenge his students in a fundraising effort, he volunteered to let them tape him to the cafeteria wall when they hit their goal. He stood by his word and also took a pie to the face.

He never hesitated to jump into games of horse or kickball with his students at recess.

Erica Thacker, a seventh-grade math teacher at Grover Cleveland, said Brown provided the same leadership to the staff.

“With his supportive nature, he was just the greatest administrator I ever had,” Thacker said. “He always went to bat for his teachers. He always had our back and was super supportive, and any idea we had, whether farfetched or not, he always supported us.”

Brown hired Thacker on the spot when she interviewed at Grover Cleveland three years ago, and during her time working with the principal, she quickly saw the impact he made on the lives of everyone who crossed his path.

“The loss that we feel as a staff can’t even be put into words,” Thacker said. “The shock, it’s just so surreal, and we’re just in disbelief that when we go back, he won’t be there, and we think about his family and the magnitude of their loss. It’s devastating. not only to our school, but to the whole community.”

As the principal for Grover Cleveland, Brown created programs and overhauled facilities at the school, including converting two unused supply rooms into STEM learning centers, the district said. Using grants that he wrote, Brown was able to offer students the opportunity to enter in virtual reality learning, robotics and environmental studies programs.

Brown introduced a system to foster team-building and school spirit and created an advisory and enrichment program that allowed students “to develop networks of support and to explore their interests,” the district said. Brown would bring speakers in to speak to students that helped instill “determination” and “grit” to help others in need, the district said.

“We were all happy for you and your family when we heard the news that you were moving to Grover Cleveland Middle School and moving up to be the new principal,” the West Caldwell Police Department said in a statement. “Our schools are the safest around as a direct result of your hard work and advocating to keep school safety as the district’s top priority.”

The school district set up a crisis management team to help students cope with the loss of Brown, the district said. The team is comprised of social workers and counselors who will be available to talk with students and answer questions.

“Jim Brown will be remembered as an outstanding educator who made tremendous contributions to the entire community of Caldwell, West Caldwell and beyond,” the school district said. “We mourn the loss of a wonderful colleague who enriched our lives with his kindness, intelligence, and humor, we extend our deepest condolences to his family.”

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Rodrigo Torrejon may be reached at rtorrejon@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @rodrigotorrejon. Chris Ryan may be reached at cryan@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisRyan_NJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.



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