EDITOR'S NOTE: The district has since confirmed that Principal Brown's death was due to complications from COVID-19. A sentence noting that this had not been confirmed at the time of publication has been removed from this article.
CALDWELL, NJ — The Caldwell-West Caldwell (CWC) Public Schools district has announced the death of James Brown, a loving husband and father of three, after seven years serving as principal of Grover Cleveland Middle School (GCMS) and more than 20 years of employment with the district.
“[Superintendent] Dr. James Heinegg informed us this morning of the passing of our beloved GCMS principal, James Brown,” said Caldwell Mayor John Kelley. “The mayor and council join our entire community in sending heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and the many colleagues, staff and students whose lives he has touched...James Brown will be sorely missed and fondly remembered by our entire community.”
Describing Brown as a “passionate educator,” Caldwell Council President Christine Schmidt extended condolences to his family and reminded residents to “stay strong and to reach out (keeping your distance) to friends or family who may be struggling.”
West Caldwell Mayor Joseph Tempesta echoed those comments, stating that he knew Brown personally and is “totally devastated” by his loss.
“He was an absolute professional and a gentleman and a hell of a nice guy,” said Tempesta. “I would occasionally see him for coffee in the morning maybe once every couple of months just always happy-go-lucky; always, always worried about the kids. He did a great job in school, parents love him the students love him and it is a very big loss to our school system and our community. My heart goes out to his family. May he rest in peace.”
Brown is a longtime member of the CWC school community, as he also previously served as vice principal at James Caldwell High School (JCHS), taught English at both JCHS and GCMS, has served as Dean of Students at JCHS and was an assistant coach for the JCHS varsity football and girls' basketball teams.
He also coached youth football in his own community, and was named "Coach of the Year" by Central Jersey Pop Warner in 2016.
Brown is survived by his wife, daughter and two sons.
The CWC school district’s crisis management team, comprised of social workers and counselors, will be available to speak with students, answer their questions and provide additional resources if needed as they cope with this loss. Details about counseling support sessions being held for students, staff and community members will be provided as they become available.
“This sad news may foster some unresolved feelings in your child that he or she would like to discuss with you,” Heinegg said in a statement to parents and guardians on Thursday. “You can help your child by listening carefully, accepting his or her feelings, and answering questions honestly according to your beliefs. You know your child best and how to approach talking about loss. Please know that experts emphasize the value of children hearing news of sudden loss from their parents/caregivers directly.”
Heinegg also directed the community to information he found helpful on the Traumatic Loss Coalition for Youth website and encouraged parents/guardians to contact their child(ren)’s school if they are in need of additional assistance.