Author Archives: Woody

10 Questions For Educational Leader Miguel Cardona

(Photo Credit: Ryan Glista/Neag School)

UConn’s Neag School of Education recently featured Miguel Cardona in its recurring “10 Questions” series, and the Alma Exley Scholarship Program is happy to share the interview here. 

We honored Cardona as an Alma Exley Scholar in 1998 when he was a student at Central Connecticut State University. Since then, he has received four degrees from the University of Connecticut, M.A. in 2001, 6th Year in 2004, Ed.D. in 2011 and Educational Leadership Program in 2012.

Since 2015 he has served as assistant superintendent for teaching and learning for Meriden (Conn.) Public Schools. Earlier in his career, he was a principal in Meriden for 10 years. In 2012, the Connecticut Association of Schools recognized him as Connecticut’s National Distinguished Principal. In 2013, the Neag School’s Alumni Board named him Principal of the Year. Today, he also serves as adjunct faculty in the Neag School’s UConn Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP). — Woody Exley

By Shawn Kornegay

What drew you to the Neag School of Education?

As a fourth-grade teacher, I heard about a program that was being offered at UConn for a master’s degree in bilingual/bicultural education. After looking into it, I was hooked. Soon after, I was encouraged to join a leader preparation program. After researching different programs, I felt UCAPP was the best in the state, and I was honored to be accepted.

Similarly, the Ed.D. and Executive Leadership programs were the ones that I felt best prepared me for a successful future in education and leadership. I feel blessed to have had the great learning opportunities at UConn over the last 20 years. The Neag School is a tremendous resource, not only as a school of education, but as partners as we work to improve education in Connecticut.

“Great educators build relationships with students and set a high bar for their growth. Great educators believe in the potential of their students, even if the students don’t yet. Great educators pay attention to detail and … value the importance of preparation.”

What led you to choose to pursue the field of education?

Kids. There are few things as gratifying as knowing that your hard work will improve the lives of children. Coming from a family who modeled service to others, I knew I wanted a profession that would give me the opportunity to serve others and help strengthen my community. Teaching did that. Initially, I wanted to become an art teacher. I love the arts and the important role it plays in the development of a person, but I gravitated toward elementary education once in the program. Being an elementary teacher is akin to being an artist, so I got the best of both worlds.

What do you believe makes a great educator?

Great educators are ones that do not look at their work as a job, [but] as an extension of their God-given gifts. The passion and commitment from great educators comes from within … Great educators build relationships with students and set a high bar for their growth. Great educators believe in the potential of their students, even if the students don’t yet. Great educators pay attention to detail and, like any other profession, value the importance of preparation. Whether that is lesson design, or getting to know their students, great teachers invest in their work — and they reap the benefits of their students’ success. … The role of teacher is the most important of all. Teachers shape lives.

How did the Neag School prepare you?

The Neag School prepared me in many ways. I had the fortune of learning from some of the best professors, latest research, and driven cohorts. Neag instructors balanced research and practice well, whether it was through program design that required field experience, or through partnerships with some of the leading thinkers and practitioners in the state. The coursework was enhanced with seminars, invitations to functions in the state, and guests that provided unique perspectives from which I grew.

What do you like about working with the Meriden School District?

I love being a part of the Meriden team. As a lifelong resident, and product of its schools, I love being a part of the important work for this city. I work with amazing people, and it is really important to me to remember that the decisions I make in my role as assistant superintendent affect all children, including my own.

What have you enjoyed about serving as an administrator?

It is about relationships. Working with adult learners and a greater number of families was a highlight of serving as building principal for 10 years. I enjoyed working with driven teachers whose input always made our building better. I learned so much from my colleagues and feel that my success is a result of the collective experiences I had as a teacher and school leader.

What are some recent initiatives of which you are most proud?

Serving as co-chairperson of the Connecticut Legislative Achievement Gap Task Force has been a great source of pride. It has resulted in legislation and practice that works to support student success in ways that make it truly the great equalizer it needs to be in this country. Supporting and advocating for quality programming for our youngest is some of the most rewarding work there is. At the local level, establishing systems that empower teacher collaboration and systematically raising the bar for tier 1 instruction have given me great pride. Another local initiative that brings me great pride is being able to bring community partners into the educational process. Whether that is a local agency aiming to improve the experiences of children after school or a local college that wants to collaborate to create a dual enrollment program for our high schoolers — connecting the K-12 experience to the community is a great source of pride and satisfaction.

Miguel Cardona giving his acceptance speech for Outstanding Principal during the 2013 Neag Alumni Awards. (Photo Credit: Tom Hurlbut/Neag School)

What are your thoughts on the Neag School’s participation in the new University Preparation Program Initiative (UPPI) and how it will help school administrators?

I am thrilled we have an opportunity to partner with UConn in Meriden and know that the UPPI program will only enhance our work with leadership development. As a tier 1 research university, the resources we will benefit from will ultimately enhance the experiences of our learners in Meriden. Given the history I had with the educational leadership department at UConn, I look forward to a great partnership with the Meriden Public Schools.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I hope to continue in this role in Meriden for the foreseeable future. I enjoy what I do and love that it is in the same community in which I live. I feel my role is an extension of my commitment to this community, my family, and to the children in Meriden. I hope to also continue teaching at the university level. The courses I teach at UConn for prospective leaders inspires me. I love the passion and energy of the students whose role will be to shape the educational landscape for the next 30 to 40 years. In my plans, I also expect to enjoy my 10- and 12-year-old as much as possible, and never miss a school concert.

