Sunday, October 19, 2008

Our School Will Never Be The Same

in-memory-of-errol-haftWe got a call from our elementary school earlier today that our beloved principal, Mr. H. had passed away over the weekend. We're all reeling. The girls are taking it hard - Kiyomi especially, since she's still attending the school and had just asked me yesterday when I thought he'd be coming back. When I told her the news, she started to cry, and said that school will never be the same without him. I have to agree.

It wasn't supposed to turn out this way. He went in for surgery, and from what I've heard there were complications. But we had word as recently as last week that he was doing better and was even expected back at school soon - I'm sure he wanted to be there to greet parents at back-to-school night on Tuesday.

That's the type of principal he was - hands on, and completely accessible to kids and parents alike. He knew every kid by name, and they knew him as the kind and gentle person he was. He was strict, but never harsh. He made the kids laugh. They made him laugh. I had so much admiration and respect for him as an educator and as a person. Over the years he became more of a friend to Rigel and I than just our children's principal, and I always felt extremely fortunate to have someone like him at the helm of their school.

He was one of the people that ignited my passion for the public school system, and we often had talks about how to bring more families from the neighborhood into our campus. I've struggled recently with the administration at Kira's middle school, I was looking forward to talking to him about what I experienced and my weariness with the system. I'm sad I'll never have the chance to have that talk with him.

I liked him from the moment I met him, which was six years ago when Kira was entering 2nd grade and Kiyomi was entering kindergarten. He had a dry, sarcastic sense of humor which I immediately related to. I remember one of our first conversations was about how I was stressing over some lost test results from Kira's previous school and he calmly told me, "I don't think her missing 1st grade math scores will hurt her chances of getting into Harvard." I told him I hoped he was right, but that I'd hold him responsible if she ended up cleaning the fryer at Del Taco.

Four years ago, when Kira was in the third grade, she had a problem with a 'friend' who was bullying her. It was making her miserable, and without telling her I went to Mr. H. to ask his opinion on what to do. We talked for around forty-five minutes, and I told him I wanted to find a way to solve the problem without Kira feeling like she was a 'snitch' and risk some sort of retaliation from the girl. Mr. H assured me he would handle it, and I knew he would. That same day she came home from school, happier than I'd seen her in a long time, and told me about a visit Mr. H had made to their classroom. She told me how amazing it was that he happened to bring up the topic of bullying, the very thing that had been on her mind all morning! She told me he talked about how you should treat other people, and about considering other people's feelings, and what it means to be a friend. Kira knew the talk had an impact on her 'friend,' and she felt so much better after that day. And so did I.

Our school was a wonderful place because of Mr. H. He took the school from just another struggling campus in the district to one that was recognized for its academic achievement. He was loved and respected by the kids, the parents and the teachers. He touched my children's lives and I truly feel they are better people because of his dedication. He leaves behind a wife and two young children, who my heart breaks for.

Goodbye Mr. H. You will be deeply missed. Our school will never be the same without you.

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  1. Mr. H sounds like he was a wonderful man who touched a lot of lives. If you could tell those stories at his funeral, I'm sure his family would be comforted to hear what an impact he had on those around him.

  2. How sad to lose someone like that so unexpectedly.

  3. What a shame, to lose such a decent, hard-working principal. Educators like that just don't come along every day.

  4. I worked with Errol for 7 years at Riverside Dr. Elem. I can tell you for a fact,that school has not been the same since he left. I was the office assistant. The office manager and I left when he left. I always intended stop by and see him at Chandler unforunately I've waited to long. You are so right about him. A wonderful, decent man. What a great loss. My heart goes out to his wife and two children, as well as his parents, & brothers. I was listeneing to James Taylor, Fire& Rain. True to those words - "I always thought I would see him again".

  5. I'm so sorry. I think his family would very much love to read your tribute to him because that's what you wrote, a tribute to a wonderful man. If you send a card to them, send them your fine words, as well. They will treasure them.

  6. I was recently a parent at Chandler - my kids are now at a magnet school. Leaving was a difficult decision and that was because of my friend Errol (Mr. Haft) - plus I really loved my PTA team!!.

    As with Marsha, I loved his dry sense of humor, being a half Brit - I totally relate.

    I really cannot imagine Chandler without. Luckily they have great teachers that will persevere.

    I truly felt like he was my friend. I went to visit Chandler last week, and read his letter to the school and was also looking forward to his return.

    We had many many lengthy talks - covering many subjects - including struggling with chronic health issues. I have to say, I had such massive admiration for him on so many levels - as friend, as a picture of strength, as a leader, as an administrator, as a great contribution to our planet.

    My heart goes out to Evelyn and his kids and all those at Chandler.

    I will miss him!!

