Staff Tributes

Tributes to Our Lost Heroes

The Covid-19 pandemic tragically took the lives of more than 70 Department of Education employees. Each and every one made a lasting impact on the lives of their students, families, coworkers, and communities. This page is dedicated to telling some of the stories of the colleagues who we lost far too soon.

photo of abramson Ilana Abramson

Special Education Teacher
“Ms. Abramson was a reading specialist whose wonderful sense of humor and ability to connect with students about their own passions made her an effective and engaging educator, capable of teaching non-readers how to read independently. Her enthusiasm for her work was contagious and lifted everyone up at our school.” — Rosa Nieves Greene, principal of P.S. X811 in the Bronx, where Ilana Abramson taught for four years while serving the DOE for seventeen years.

adams Eugene Adams

Special Education Teacher
“Mr. Adams was a one-of-a kind teacher who poured his heart and soul into his students and colleagues. He taught our students not only to be better, but most importantly to want more for themselves. Mr. Adams was loved by just about everyone he came into contact with.” – Sarah Templeman, principal of P186X Walter J. Damrosch in the Bronx, where Eugene Adams taught for the most recent of his eight years with the DOE. Read more about Eugene Adams...

AkplohKodjo Akploh

Special Education Teacher
“Mr. Akploh was a relentlessly supportive colleague who cared for our school family immensely, and we all felt it. Our office was often flooded with students who flocked to him for his quiet resolve, unwavering willingness to support them, and understanding nature.” – Katherine Kane, a teaching colleague who shared an office with Kodjo Akploh at the Math, Science Research and Technology Magnet High School in Queens, where he taught for the last three of his eighteen years with the DOE. Read more about Kodjo Akploh...

alexander Michelle Alexander

“Ms. Alexander was an amazing, sweet, and loving person, as well as a dedicated educator. She touched her students through nurturing and understanding, while always making an extra effort to celebrate their accomplishments, both big and small.” — Joy Mendelsohn, principal of P.S. 194 Raoul Wallenberg in Brooklyn, where Michelle Alexander worked for three of her six years with the DOE.

Tribute to Louis BarceloLouis Barcelo

Physical Education and Health Teacher
“Virtually every child Mr. Barcelo encountered has stated that he was their father figure and positive role model. He truly made every child feel like they were important. Reading posts after his passing from students he had 15 years ago, the sentiment is the same: ‘he was like my dad.’” — Julie Princivil, a longtime teaching colleague at P.S./M.S. Mosholu Parkway in the Bronx, where Louis S. Barcelo taught for 26 of his 32 years with the DOE. Read more about Louis Barcelo...

bascomSharon Bascom

Kindergarten Teacher
“Ms. Bascom only joined P.S. 306 at the start of this school year, but she was energized about jumping in and becoming part of our community. She worked really hard at doing a great job with our little ones. She was always the first to arrive at our professional development session to focus on how she could improve. Even at the end, she was really interested in how to make remote learning work.” — Lenika Vane, principal of P.S. 306 Ethan Allen in Brooklyn, where Sharon Bascom recently started working while serving the DOE for twenty-two years.

BehrbomDavid Behrbom

Physical Education Teacher
“Everyone gravitated to Mr. Behrbom and he viewed our children as his own. He was always focused on lifting up not only our students, but also their families and his colleagues. He volunteered to tutor students in math if they needed extra help, and encouraged early arriving students to shoot baskets or play wiffle ball with him in the gym to energize them for the day ahead.” — Luis Torres, principal of P.S. 55 Benjamin Franklin in the Bronx, where David Behrbom taught for all twenty-two of his years with the DOE.

Catherine Bruno

“Ms. Bruno was a powerful life force who could build a rapport with pretty much every student within two minutes.” — Mary Maher, principal of Hospital Schools District 75, where Ms. Bruno worked for sixteen of her twenty-two years with the DOE.

