Ed Board Leader Daisy Gonzalez Dies

Michelle Liu Photo Daisy Y. Gonzalez, the 54-year-old president of the Board of Education, died unexpectedly Thursday morning.

A longtime advocate for the district’s parents, Gonzalez was the mother of two boys. The younger one, Marc, could often be seen hunched over homework in the corner while his mom presided over evening board meetings.

An honors student at Career High, he hoped to attend Yale or Wesleyan to be near home, aware his mom’s health was declining.

Her older son, Mikey, meanwhile, attended Gateway Community College and now works for the online retailer Amazon.

The cause of death wasn’t immediately apparent, according to fellow board member Edward Joyner, who with his wife Shirley Joyner spent hours with Gonzalez’s family at the hospital Thursday morning.

“[The doctors] said it wasn’t a heart attack, and that they’ve given the family an option to decide whether to do an autopsy to find the cause of death,” Ed Joyner said.

“It started this morning: She couldn’t breathe. They called 911. When [the paramedics] got there, she wasn’t breathing. Then, according to her son, on the way to the hospital, they couldn’t resuscitate her.”

“The shocking news of Daisy Gonzalez’ passing showers sadness across the city, particularly among all who worked with her over many years to ensure a dependable public education system for all students of New Haven Public Schools,” Mayor Toni Harp said. “Through my work with Daisy on the board of education I knew her to be a sincere, effective advocate for parents and their students; her dedicated efforts on behalf of the city and its residents will be sorely missed.”

Gonzalez first got involved in advocating for her sons’ schooling simply by volunteering. She was a regular sight at East Rock Community Magnet School, where both children graduated, appearing at PTO meetings, report card nights, orientations, field trips and other school functions. Prior to her appointment to the Board of Education, she served on its School-Based Building Advisory Committee, advocating for parents while the $49 million renovation fell behind schedule. She also participated in the Citywide Parent Leadership Team, an open group where parents tackle the district’s issues collaboratively, and the East Rock Community Management Team.

Based on her involvement, Mayor John DeStefano named Gonzalez to the school board in September 2013 — the last of his picks, alongside Carlos Torre and Che Dawson. “One of the most important issues for me is finding ways to increase parent involvement in schools. The more we as parents get involved in our children’s education, the better they do in school and in life,” Gonzalez said at the time.

Melissa Bailey Photo Gonzalez was unanimously elected board president by her colleagues this January, replacing Mayor Harp. At sometimes emotional board meetings, she was seen as a calming presence, known for her easygoing manner and her kindness.

Her four-year tenure on the Board of Education was set to end this coming September.

But that timeline for Gonzalez’s service wasn’t always so clear. In January 2016, the addition of the school board’s first two elected members meant the panel exceeded the number of members allowed by the charter. The Board of Alders first voted to cut her appointment short, then sued Gonzalez in state court in an attempt to unseat her. They eventually settled on a fix in March 2016, when the school board members agreed to rotate, so that no more than seven would vote at any given meeting.

“Daisy had to really fight to secure her position as a Board of Ed member,” said Florence Caldwell, a grandmother who attended many outreach workshops with Gonzalez. “Daisy was the voice of so many parents, speaking out for their rights and their responsibilities, asking the question that maybe parents wouldn’t dare to ask. She was about credibility and accountability.”

Markeshia Ricks Photo Caldwell said she hopes that the district’s parents remember Gonzalez’s constant advice: “Be involved. Get to know anybody and everybody that has anything to do with your child’s education, and also remember that there’s a dignified way of doing it.”

The night before her death, on Wednesday at an election fundraiser for Ed Joyner, Gonzalez arrived early and chatted with former school board member Alicia Caraballo, longtime Hillhouse High School teacher Robert Gibson and others while seated at one of two tables. “It’s devastating. We had a lot of time to talk yesterday; we were the last ones to leave. She was feeling good. We talked about her family, all kinds of things,” Caraballo recalled Thursday morning. “We were both feeling so encouraged and so proud, really, to be a part of this district, to be a part of what’s going on, to be a part of Dr. Joyner’s reelection.”

Caraballo said that she’d never had a conversation with Gonzalez about why she chose to get involved. “I guess it was pretty much understood,” she said. She was one of those people who “just understand the importance of being involved. And parents need to be involved: It’s what makes a good school a great school. People just can’t go at it alone: That was always understood. From the moment I met Daisy, it was clear that she was an activist. She had a strong commitment to the schools her sons attended and to the city as well, to every school as if every student was her student.”

In her absence, the president’s duties on the Board of Education will likely fall on Joyner, who was elected vice-president in January. The Board of Education can be expected to vote on new leadership when it reconvenes on Monday night for its regularly scheduled meeting at L.W. Beecher School.

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 6, 2017  10:59am

Rest In Peace.Sleeping With Angels, Living With God.

posted by: FacChec on July 6, 2017  11:05am

I am sadden by the news of Daisy’s passing, she was maturing into a great leader for the BOE and the students “she said were always First”. I am sure her work here on earth was completed satisfactorily in the eyes of our maker.

May Daisy rest in peace forever, we will remember her always.

