In Their Own Words

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


Scholarship recipients have their say

Alma Exley Scholars have been making a difference in classrooms since the late 1990s. They are teaching — and working in leadership positions — in schools across Connecticut and from Boston to Los Angeles.

Now that most of them have been in the classroom for a number of years, they are in a position to share their experience with others who are embarking on their careers.

From time to time, we will post entries that will help future teachers make choices relating to their own education and careers. Scroll down to learn about their experiences in their own words

“In Their Own Words” — Jessica Raugitinane

Jessica Raugitinane, the 2012 Alma Exley Scholar, was the guest speaker at the reception on April 29, 2014 when Jessica Myers was honored. At the time, Ms. Raugitinane was completing her studies toward a master’s degree at the University of Connecticut. In her remarks, she addressed issues of race and privilege, reflecting on her experience in the fall of 2013 when she taught and did research in a highly selective UConn program in London, England. Following are her remarks.

jessica raugitinane newest

Good evening. It feels great to be back in this community of scholars which feels more like family with the constant support that comes from Woody and the scholarship committee. I’m so glad to welcome Jessica Myers into the family.

From one Jessica to another, congratulations on all of your accomplishments. I am particularly pleased with your involvement in the Urban Education Fellows Program, dedicated to exploring issues related to race, culture, and poverty in education. I am hopeful of our future when I see young leaders, like yourself, confront critical issues like race and poverty in order to improve education. Especially when race and socioeconomic status contribute tremendously to privilege.

Throughout my college experience, I have reflected a great deal on race and privilege. Generally, higher education is a predominately white setting. Therefore, I have often felt like a cultural outsider. I have felt that I don’t belong or that I’m different. Especially being both Asian and Hispanic, I felt that I had to choose between my two cultures in order to fit in with a social group.

Also, as a part of a teacher preparation program that has roughly 130 students and only 8 students of color, again I feel isolated. I usually am the only student of color in the classroom or the only teacher of color in my clinic placements. In the midst of whiteness, my otherness is salient to me.

I became hyperaware of my cultural identity, especially during my experience in London last fall. There were 14 students in my London cohort, and I was the only student of color. I lived with the 9 other girls in a small apartment. We did everything together, from living together, to going out together, to going to class and internship together. This bubble intensified my awareness and anxiety of my otherness.

Returning to UConn, I brought back with me this hyperawareness of my cultural identity. I began to analyze my environment more closely. For instance, this spring, I began my Master’s internship in a Mansfield elementary school conducting Writer’s Workshop. This school in Mansfield is predominately white and is deemed a successful school with supportive administration and teachers along with an abundance of resources.

I immediately compared this to my student teaching experience in Hartford. This Hartford K-8 school is predominately filled with students of color and is deemed a failing school, with unstable administration, low expectations of student achievement, and a lack of resources. I could only dwell on how unfair this was. These two student populations receive two totally different educations, essentially because of the race and socioeconomic status they were born into.

With my frustration of always being an other and my anger towards social inequities, I became overwhelmed with society. I questioned how much of an impact I could really have on my students, especially with my desire to work in underprivileged areas. I thought to myself, “How can I help my students succeed, when I feel that society sets them up to fail?” Ultimately, I felt helpless as a teacher. I felt like there was nothing I could do and that I would just have to deal with society the way it is.

My frustration with society was constantly on my mind, which led me to express my feelings with my fellow peers of color. Daniel, who’s actually here with me today, was one of my peers who dealt with my venting. Dan can tell you, that I was extremely pessimistic about the future of society and my success as a teacher. Yet, after awhile, venting gets old. I needed to direct my frustration into positivity and be proactive. If I couldn’t change society on a large scale, I needed to do it on a smaller scale.

So, I decided to email my advisor of my London cohort, who leads our seminar class every Friday. I emailed him expressing how the issues of race and privilege have been bothering me and if we could possibly implement these topics in future class discussions.

I chose to address issues of racism and privilege to my London cohort since our research project revolved around global competence and how to make it a focus in education. I thought issues of racism and privilege fit in well with this global perspective. I decided that bringing up issues of racism and privilege would benefit not only my personal growth, but also the growth of my peers as teachers and people.

Thankfully my London advisor was more than supportive in collaborating with me. He advised me to read Beverly Tatum’s book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? I must say I highly recommend this book. It opened my eyes and perspective on my own racial identity development, but also to view racism as a system of advantages and disadvantages rather than individual acts of prejudice.

My professor and I assigned chapters of the book along with Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege article for my cohort to read. I created guiding questions to facilitate discussion. We spent only two class periods on these readings. I must say, I did not expect my peers to change much in perspective especially only after 5 hours of discussion, but the end result exceeded my expectations.

From our explicit discussions on taboo subjects like racism and privilege, I find that my peers and I now feel free to bring up these topics in everyday conversations and feel accountable to address these issues in our classrooms. The London cohort has a Facebook group, with the original purpose of contacting one another about travel plans and homework while we were in London. Now I am pleased to say that it has become a place for discussion, where many individuals post articles and news stories relating to race, privilege, and inequities.

Before my decision to be proactive, I can say that society silenced me. I felt uncomfortable and ashamed to speak up against injustices that I experienced in everyday occurrences. I felt helpless in trying to help others to succeed. However, after taking the initiative to openly discuss taboo subjects with my peers, I feel empowered.

I feel that I am finally developing my voice. Most important, I recognize the strength and value of my voice. It can get overwhelming trying to change this big thing called society, but I realize that I have a profound effect on my sphere of influence. We all do.

My sphere of influence includes my family, friends, peers, colleagues, students, and my students’ families. I take responsibility to use my voice not only to empower myself as a citizen of society, but also to promote a critical consciousness within my sphere of influence.

A critical consciousness means learning to identify the many isms of society, whether it is racism, sexism, classism, ageism, etc. According to clinical psychologist Beverly Tatum, with a critical consciousness “we are better able to resist the negative impact of oppressive messages when we see them coming than when they are invisible to us.” As educators, we must make inequities explicit to our students, make it everyday conversation, so that injustice becomes visible. As Tatum wrote, once we notice something, it becomes hard to ignore.

Encouraging students to question society and analyze societal messages and their effects will be at the forefront of my teaching. I want to empower my students to take ownership of their identities. I want my students to externalize everything that society has told them to internalize. I want my students to be in control of their identities and their futures.

Janie Ward, a professor at Simmons College, has written about a child-rearing process she calls “raising resisters.” Essentially, I want my students to be resisters. I want them to resist oppression. I want them to speak up. When we break the silence, we break the cycle of oppression. In a society hindered by isms, we must develop informed, brave voices that identify and speak against ongoing injustices, especially within a society that oppresses silently.

I am relieved that I found my voice before society could determine my future. As educators, we must help our students to find their voices as a way for them to take control of their own lives. I hope all of us will continue to develop our voices to speak up and raise resisters.

Thank you.