BurkettVanessa Burkett

“Ms. Burkett was full of love, energy, and enthusiasm. Our children adored her so much that she usually had the arms of one around her. She was also a great colleague filled with ideas who listened and cheered us up with her endless positivity and humor. There was no better person to celebrate with you when you had good news.” — Rosa Amato, principal of P.S. 372 The Children’s School in Brooklyn, where Vanessa Burkett worked for three of her four years with the DOE.

Gilbert Constant

“Mr. Constant was hardworking, optimistic, intelligent, and funny, with deeply held principles and convictions.” — Antoinette Rose, principal of P.S. K811 Connie Lekas in Brooklyn, where Gilbert Constant worked for sixteen of his twenty-six years with the DOE.

DagusRulx Dagus

“Mr. Dagus was kind and compassionate, with a gentle manner that made him a favorite of our students.” — Marjorie Dalrymple, principal of P369K Coy L. Cox in Brooklyn, where Rulx Dagus worked for fourteen of his sixteen years with the DOE.

diazDiony Diaz

Music Teacher
“Mr. Diaz was always so supportive and kind-hearted. He always emphasized the importance of practicing and trying to make the music ‘crystal clear.’ When he helped me to master songs in guitar and violin, he made me feel real proud of myself.” — a student of Diony Diaz, who taught at I.S. 61 Leonardo Da Vinci in Queens for all his eight years with the DOE.

DillardMary Dillard

“Ms. Dillard was very special to our community, serving students with love, care, and professionalism for more than fifty years. She dedicated her career to us, and she had a powerful impact on the lives of so many children.” — Heather Miller, principal of P.S. K140 in Brooklyn, where Mary Dillard worked for twenty-six of her more than fifty years with the DOE.

Omar Edwards

U.S. History and Economics Teacher
“Mr. Edwards was compassionate, loving, and devoted to his students. He really made sure to engage every single student in their work while supporting them with any issues they had outside of class. Even though he was only with us for a very short time, he had a hugely positive impact on our school’s culture.” — Sharon Evans, principal of the Cyberarts Studio Academy in Brooklyn, where Omar Edwards began working in September 2019 while serving for nineteen years with the DOE.

ElagmyHassan Elagmy

“Mr. Elagmy was always positive regardless of the circumstances. He often said that every day is a gift. His demeanor was reserved but when he spoke, his words had a big impact and his smile could light up a room.” — Bernel Connelly, principal of P.S. 179 Kensington School, where Hassan Elagmy worked for eleven of his twenty-one years with the DOE. 

Beverly Ferguson

Elementary School Teacher
“Ms. Ferguson was extraordinary at motivating her children to accomplish what they didn’t think possible. I don’t think I ever heard her yell once, but she could get her entire fifth grade classroom to focus on their work just by giving them that certain look she had. When students said, ‘I can’t do that,’ Ms. Ferguson would reply that she believed that they could if they kept trying. They could feel that she meant it, and that’s how she got them to achieve so much.” — Marie Casseus Monteau, principal of P.S. 397 Foster Laurie in Brooklyn, where Beverly Ferguson taught for all of her nineteen years with the DOE.

Omara Flores_WebOmara Flores

Assistant Principal
“If a student was upset about something, Ms. Flores would stand by patiently until they calmed down and then quietly discussed with them how to manage the problem together. Every year, you could see tons of students mature as they emulated how she interacted with them.” — Eileen Rivera, a colleague at P.S. 95 Sheila Mencher in the Bronx, where Omara Flores worked for nineteen of her twenty-nine years with the DOE. Read more about Omara Flores...

FunchessJanee Funchess

“Ms. Funchess’s personality brought out love, kindness, and laughter in her students as well as her colleagues. She consistently arrived at work early to help out in any way she could, and her fondness for her students was palpable. She touched our hearts in so many ways.” — Rosa Nieves Greene, principal of P.S. X811 in the Bronx, where Janee Funchess worked for sixteen years while serving the DOE for twenty-two years.

elena gonzalezElena Gonzalez

“Ms. Gonzalez was very kind-hearted and compassionate. She was soft-spoken but cared so deeply for our students and worked so hard to help them.” — Namita Dwarka, principal of William Cullen Bryant in Queens, where Elena Gonzalez worked for twenty-four of her twenty-eight years with the DOE.

