Gabrielle Gayle, Special Education Teacher from UFT
* Merrick Academy – Queens Public Charter School
Gabrielle Gayle, a 4th-grade special education teacher at Merrick Academy – Queens Public Charter School in Laurelton, was known for saying, “If you need help, my door is always open,’’ Chapter Leader Christine Hernandez remembered. “That’s why she routinely stayed in the building until 6 p.m,” once getting locked in.
Gabby, as colleagues called her, “had a huge heart, amazing energy and a passion for education,” said Charles Watterson, her former co-teacher.
She was only 34, and pregnant with her second child, when she died on April 25.
Gabrielle had been a teacher for 12 years, four of them at Merrick Academy. “Gabby was the kind of teacher who routinely shared her prep periods and lunch breaks with students who wanted extra assistance,” said Hernandez.
She was also a union delegate, and she had a “Norma Rae” moment when the last contract came up for negotiation. “Our board of trustees was not giving us a date to negotiate and Gabby and I organized staff to come to the board meeting,” Hernandez said. “We all wore black and agreed we would determine the right time to stand up and be recognized. Gabby texted me, ‘I can’t take it anymore! I’m going to stand up.’
“She stood up and she said, ‘We, the Merrick Academy teaching staff, demand that you recognize us. We’ve been waiting for a date for negotiations and we’re not going to wait any longer,’” Hernandez recalled. Everyone stood up with Gabby, and educators soon got their negotiation date. “She really lived her principles and would not back down,” Hernandez said. “She was not afraid to be vocal and stand up for what she knew was right.”
Her mother said Bre, as she called her, “crammed life and living into every moment of every day.” While educating New York City schoolchildren, she was a softball coach for Roosevelt middle and high schools and was pursuing an advanced degree. At Utica College, where she double majored in special education and general education, Gabby mentored other students and fought for equity for women and students of color, Watterson said. She was one semester shy of her doctorate in educational leadership from Grand Canyon University.
Gabby balanced her deep belief in the rights of all with a wonderful sense of humor. “She was full of life, love and laughter,” Watterson said. “The outpouring of love and support during her loss and the loss of her unborn son is a testament to the beautiful person she really was.” Gabby was expecting her son, Gabriel, this summer.
Educators have been reaching out to students and parents who are grappling with the tragedy as the school community works together to heal.
Gabby is survived by her husband, Leon; her 4-year-old daughter, Leona; her mother, Beverly Woods; and her siblings, Angelique, Annie Nicole, John and Alexander.
Condolences may be sent in care of email@example.com.
Colleagues have started a college fund for Gabby’s daughter. To contribute, please contact Hernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org.