School & District Management Obituary

‘Bright Star’ Principal, 36, Dies From Coronavirus

By Denisa R. Superville — March 24, 2020 3 min read
Dez-Ann Romain was the principal of the Brooklyn Democracy Academy in New York, a school for students who had fallen behind in earning high school credits. She’s believed to be one of the first K-12 educators to die from COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A Brooklyn principal who led a school for students who had dropped out or are in danger of not graduating on time has become one of the first K-12 educators in the United States to die from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Dez-Ann Romain, 36, was the principal of the 190-student Brooklyn Democracy Academy in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood.

Romain’s death, which was announced Monday by the New York City union that represents principals, sent shockwaves through the city, in part because Romain was so young. New York City—which has become the largest epicenter of the virus in the U.S.—had closed schools to students on March 16, and teachers and principals continued to come to work for a few days after the closure. On Tuesday, a second Brooklyn principal whose school shared a campus with Romain’s school, was hospitalized with pneumonia, possibly stemming from coronavirus, the New York Post reported.

Educators Are Vulnerable

Several educators in the country have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, including a principal in Loudoun County, Va. Last week, a substitute teacher who worked in California’s Sacramento Unified school district died from the virus. But Romain is thought to be the first full-time, front-line educator in K-12 to die from the disease.

“I am sorry to say, I think there will be a lot more educators falling ill,” said Ernest Logan, the president of the American Federation of School Administrators, the national union that represents principals, assistant principals, and other administrators across the country.

Though he did not know Romain personally, the news was difficult for Logan, a former New York City principal who worked in the Brownsville neighborhood.

It “takes a special person” to commit to leading a school that offers a second chance to students who have missed out on educational opportunities-- often through no fault of their own, Logan said.

“We know one thing, they have to be extremely compassionate and caring, and above all, flexible. Stern but flexible,” he said. “That really requires additional strength,”

“You have to have it in your heart that these students can succeed,” he said. “And you have to have it in your heart that you would do anything to help them succeed when you run those schools. You have to live it; you have to truly live it.”

“Every job as a principal is a tough one, and there are some places where it’s tougher than others,” he added.

Principal Was a Problem Solver

Brooklyn’s Democracy Academy serves older students who are behind in credits and those who’ve dropped out. The school is “committed to providing an interesting, challenging, educational program that helps students overcome obstacles and attain their goals,” according to its website.

The school helps students graduate with a high school diploma, build life skills and explore their interests, according to the website.

Photos on the school’s Instagram account show students enjoying the mundane activities of high school life—college tours, Valentine’s day celebrations, Career Day, and prom. The school also has a hydroponics farm, where students grow vegetables as part of an urban farming program.

“She was really a bright star,” Logan said of Romain. “She had this passion.”

Courtney Winkfield, who coached Romain when she was an assistant principal at the school, told Chalkbeat that Romain took time to speak to every student she met in the hallway and that she saw her school as part of the larger Brownsville community.

“She gave her entire self to that community, and it did not matter how incredibly complex a problem was, she was always rolling her sleeves up to do whatever she could to solve it,” Winkfield told the news outlet.

New York City Chancellor Richard Carranza said in a statement that the city’s education department would help the community through the loss.

“This is painful for all of us, and I extend my deepest condolences to the Brooklyn Democracy Academy community, and the family of Principal Romain,” Carranza said. “We’re all experiencing a deep sense of confusion, uncertainty and sadness and it’s more important than ever to provide support to one another. We’ll be there for the students and staff through whatever means necessary during this impossibly difficult time.”

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Critical Ways Leaders Can Build a Culture of Belonging and Achievement
Explore innovative practices for using technology to build an environment of belonging and achievement for all staff and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management How District Leaders Can Make Sure Teachers Don't Miss the Loan-Forgiveness Deadline
Many teachers and other public employees may not know they qualify for a student loan-forgiveness waiver that has an Oct. 31 deadline.
4 min read
Young adult woman cutting the ball and chain labeled "Debt" which is attached as the tassel hanging from a graduate's mortarboard
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management Download A Visual Guide to Nonverbal Communication (Download)
Understanding nonverbal communication can help you improve interactions and get your message across.
1 min read
v42 8SR Nonverbal Communication Share Image
Gina Tomko/Education Week and Getty
School & District Management Ensure Your Staff Gets the Message: 3 Tips for School Leaders
School staff are inundated with information. Here's a few ways to ensure they will actually hear you.
3 min read
Image showing a female and male in business attire connecting speech bubble puzzle pieces.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management Keep School Staff Motivated All Year Long: Advice From Principals
Here are some of the things—big and small—that school leaders do and say to keep teachers excited about the job.
13 min read
Teachers and faculty play a game of Kahoot! to get to know one another better during a Welcome Back training at CICS Bucktown on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022 in Chicago, Ill.
Teachers and faculty play a game to get to know one another better during a Welcome Back training at Chicago's CICS Bucktown in August.
Taylor Glascock for Education Week