Gonzalez RRosario Gonzalez

“Ms. Gonzalez was very special to us, dedicating decades of her life to our students with love, care, and professionalism. Even at ninety-one years old, she was seldom absent and had no interest in retiring, saying that our students gave her a purpose every day.” — Greer Phillips, principal of M079 Horan School in Manhattan, where Rosario Gonzalez worked for twenty-six of her thirty-five years with the DOE.

Tammy Hendriks_webTammy Hendriks

Junior High Math Teacher
“Tammy had a special gift for connecting to junior high school students in a way that I’ve never seen in my thirty-three years of teaching. She was so loving and nurturing while also a tough advocate on their behalf. And as a colleague, she was the glue in leading our math team while helping out everyone throughout the school with her amazing technological skills.” — Kathleen Comack a longtime colleague at I.S. 238 Susan B. Anthony Academy in Queens, where Tammy Hendriks worked for eleven of her sixteen years with the DOE. Read more about Tammy Hendriks...

Pamela Hicks Lewis

“Ms. Hicks Lewis was a phenomenal woman who went above and beyond what is expected of a paraprofessional and was always there for our school family. She always did everything she could to support our students, not only academically but also socially and emotionally. In addition to mentoring students, she worked on after-school and Saturday academy programs, served on our school improvement team, helped to recruit students, and played an important role in improving attendance.” — Rosemary Vega, principal of East Williamsburg Scholars Academy, where Pamela Hicks Lewis worked for the last two of her seventeen years with the DOE.

HildagoJulie Hildago

“Ms. Hildago was really sweet, gentle, selfless, and patient with all the children she worked with. She was also a wonderful colleague who worked well with everyone.” — John McCormick, principal of P.S. M811 Mickey Mantle, where Julie Hildago worked for all fifteen of her years with the DOE.

Mi Hunt

“Ms. Hunt was motherly, nurturing, and kind, with unconditional love for her students and keen insight into the challenges each and every one of them were facing. She was a founding faculty and staunch supporter of our debate team, supporting their research, writing, and especially their delivery. Her former students kept in close touch with her because she had such a powerful impact on their lives.” — Shalom Fried, principal of P.S. M721 Occupational Training Center in Manhattan, where Ms. Hunt worked for seventeen of her twenty-two years with the DOE.

Joseph Hurley

Social Studies Teacher
“Mr. Hurley came to teaching relatively late in life after working as a taxi driver and bicycle messenger. He was so excited about transitioning to the teaching profession. He really loved the process of getting to know the children and his colleagues, and he was passionate about the work. Students and families really took to him and especially loved his jokes.” – Novella Bailey, Principal of M.S. 250 West Side Collaborative Middle School, where Joseph Hurley worked for his only year with the DOE. Read more about Joseph Hurley...

JohnsonMatthew Johnson

Special Education Teacher
“Mr. Johnson was passionate about special education and was always striving to provide different kinds of opportunities to students so that they could reach the potential he saw in them. To his colleagues, he was a friendly neighbor who helped out in big and small ways, from mentoring new teachers to bringing coffee to someone having a rough day. He was also a lot of fun: telling jokes, dancing bachata, and bringing his favorite dishes like lasagna, ribs, and a three-layer cake to school celebrations.” — Hilduara Abreau, principal of P.S. 192 Jacob H. Schiff in Manhattan, where Matthew Johnson taught for three years while serving the DOE for 28 years. 

KaufmanSharon Kaufman

Special Education Teacher
“I hired Ms. Kaufman after working with her at another school because she really wanted to come to a school like ours in an under-resourced community so she could help those in greatest need. I knew that she would be a great asset to us, and she quickly made connections with the kids. She was a firm but fair disciplinarian who loved the students, and they knew it.” — Daniel Singleton, principal of PS 31 William T. Davis on Staten Island, where Sharon Kaufman worked for several months while serving with the DOE for fourteen years. 

