By Melissa Klaric
Herald Staff Writer
What should have been a joyous day for kids as well as teachers at Case Avenue Elementary School in Sharon was overshadowed by the shocking death of a teacher.
Linda Haines, of Sharpsville, died unexpectedly of natural causes Thursday morning in the emergency room of Sharon Regional Health System. She was 56.
Mrs. Haines was at the school Wednesday preparing her sixth-grade classroom for the new school’s open house.
Wednesday was an in-service day for teachers and most stayed into the evening to prepare for the big opening.
“Linda was just with us last night, everything was fine. It was so unexpected,” Traci Valentino, principal, said. “She was getting ready and talking about how much she loves the new school.”
Mrs. Haines was a popular teacher who was beloved by her students, according to Valentino. One of her former students brought in a single rose for Haines’ classroom.
Mrs. Haines was a teacher at Sharon schools for more than 20 years.
Valentino said she was expert at preparing her kids for middle school.
“She had a great love for science and math,” Valentino said.
Mrs. Haines sponsored the national science league project and was a science coach through a grant. This enabled her to work with teachers on how to teach science.
Valentino said Mrs. Haines was a leader and mentor among the teachers.
“She was everybody’s ‘go-to’ for advice,” Valentino said, noting Mrs. Haines had just watched her son graduate from college and get his first “real” job.
“When teachers were upset about something, “Linda always said, ‘This is our happy place. This is where we come and have fun with the kids,’ ” Valentino said.
Valentino and teachers painted on smiles and made the day special for kids in spite of the tragedy.
Valentino called a teachers’ meeting at 7:30 a.m. and the staff made personal phone calls to all the families of Mrs. Haines’ students to let them know what happened.
“That’s how they are. They all stick together and help each other,” Valentino said.
Valentino said the teachers all helped Dave Tomko set up the classroom that was to be Mrs. Haines’ new space.
Tomko was bumped from his position as gifted teacher at Case Avenue as a result of the teacher furloughs in June.
He was called in to be Mrs. Haines’ permanent replacement as a sixth-grade teacher. His learning support position will be posted.
“Dave’s the best choice to replace (Mrs. Haines). He’s very gracious and respectful, yet at the same time he’s going to do a great job,” Valentino said.
Except for sixth-grade parents and students, most people did not know of the tragedy.
Valentino said they did not want the kids to come in sad and make it a somber event for them.
“The way the teachers pulled it together was really good,” Valentino said Thursday evening. “The staff just always pulls together. That’s what they did today.”