Updated April 1 at 8:20 p.m.
Joseph Lewinger, a Franklin Square Board of Education trustee, died on March 28 of the coronavirus. He was 42 years old.
Lewinger was elected to the board in 2015, and served as president in 2016. According to Superintendent Jared Bloom, Lewinger supported the district’s preschool program and one-to-one iPad initiative, and helped improve many other programs for teachers, students and staff.
“Mr. Lewinger cared deeply about our district, he cared deeply about our community, [and] he believed in our kids,” Bloom wrote in a letter to parents the next day.
He also helped his fellow board members, according to Trustee Louis Curcio. When Curcio joined the board in 2016, he said, Lewinger took the time to explain how the board conducted business and carried out its duties. “He was a great mentor to Steve Toto and I during our first year on the board,” Curcio recounted.
Lewinger worked at Mary Louis Academy in Queens as a history teacher, coach and assistant athletic director before becoming assistant principal of student life.
“I know we feel the need to come together, to console each other, to hug, cry, scream and say it’s not fair,” Principal Ann O’Hagan Cordes wrote in a letter to parents on March 28. “Sadly, the time for us for us to do that as a community has to wait. We will gather together at some point, when our city can come out of isolation to share our memories of Mr. Lewinger — J Lew — and there are many wonderful stories to share, but for now, we pray for the strength to get through this.”
Several of his former students wrote on Facebook about the impact that Lewinger had on their high school careers.
“He made class fun — even when the overhead transparency projector was busted up and all he could do was have us lean our heads back and view the slide projected onto the ceiling,” Roxanne De La Torre wrote on his Facebook page, reminiscing about his lessons and how he used global history class to propose to his girlfriend in the 2001-02 school year. “I can’t believe how much I still remember about that class in particular, which goes to show how much of a phenomenal teacher he really was.”
Others recounted how he would connect with his students, and Aislinn Sevlin called Lewinger “the heart of an all-girls high school,” and said, “It is unfathomable to picture the halls of TMLA without his laughter, encouragement, passion and love.”
Both the Franklin Square School District and The Mary Louis Academy are offering grief counseling, and flags in the Franklin Square School District will remain at half-staff for the week.
Additionally, Jordan Belous, founder of Whip Pediatric Cancer, is raising money for the family. She met Lewinger and his wife, Maura, about 15 years ago, when their twins, Jack and Maeve, were diagnosed with pediatric cancer.
“They’re a very strong family,” Belous said. “They’ve been through a lot.”
She started the fundraiser, she said, ”because I wanted to,” and raised more than $50,000 for the family on March 29, the first day it was posted.
Meanwhile, Kimberly Guzikowski, of Franklin Square, created a GoFundMe for the family. She described Lewinger as “funny, smart, compassionate and selfless, always putting others before himself.” As a husband, father, friend and assistant principal, she wrote, “he worked hard every single day to do his part to make this world a better place.””
“He touched the lives of everyone he met,” she continued, “and was always willing to offer help, support, guidance and advice.”
The GoFundMe page had raised more than $36,000 as of press time. To donate to to the page, visit https://bit.ly/2UsvDFW
Lewinger is survived by his wife and three children, Madison and the twins.