King-GrantCarol King-Grant

Special Education Teacher
“Ms. King-Grant was deeply committed to the well-being of her kids, and as focused on supporting their social and emotional development as academics. Students who had some kind of personal issue knew they could speak with her about it and trust her to help them.” — Patrick Awosogba, principal of Mott Hall Science and Tech Academy, where Carol King-Grant taught for four years while serving the DOE for eight years. 

kirschLewis Kirsch

Social Studies Teacher
“Mr. Kirsch was widely loved by his students and his colleagues. He was extremely effective at connecting with children academically through his deep knowledge and story-telling in the classroom, and socially and emotionally through his concern about their lives outside of school.” — Rafael Cabral, principal of I.S. 206 Ann Mersereau in the Bronx, where Lewis Kirsch taught for eleven years while serving the DOE for twenty-three years.

melissa kruppaMelissa Kruppa

Special Education Teacher
“Ms. Kruppa was an immense advocate for students with special needs. She knew from the beginning of her career as a paraprofessional before going on to become a teacher that she wanted to help kids who face extra challenges and their families.” — Lenny Santamaria, principal of I.S. 24 Myra S. Barnes on Staten Island, where Melissa Kruppa taught for seven years while serving the DOE for twenty-three years.

LatouretteEdward Latourette

Social Studies Teacher
“Mr. Latourette was an incredibly nice gentleman with a kind spirit who did whatever he could to help his students. He was a long-time fixture at this school who we all really miss.” — Gregory Jaenicke, principal of Curtis High School on Staten Island, where Edward Latourette served for nineteen of his twenty-three years with the DOE. 

LawsonNoel Lawson

Special Education and Music Teacher
“Dr. Lawson was a huge asset to our school who played more roles than most people here even realized. He built our music program; he was the team leader of our special education department; he coordinated student events; he was a technology expert who helped create our new website; and he was the chair of our School Leadership Team. On top of all that, he was wonderful with our students—holding high expectations of them and doing everything he could to help them meet those expectations.” — Dawn Santiago, principal of the Bronx Academy of Health Careers, where Noel Lawson taught for fifteen of his sixteen years with the DOE.

Levy-AwamiYitzhak Levy-Awami

“Mr. Levi-Awami served our students with kindness, compassion, and integrity. He always had a smile on his face, loved music and the arts, and only missed work for religious observances. He was the kindest, calmest person I’ve ever been around.” — Feiga Mandel, principal of P.S. 205 Clarion in Brooklyn, where Mr. Levy-Awami worked for twenty-five of his twenty-eight years with the DOE.

Mestel-SchapiraAllyson Mestel-Schapira

Elementary School Speech Teacher
“Ms. Mestel-Schapira was a long-standing pillar of our school community who treated her students with the same devotion and dedication that she directed toward her own children. The progress her students made because of her support was remarkable, and our families adored her for all that she did for their children.” — Seth Berger, Principal of P.S. 229 Emanuel Kaplan in Queens, where Ms. Mestel-Schapira taught for twenty-five years.

MigenesJulio Migenes

“Mr. Migenes was a valued source of wisdom whose decades of experience in education, broad knowledge of the world, and extensive vocabulary in English and Spanish made him indispensable to students and colleagues alike. Mr. Migenes actively sought out students who faced the most significant challenges because he rightfully believed he was able to connect with anyone. He was a big brother to some of his co-workers, father figure to others, and friend to all of us.” — Rosa Nieves Greene, principal of P.S. X811 in the Bronx, where Julio Migenes worked for sixteen years while serving for the DOE for thirty-six years.

muhammadJamilyah Muhammad

Pre-K Teacher
“Ms. Muhammad was kind, soft-spoken, patient, and full of wisdom that she was happy to share with her colleagues. She was always the first to arrive each morning and I can’t tell you how many times I had to tell her to please go home as I was heading out the door at the end of the day.” — Pamela Markham, principal of P.S. 254 Rosa Parks in Queens, where Jamlyah Muhammad taught for fourteen years while serving the DOE for more than 30 years.