What were some of your favorite moments at UConn?

As the son of two parents who sacrificed so much so their three children could have more than they ever had, the favorite moment for me was being hooded and earning my doctorate. I remember filling up a school bus with family and driving up to Storrs, Conn., for my graduation. When I crossed that stage, it represented the hard work, sacrifice, and guidance that was given to me by my parents and those that supported me. It was a highlight for me as a father also. It sent the message to my kids that the sky is the limit.

Posted May 17, 2017


Fairfield U Student Honored As 2017 Alma Exley Scholar

Chastity Berrios Hernandez, a senior at Fairfield University, was honored as the Alma Exley Scholar for 2017 at a reception at the Mark Twain House on May 3. Attendees included Ms. Berrios’s family, supporters of the Alma Exley Scholarship Program, educators from Fairfield University, and several previous recipients.

Four Alma Exley Scholars honored Chastity Berrios Hernandez with their presence at the reception, from left, Justis Lopez, Orlando Valentin Jr., Dr. Miguel Cardona and Chi-Ann Lin. Kaye Paddyfote, second from left, a high school student, spoke at the reception.

Keynote speaker Orlando Valentin Jr. offered an inspiring message, reflecting on lessons learned in his first year of teaching at Casimir Pulaski Elementary School in Meriden. Also speaking was Kaye Paddyfote, a senior at Conard High School, West Hartford, who shared her personal experience in making the case for greater diversity in the teaching profession.

Ms. Berrios was honored for her outstanding record of academic achievement and community service at Fairfield University.  She is an English major with minors in Educational Studies, Spanish, and Latin American and Caribbean Studies. She plans to teach in a public elementary school after earning her master’s degree next year at Fairfield.

She came to Connecticut from Puerto Rico at the age of nine with her mother, brother and two sisters. She devoted herself to learning English, did well in school, and graduated from High School in the Community, New Haven, in 2013.

At Fairfield, she has served as a Learning Service Associate at Fairfield University’s Center for Faith & Public Life. In that capacity, she has facilitated discussions on service learning among students at the university. She is also a resident assistant, providing guidance to 45 first-year students.

During her sophomore year, she conducted educational research in Nicaragua. And she has served as a teacher assistant at the Summer Institute for the Gifted in Princeton, N.J.

She has served as a Spanish interpreter, collaborating with nursing students in a fall-prevention program at a Bridgeport community center. Her rapport with the program clients was so exceptional that state officials chose to make a video of her work as an example of best practices.

From 2011 to 2015, she was a manager at a Dunkin Donuts in New Haven, working 15-20 hours a week while maintaining a full course load at the university.

Ms. Berrios was highly recommended by university faculty, who describe her as “deeply committed to becoming a change agent as an urban educator.” She has a strong commitment to community service, and she has demonstrated the ability to teach in traditional and non-traditional settings in two languages.

She is an activist focused on making a difference for students, especially English language learners. In her courses, she has been intent on helping her fellow students to understand the inequities of schooling in Connecticut, convincing some of her classmates to join her in working against racism and classism.

Desi Nesmith Shares Leadership Principles at National Forum

As principal of Metacomet School in Bloomfield, Desi Nesmith led a dramatic turnaround in academic performance. Within two years, third-grade students advanced from below average to well above the statewide average in reading, writing and mathematics.

Now, as chief school turnaround officer at the Connecticut Department of Education, he is sharing his strategies with struggling schools across the state.

And recently, he stepped onto a national stage to explain his leadership principles to educators from across the country. He was one of the speakers at a conference in New Orleans sponsored by the Milken Family Foundation, which is dedicated to advancing educator effectiveness.

Lowell Milken of the Milken Family Foundation, left, with Desi Nesmith at the Milken Education Awards conference.

Mr. Nesmith received the prestigious Milken Educator Award in 2014 in recognition of his accomplishments at Metacomet School.

Upon being named principal in 2011, he took over a school where students lagged behind state averages for performance in reading, writing and mathematics. He immediately established high expectations for academic performance.

By 2013, 65 percent of third graders met the state reading goal, compared to 57 percent statewide. Seventy-one percent met the goal for writing, outpacing the state average of 60 percent. And 71 percent met the goal for mathematics, above the state average of 62 percent.

As Mr. Nesmith explained in his presentation in New Orleans, he was among the school leaders in Bloomfield who made a commitment to academic excellence. They focused on strengthening academics, promoting discipline and good behavior, and forging ties with parents and the community. They involved parents as well as community organizations such as the local historical society, the Rotary Club, a local bank, and a local weekly newspaper. The district also started new after-school programs and provided additional training for teachers.

This recognition was another milestone in a remarkable career in education. We honored him as the 2000 Alma Exley Scholar while at the University of Connecticut. After earning his master’s degree in 2002, he joined the faculty of Mayberry School in East Hartford, where he was named school Teacher of the Year. Next he advanced to leadership positions in Hartford and in his hometown of Bloomfield. Since 2015, he has served as chief school turnaround officer at the State Department of Education, taking on some of the most demanding educational challenges in schools across the state.

Congratulations to Desi for this most recent honor.