The FAC

posted by: Rebecca Bombero on July 6, 2017  11:30am

Daisy was one of those terrific people who made this City great.  She was passionate, kind and was always the first to volunteer for any of the many events to engage parents, families or to support kids. It was a pleasure to know her.  She will be greatly missed.

posted by: GroveStreet on July 6, 2017  11:30am

Very sad. She was committed to all of New Haven’s kids, not just her own. RIP

posted by: yes we can on July 6, 2017  11:54am

A devastaing loss for the BOE and New Haven.  Daisy was not only a consistent voice for public school students and parents but also for civility.  Her grace and calmness will be sorely missed.  In a hyper-personalized landscape of politics and public service Daisy maintained the core beliefs of Kid’s First and led by example getting involved with her Children’s School PTOs for many years and then supporting others to get similarly engaged in a postive manner always focused on supporting the programs that are working and seeking to constructively fix and change ones that may not be.  Daisy was a consistent champion of collaboration and team building and we can only hope that those core beliefs and actions will serve as her legacy and a celebration of her life as well as a compass for the BOE for years to come.

posted by: Realmom21 on July 6, 2017  11:54am

Te Bendiga los ninos. Your mom was amazing. She was such a gift to this city. They didn’t always appreciate that all she gave came from the heart. No ego, no political positioning, no job to be gained, no career to be elevated simple a person who saw all the potential every persons child deserved to have nurtured.
In everyone’s life you have a purpose exclusive to your exsistance. Hers was obviously to make education all that it could be not only for her own but for all the children of her community. She truly represents a member of the village who fought for every child’s promise.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on July 6, 2017  12:27pm

I was privileged to be in Daisy’s presence at the last school board meeting.  Like many, I too share in the sadness of her unexpected death. 

Her untiring service to advocate on behalf of the city’s school children will forever remain in the annals of those who promoted others above self. 

May God bless her children, and may God bless the children of New Haven.

posted by: ms.mary on July 6, 2017  1:30pm

My friend,my mentor,who always fought for kids first my heart is filled with sadness right now.words can’t express my feelings to your boys and family.god just received the best angel he could have right now ,and you are sitting right next to him watching all the children from above.The city of New Haven lost a great lady.God bless your family and help them heal.Love you forever DAISY.

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on July 6, 2017  2:04pm

Ms. Daisy Gonzalez was a dedicated, longtime parent/ student advocate, member of the Board of Education and President of the Board of Education. She was committed to keeping KIDS FIRST as the sole focus of every Board action and decision. Ms. Gonzalez’s comments and actions and votes on the Board were never about personality or politics. She boldly stood for what she always thought was right and best for the students. Ms. Gonzalez was concentrating on the superintendent search. She shared her determination to take the time to find the best, most qualified person for that position.
Ms. Gonzalez promoted parental involvement and participation in our schools and at the Board meetings as if it were a revolutionary idea. It was and is. She knew if the parents, all the parents, were more involved in our schools, that would be the greatest, most effective, most revolutionary school reform effort in the history of American public education.
The greatest honor this community could bestow upon Daisy Gonzalez would be for groups of parents, students, teachers, administrators, Board members and others to take up Daisy’s mantle and continue the advocacy for parental involvement in their children’s education.
Ms. Gonzalez was a warm, compassionate, passionate and caring person, a public servant who promoted what was right and best for the New Haven public schools and the students who attend all of our schools. Her presence, her spirit, her conviction will be greatly missed. May she rest in peace.
She has two sons. Keep them and her family in your thoughts and prayers.

posted by: Inside 165 on July 6, 2017  3:54pm

Daisy and her family will be in my prayers. Hopefully some have learned from her example.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on July 6, 2017  5:43pm

I had the privilege of serving with Daisy on the East Rock School Building Advisory Committee. As GroveStreet says, she was committed to all of New Haven’s kids

posted by: BevHills730 on July 6, 2017  8:43pm

As someone who has a child who will soon enter the New Haven Public Schools, I thank Ms. Gonzalez for her countless hours of work, vision, and leadership.  This is an enormous loss to the New Haven community.  My deepest condolences and prayers to her family.

posted by: Razzie on July 7, 2017  10:57am

Thank you Daisy Gonzalez. I looked up the definition of “public service” ... I saw your picture. RIP.

posted by: piinthesky on July 7, 2017  1:19pm

Poor Daisy.  You will never be forgotten and your work will live on.  God bless and comfort your family.

posted by: Burnsie on July 7, 2017  3:32pm

Ms.Mary I concur—Daisy has always been in it for the right reasons—I am so sorry for her family for someone leaving us so early—she has been a bright light in New Haven and is respected universally—to her children I would like to say—your Mom made a difference in our world and her life had great meaning—that is what every human being wishes their life would mean—she will continue on in our hearts and in heaven—with all my thoughts and prayers-Tom

posted by: Tim Holahan on July 10, 2017  9:26am

I will miss Daisy very much. Her warmth, patience, and sense of humor created a welcoming and positive atmosphere when we worked together on the Citywide Parent Leadership Team. Her commitment to public service and education were admirable. My condolences to her family and friends.