NapoleoniMagda Napoleoni

“Ms. Napoleoni always put other before herself and was a constant source of optimism. She was our sunshine for decades.” — Cindy Casseus, principal of P.S. 298 Dr. Betty Shabazz in the Bronx, where Magda Napoleoni worked for twenty of her twenty-three years with the DOE.

NearbySharon Nearby

Sixth Grade Teacher
“Ms. Nearby was always deeply reflective about her work, and it showed in the impact it had on our students and families. When our eight graders were ready to move on to high school, they always went back to Ms. Nearby to thank her for setting them in the right direction when they started here in the sixth grade.” — Lenny Santamaria, principal of I.S. 24 Myra S. Barnes on Staten Island, where Sharon Nearby taught for thirty years.

Tribute to Kimarlee NguyenKimarlee Nguyen

High School English Teacher
“Ms. Nguyen’s passion for teaching and love for her students was ingrained in who she was. She would do anything for her students, and they knew it. Each spring she’d come bouncing into my office (and delve into my stash of candy) to talk about how she could support ‘her” seniors (yes, they were hers) as they were working their way towards graduation, and perhaps getting a little lazy with their work. She was intent on doing whatever needed to happen to help them cross the finish line and make their way to what came of their lives after Brooklyn Latin. She was so invested in who they were, and what they would become.” — Rebecca Davidson, a teaching colleague at Brooklyn Latin High School, where Kimarlee Nguyen taught for six of her twelve years at the DOE. Read more about Kimarlee Nguyen...

Ronald Noble Sr.

“Mr. Noble was very nurturing. No matter the age of the students he worked with, he always made sure that their social and emotional needs were taken care of. He also built excellent relationships with all our families.” — Natasha Spann, principal of P.S. 197 John B. Russwurm in Manhattan, where Ronald Noble Sr. worked for five of his nine years with the DOE.

PantilierisAlyssa Pantilieris

Special Education Teacher
“Ms. Pantilieris worked closely with families, speaking with them in their native tongues —she spoke Spanish, Danish, and Greek. She sought additional resources and services for their children, and the parents of her students were grateful for her assistance and often called her just to say hello. Former students would regularly come back to see her and let her know how they were doing.” – Shawanda Weems, a former colleague at PS/MS 15 Institute of Environmental Learning in the Bronx, where Alyssa Pantilieris worked for all twenty of her years with the DOE. Read more about Alyssa Pantilieris...

PikserRoy Pikser

High School Technology Teacher
“Mr. Pikser was a giant who connected with thousands of students over the years by meeting each one of them where they were with their lives. So many of them went on to careers in video production and printing because he was able to excite them with his own passion for those art forms.” — Vivian Selenikas, principal of Long Island City High School, where Roy Pikser taught for twenty-five years while serving with the DOE for thirty-six years.

Linda PopeLinda Pope

“Ms. Pope was a ray of sunshine every day, regardless of the weather, cheerfully encouraging students who successfully worked out a problem to, ‘Hug your brain!” — Elizabeth Jarrett, principal of P.S. 154 Harriet Tubman in Harlem, where Linda Pope worked for twenty-six of her 29 years with the DOE. Read more about Linda Pope...

Paula Pryce-Bremmer, Guidance Counselor Paula Pryce-Bremmer

Guidance Counselor
“Ms. Pryce-Bremmer was a mother figure who built powerful relationships with our students not only while they were at school, but long after they graduated. She organized biannual barbecues that hundreds of our former students attended. And several of them followed in her footsteps and became guidance counselors themselves because they admired her so much.” — Johanny Garcia, principal of Careers in Sports High School in the Bronx, where Paula Pryce-Bremmer worked for nine of her twenty-two years with the DOE. Read more about Paula Pryce-Bremmer...

