NORTH OLMSTED, Ohio — Dr. Bruce W. Thomas, superintendent of Albert Einstein Academy of Ohio, died Monday afternoon due to “significant” complications from COVID-19, according to a statement from the school sent to parents and staff.
Thomas was diagnosed on Nov. 9, 2020. Over the course of several months, he fought “significant battles” in order to rejoin his four children, two stepdaughters and eight grandchildren, according to the school.
The loss is devastating to parents like Angela Brooks.
“This morning when we got the news that he had passed away, myself personally, I sat on my bed and I cried for about an hour nonstop,” Brooks said.
Brooks’s oldest daughter was one of the first students to attend the school when it opened back in 2013.
She soon enrolled her three other daughters because of Thomas's vision and teaching philosophy.
“Dr. Thomas wanted to create an environment where these kids can be recognized for their gifts and have an environment where they can thrive. And for my children, he did exactly that,” Brooks said.
In the letter to parents and staff, it said Albert Einstein Academy was realized because of his “creativity, stubbornness and sheer drive to give all students a place where they could feel safe and learn."
Putting students first and helping them become successful in whatever area they choose is the foundation of the academy and something Director of Operations Michelle Petrillo said Thomas focused on daily.
“If you had a problem, you could come talk to him like he was there to listen. He was there to guide you if you needed it. He wanted to help you,” Petrillo said.
Petrillo said Thomas made it his mission to get to know as many families as he could and often traveled between all three campuses in North Olmsted, Strongsville, and Lakewood.
“Every single week he was stopping and saying hello to the kids. So the kids knew him and he knew the kids,” Petrillo said.
His candor made an impression on students, like Brooks's 14-year-old daughter Penelope Dickerson.
“When he saw somebody with a frown on their face, he'd always make sure they'd walk away with a smile,” Dickerson said.
Dickerson said she worries about how things might change now that Thomas is gone.
“What's going to happen to the school and what's going to happen to the thing he had made and built?”
Petrillo said it's too soon to tell what the impact will be.
“I think we're all still kind of processing it,” Petrillo said. “I guess at the moment I can't speak to what that will really end up looking like. It will definitely change things.”
She said staff members are determined to lead by Thomas's example and that the school will continue with the values Thomas believed in.
“I cannot stress enough that we will continue to do the things that he had - this mission and vision. I mean, it's set in stone. And that is the stuff that we will continue to work towards,” Petrillo said. “I think the best way for us to remember and honor him is to continue doing what it was that he was so passionate about and to make sure that we never lose that passion for all of this.”
Albert Einstein Academy of Ohio has several campuses throughout Northeast Ohio including Lakewood, North Olmsted and Strongsville.