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Sunderland Elementary principal dies

SUNDERLAND — The mood at Sunderland Elementary School will be a somber one today, as the community copes with the unexpected death of its principal.

Principal Timothy P. Merritt, 51, of Amherst died Saturday.

“The entire community is extremely saddened,” said Martha Barrett, superintendent of the Frontier and Union 38 school districts. “Tim was just a terrific guy.”

Barrett has known Merritt since he taught English at Frontier Regional School, where Barrett served as principal. She said Merritt was an English teacher at Frontier from 2000 to 2009. While at Frontier, he was in charge of the school’s annual cabaret program, she said.

“He was very warm and extremely caring about the community,” Barrett said.

In 2009, Merritt was named interim principal of Sunderland Elementary, and appointed to the permanent position in 2010.

Merritt was married and was the father of twins, Barrett said.

“He was energetic, and had a terrific sense of humor,” said Barrett. “His death is going to touch so many people.”

He was a musician as well. Many of his former students will remember him playing the guitar and singing during commencement stories, and throughout the school year, too.

“He had four guitars hanging in his office. He was always entertaining the kids and the faculty,” Barrett remembered.

Merritt will also be remembered for his commitment to the country’s servicemen and women.

“He was very supportive of those in the military and veterans,” said Barrett, noting that Merritt’s father was a military man. “He wanted to make sure the kids remembered the purpose of Veterans Day. He always had the kids walk from the school to the town offices for Veterans Day services.”

“He thought it was very important for young people to understand the sacrifices of the military,” she added.

Barrett met with a crisis team on Saturday. She then met with all the Sunderland Elementary staff on Sunday, to break the news to them. She said she will be at Sunderland Elementary first thing this morning, and has called in additional support personnel to speak with the students and staff.

She said she will be setting up a temporary team to run the school, until an interim principal is selected.

“He was a wonderful man,” she said.

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