RomainDez-Ann Romain

“Ms. Romain taught us how to become men and women. She taught us how to be leaders in our own life. She was understanding and tough at the same time, which made her so relatable. After we graduated, she became more than just a former educator to most of us but also a great friend, and most of all, a hero.” — Curtis Turney, a former student of Dez-Ann Romain, who became principal of the Brooklyn Democracy Academy in 2017 and served with the DOE for nineteen years.

Marisol Rosario

“Ms. Rosario was one of the most patient individuals I have ever met. She cared deeply about our children and did so much to help them grow while always wearing a big smile.” — Lourdes Mendez, principal of P.S. 352 The Vida Bogart School for All Children in the Bronx, where Marisol Rosario worked for twelve of her twenty-four years with the DOE.

St. SurinCaleb St. Surin

“Mr. St. Surin lit up every room with his bright smile, and he had high expectations for his students while doing everything he could to help them succeed.” — Victor Esannason, principal of P.S. 181 in Brooklyn, where Caleb St. Surin worked for all twenty-one of his years with the DOE.

Sandra Santos-VizcainoSandra Santos-Vizcaino

Third Grade Teacher
“Sandra made everyone feel special because that’s who she was. She was an example of dedication for all of us because she lived for teaching.” -- Wanda Chong, a colleague of Sandra Santos-Vizcaino’s at P.S. 9 in Brooklyn, where Ms. Santos-Vizcaino taught for the most recent four years of her twenty-five with the DOE.

schmidt1Fatima Schmidt

Elementary School Teacher
“Fatima always worked well beyond school hours to make sure her students got the very best. She supported teams in preparation for graduations, assemblies, and school-wide activities. She chaperoned activities so that students could see her smiling face and how proud she was. And she took new students under her wing so that they could flourish, especially those who did not know English.” — Victoria Najera, Principal of P.S. 333 Longwood Academy of Discovery in the Bronx, where Ms. Schmidt taught since 2009.

SockwellJarrod Sockwell

“Mr. Sockwell was a magnet of love, patience, kindness, and compassion—exactly the kind of recipe our students need. He always had a receiving line of kids to fist bump, hug, and whatever it took to make sure they had a positive start to their day.” — Robert Lopez, principal of P.S. 256 in Queens, where Jarrod Sockwell worked for all fourteen of his years with the DOE. 

Solius-VerneretLeslie Solius-Verneret

“Ms. Solius-Verneret was incredible at forming strong one-to-one connections with our students. She had a remarkably calming presence that made a big difference if one of our children was upset about something. Her colleagues were just as fond of her as the students, and relished her talent for making them laugh.” — Rick Romain, principal of P.S. 268 Emma Lazarus in Brooklyn, where Leslie Solius-Verneret worked for twenty-five of her twenty-seven years with the DOE.

ThoeringRobert Thoering

Middle School English Language Arts Teacher
“Mr. Thoering was the sweetest, kindest, most generous soul. I never once saw him get angry. If a child said something out of line, he would say, ‘You didn’t really mean that, so what’s really going on?’” — Principal Judy Mittler of I.S. 125 Thomas J. McCann Intermediate School in Queens, where Mr. Thoering taught for sixteen years.

updaleAnton Updale

Physical Education Teacher
“Mr. Updale was really special: a great teacher, an outstanding football and track coach, a dean, and someone everyone looked up to.” — John Boyle, principal of Totten Intermediate School 34 on Staten Island, where Anton Updale taught for all twenty-five of his years with the DOE.

Tribute to Joshua VasquezJoshua Vasquez

High School Social Studies Teacher
“Mr. Vasquez was such a beautiful soul who always kept me out of trouble. But I always knew that if I got into trouble, he was someone you could talk to about anything and he would never judge you. Not only was Mr. Vasquez an amazing human being, he was always there unconditionally for me when I was coming out, undocumented, and struggling.” — a former student at Bushwick Leaders High School, where Joshua Vasquez most recently taught during his twenty-one years with the DOE. Read more about Joshua Vasquez...