Mike Thomas remembers the way Hernani “Ernie” Branco connected with his students while working as an educator in Brockton’s public schools.
Branco, a fun-loving, easy-going native of Portugal who loved soccer, had a “great sense of humor” that helped him gain the attention – and respect – of his students, said Thomas, who worked with Branco first at East Middle School and then again at Brockton High School, where both educators worked as assistant housemasters.
“That’s what made him such a good disciplinarian. The kids really respected him. They knew that he cared a lot about them,” said Thomas, now director of operations for Brockton Public Schools. “He really cared about kids.”
The school district is mourning the sudden death of Branco, 61, a retired Brockton educator and soccer coach who was killed in a single-vehicle crash in Norton early Sunday morning, police said.
Branco, a Norton resident, died after the Cadillac CTS he was driving crashed on Richardson Avenue in Norton about 2:40 a.m. Sunday, Norton Police Lt. Todd M. Jackson said in a statement Sunday.
The Cadillac veered off the side of the road and struck a guardrail, Jackson said. Branco was sent by ambulance to Rhode Island Hospital, where he later died, Jackson said.
Police are investigating the cause of the crash.
Kathleen Smith, superintendent of Brockton Public Schools, remembered Branco as an educator who cared deeply about his students.
“He was certainly supportive of many students, especially the neediest students,” Smith said Sunday. “Whether it was overseeing alternative programs or supporting finding other avenues, Ernie gave a lot to the city and to our city schools. We express our sympathy to his family.”
Branco, who was retired at the time of his death, worked for the district for more than two decades, officials said.
He worked as a health teacher at East Middle School, and later became assistant housemaster of the Red Building at Brockton High School. He served for several years as principal of the Keith Center, which houses the district’s alternative programs, Smith said.
Susan Szachowicz, retired principal of Brockton High School, said she first met Branco in the 1970s, when both began working in city schools. They later worked together for several years at Brockton High.
“I am so sad about this,” Szachowicz said. “He was funny and so loyal. He just would do anything for you.”Branco, an immigrant, had lived the American dream, Szachowicz said.When he came to this country from Portugal, Branco knew no English, she said. He worked in a factory and studied at night, and graduated from the city’s nighttime high school program, then he went on to study at Bridgewater State University, she said.
Branco, a married father of three, coached soccer at Brock ton High School and also at Stonehill College. He was the head coach of the Stonehill College men’s soccer team when it won tourney titles in 1990 and 1991.
“He was the proudest Dad you could ever imagine on the face of the earth,” Szachowicz said.
His brother, Paul Branco, works as a teacher at the B.B. Russell alternative high school in Brockton, Smith said.
Smith said the school district would provide support, as needed, to Branco’s former co-workers when they arrive to work on Monday.
“It’s just a very sad day for the whole school system,” Thomas said. “I’ve gotten text messages and calls all day. It’s a very sad day.”