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A Caldwell school and community are reeling following the death of an admired administrator.

Javier Castaneda, the principal and superintendent of Heritage Community Charter School, died Wednesday as an “unexpected result” of falling ill with COVID-19, according to his family.

Castaneda, 48, is survived by his wife, Maria, and seven children.

“Hundreds of his friends, family, and community members have reached out and we are so grateful for their love and support in this trying time,” Kristopher Wieland, Maria Castaneda’s brother, said in an email to the Idaho Press. “Many have shared stories of how he has impacted their life.”

Castaneda began to show symptoms around Sept. 4, Wieland said, and was hospitalized Sept. 6. He was put on a ventilator on Sept. 10 and died five days later.

Castaneda was healthy and athletic before contracting the disease, Wieland said. The family expressed “gratitude and respect” to the staff at West Valley Medical Center “for doing their best to save Javier’s life.”

Castaneda’s vaccination status is unknown.

Castaneda stood over 6 feet tall with an athletic build, Wieland said, and “even though that would be intimidating to many, he was very kind and gentle. He liked to joke, play games, and most especially loved spending time with his family,” Wieland said.

The school held a memorial for Castaneda on Saturday. Walkways in front of the school were lined with flowers, banners and messages written in chalk.

“You touched our lives,” read a banner. And on the sidewalk in chalk, “You have encouraged us to be our best selves. We will miss you dearly.”

Maria Castaneda and one of her and Javier’s daughters also work at the school.

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A banner is displayed in front of Heritage Community Charter School in memoriam of the school’s principal and superintendent, Javier Castaneda, who died due to complications from COVID-19. Photographed here on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021 in Caldwell.

Some of the sentiments and memories passed on to Castaneda’s family mentioned his kindness, ability to stay calm in tense situations, and his excellence as a leader, educator, husband, father and friend.

“One (person) commented that Dr. Castaneda was always out in front of the school to greet students and parents as they came to school each day,” Wieland said. “One time, the school reached their fundraising goal, and Dr. Castaneda had to stay on top of the roof for the day and greeted the kids from there with a blow horn.

“Another talked about her child winning the chance to be Principal of the Day and enjoyed spending the day with Dr. Castaneda.”

The school announced Castaneda’s death in a letter sent out by the school board. It’s also posted on the school’s website.

“The board is committed to providing counseling resources and other support for your children as we move forward from this tragedy, especially when students return next Monday,” the letter reads, in part. The school was closed on Thursday and Friday.

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Flowers are displayed in front of Heritage Community Charter School in memoriam of the school’s principal and superintendent, Javier Castaneda, who died due to complications from COVID-19. Photographed here on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021 in Caldwell.

“In the meantime, we will be providing you resources and information about how to talk to and comfort your child during this difficult time,” the letter continues. “The next few days will not be easy for the Heritage family. We have suffered a tremendous loss. We will, however, follow the example set so well by Dr. Castaneda – to strive to meet our Core Characteristics of responsibility, diligence/work, compassion, friendship, courage, loyalty, perseverance, and honesty. That is what Dr. Castaneda would want from us, and that is what we will do.”

Facemasks are optional at the school, the Associated Press reported.

A GoFundMe page has been organized to raise funds for Castaneda’s family. As of Saturday evening, it had raised nearly $15,000.

A formal memorial for Castaneda will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 25, at Mallard Park in Caldwell. Notes and flowers can be sent to Castaneda’s family, c/o Heritage Community Charter School, at 1803 E. Ustick Road, Caldwell, 83605.

Heritage Community Charter School is a tuition-free public charter school that focuses on a classical liberal arts education with a strong foreign language emphasis through a dual-language immersion program, according to its website.

Idaho Press editor Teddy Feinberg contributed to this report.

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