  7. dawn younani10/21/2008 8:45 AM

    dear marsha,

    i read your heartfelt and heartwarming letter about mr. haft. you were able to describe what so many people felt by just being around him.

    when my son began kindergarten at riverside drive elementary, it was with tears that i dropped him off his first day of school. mr. haft took a few minutes at the gate to let us know that our kids would be fine, and so would we.

    half-way into the school year, errol asked me to be his pta president. together with a friend, we took on what we thought would be a challenge, and sometimes difficult task. but instead it turned into a gift. mr. haft never had to ask anyone for anything and he certainly didn't have to ask twice. people wanted to volunteer
    for him and came together as the family that he thought we all were -- administrators, teachers, parents, and students alike.

    when i was talking to someone about errol today, the first thing i said was that he knew every child by name. unbelievable.

    i worked with errol though not only through the graduation of my kindergartner, but also the day my little one began riverside drive. when errol left and when to chandler, we were all a little jealous, and alot sad. some of us were able to keep up our personal relationships with him. and those that didn't, took a piece of him with them.

    seeing errol a few months ago at our school's gala, i couldn't believe how wonderful he looked. we talked as if we'd seen each other just yesterday and i had never seen him look so good.

    errol biggest love was his wife and his children. his face lit up every-time he talked about them. evelyn was the love of his life and my heart breaks for her, daniel & ariana more than i can say.

    i know that errol is now in heaven, where he is learning the names of all the angels that are there with him now. i know one day, too, that i'll see him there.

    thanks for your thoughts.


    dawn younani

  8. So sorry for everyone. You never imagine that something like this will happen.

  9. Thank you SO much for this loving tribute. Errol was my brother-in-law, mentor and dear friend. I grew up just a few houses down the street from him, he touched a lot of peoples lives and hearts.

    From the family, again, thank you for this wonderful heartfelt tribute.


  10. Two of our children attended Chandler. I spoke with Mr. Haft many times. My wife and I would volunteer in Ms. Meza's class when our daughter was at Chandler. I always found it amazing that he made so much time for all of the kids and I enjoyed his visits to the classroom. My daughter still uses his ever famous hand signals. He taught and commanded respect, what a concept.

    Our son had a problem last year in the SRLDP program and I went in to see Mr. Haft. We ended up talking for close to an hour. After a few minutes we went off on a tangent and spoke about other things. More important things like where he grew up, his children, other schools he taught at and what he enjoyed most about education. He enjoyed the people that were truly making a difference. The teachers, parents, and students who made an impanct in the classroom.

    What better way to honor his memory than to continue to work wholeheartedly to make a difference the way he did. To touch the lives of the very people he worked so hard to influence. It was as easy for him as breathing, I'm sure, and it's getting pretty difficult to finish this comment. Mostly because I'm starting to realize the loss this world has just experienced.

    Mr. Haft, I thank you for your service and commitment to this world and even more, for the personal impact you had on my family. Well done good and faithful servant. To God be the Glory.

    Art, Denyse, Gisselle, Alena and Elias Ponzio

  11. Terri,

    Thanks so much for your note. I attended the service yesterday; it was so beautiful and so apparent how many people loved and respected Errol.

    I would love to make a small book of all the comments and emails I've gotten. Could you email me so I could find out the best way to get it to you or Evelyn? Thanks so much.

  12. Thank you "sweatpantsmom" (love that screen name!)

    You can reach me at

    and again, thank you.


  13. Gladys Rojas10/25/2008 6:41 PM

    My friend called me in Chile a few days ago to break the news of Mr. Haft's passing. Sadly, I cant be there with all our friends but i send my deepest condolences to all those who loved him.

    I had the pleasure of working with Mr. Haft for his entire time at Riverside Drive Elementary.
    When he started, he created such a wonderful atmosphere where everyone wanted to give their best. And when he left, we were scared we couldn't be our best without him. For the years that followed we have tried to continue to have a strong school community but Mr. Haft brought something special out in us. He is always in our hearts as a strong and compassionate leader, and a dear dear friend.

  14. Allison Mustin10/27/2008 8:04 PM

    I'm a student at Millikan Middle School who used to go to chandler.Last year when i graduated Mr.Haft said he had a very special bond with us in his speech because he came to chandler when we went to chandler.Hearing this news from my friends at Millikan who used to go to chandler was unbelieveable i thought they were kidding.But soon enough all the kids believed it and thats when i belived it.Whenever i went to chandler and i saw Mr.Haft making his speeches in the morning made my day.He was a wonderful man.Bless him for all the beautiful and wonderful things he has created for this amazing school.I hope he rests in peace.Goodbye Mr.H :[
    -Allison Mustin
    6th grade Millikan Middle School
    +all the other chandler students.

  15. This is so sad. What an amazing impact teachers and Principals have on those of us with children. I'm glad for you that you had such a good principal in your lives -- and so sad for you that he's gone.

  16. I am so sorry for the loss of this great educator. It doesn't sound like anyone will be able to fill his shoes.

  17. I just heard the sad new about Errol I worked with Errol at Chandler and I have really good memories with him. He always treated so kind and would make me laugh everytime. I visit him at Chandler three years ago we welcome with a big hug. Working with him you could tell he love his family he would talk about his wife and kids and how beautiful they were. To his wife and children my sincere respect.


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