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Remembering Veteran Queens Educator Mitchell Wiener

Thursday, May 21, 2009

He was the heart and soul of Intermediate School 238. That's how mourners described Mitchell Wiener, the assistant principal who died on Sunday and became the city's first fatality in connection to swine flu. Wiener's wife and three sons spoke at his service, which was attended by hundreds of mourners in Queens. WNYC's Beth Fertig has more on the lives he touched.

REPORTER: Eighth graders Tyra Stanley and Natalie Black came with their friends to pay their last respects. They said Wiener was the kind of teacher kids loved. A big, generous guy famous for his sense of humor.

GIRLS: Oh gosh!

BLACK: Mr. Wiener he would come on the loudspeaker with like random stuff, oh it's so and so's birthday and he would play a song like they had or some kind of memory.

STANLEY: I remember one time he pretended to be American Idol judges and we had to sing a song. And he pretended to be Randy Jackson and he was so funny.

BLACK: He was like 'yeah Dog!' I remember once he pretended to have an alien invasion in the school, he was like 'shhhhhhacccch.' (laughs)

REPORTER: But Wiener was also the rare kind of adult kids could talk to. Seventh grader Jeffery Grey said Wiener helped him get a tutor when he was doing poorly in social studies and English.

GREY: Whenever I needed help in class he would have somebody to come help me. Or if I ever got in trouble he would do whatever he had to do to get me out of trouble.

REPORTER: Teachers say that was Wiener's gift: that he cared about students, and they knew it. He worked in the school for about 30 years, starting off as a math teacher and later becoming assistant principal. In a building with 1,500 sixth through eighth graders, science teacher Lisa Harrison and retired teacher Irv Zaroff say he commanded respect.

HARRISON: Well, I've heard the students say that he would keep them in line. He wanted everybody to be in the classroom. No one in the hallways. Everyone was supposed to be in school for the reason they were supposed to be there. And he would help them with their family problems.

ZAROFF: He was good to everybody. He was not like a typical principal. He was a real person and there's nobody like him in the world.

REPORTER: Teachers say they wish the school had been shut down sooner, when the first batches of students came down with flu-like symptoms, instead of almost a week later on May 14th. Harrison says there's one way to commemorate him.

HARRISON: We've lost a family member, Mr. Wiener. And I wish they would name the school the Mitchell Wiener Intermediate School.

REPORTER: I-S 238 will reopen for students on Tuesday. For WNYC I'm Beth Fertig.

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