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.

Orlando Valentin Jr. Chosen For Research Initiative

Orlando Valentin Jr., an Alma Exley Scholar who is his first year of teaching, has been chosen to participate in a study intended  to improve teacher-preparation programs. Researchers from the University of Connecticut, the University of Virginia and Michigan State University will conduct the study.

Mr. Valentin,  who was honored with an Alma Exley Memorial Scholarship as a UConn student in 2016, is teaching fourth grade at Casimir Pulaski Elementary School in Meriden. He is among a number of graduates of the three universities and three other teacher-preparation programs who will be observed in their classrooms multiple times during their first and second years of teaching.

Dr. Dorothea Anagnostopoulos, executive director of teacher education at UConn, said, “We believe the study will provide new information on how we can improve teacher-education programs and how teacher-education programs can best work with elementary schools to support beginning teachers.”

The Meriden Public Schools and other participating school districts are expected to benefit from the program in a number of ways. The universities will share with the schools what they learn about factors that support beginning elementary teachers. At the conclusion of the study, the universities will offer curriculum materials as well as professional development for teachers designed to support improvement in literacy and mathematics.

Dr.  Miguel Cardona, assistant superintendent in Meriden, said, “In my visits to his classroom so far this year, I can see why he was one of our first hires.  The relationship he has with his students and his effective pedagogy make him a valuable asset to the Meriden Public Schools.”




Orlando Valentin Jr. Is Honored as Alma Exley Scholar for 2016

Orlando Valentin Jr. of Meriden, Conn., a student at the University of Connecticut, has been honored as the Alma Exley Scholar for 2016. Seven previous scholarship recipients were among those celebrating with him at a reception on May 4 at the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford.

reception recipients 2016

Alma Exley Scholars from 1998-2015 celebrated with Orlando Valentin Jr. at a reception in his honor. Others. from left, Chi-Ann Lin, Violet Jiménez Sims, Dr. Miguel Cardona, Desi Nesmith, Margaret Seclen, Justis Lopez, Nadine Rosa.

Justis Lopez, the 2015 Alma Exley Scholar, was the guest speaker at the 20th annual reception, reflecting on his first year of teaching at Manchester High School and welcoming Mr. Valentin into the scholarship family.

In accepting the honor, Mr. Valentin announced that he had accepted a position as fourth grade teacher at Casimir Pulaski Elementary School in his hometown of Meriden. A graduate of Wilcox Technical High School, he is a student in the five-year Integrated Bachelor’s and Master’s Program in the Neag School of Education at UConn. He received a B.S. in Elementary Education with a concentration in science in May 2015. He was scheduled to receive an M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction on May 7, 2016.

He has an outstanding record of academic achievement and public service. He has been an active volunteer in Windham elementary schools as a site manager with America Reads and as a team leader with AmeriCorps’ Jumpstart program. He has served as a leader in Bringing Awareness Into Latin Ethnicity (BAILE) and as president of Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity. He also served as a leader of a student volunteer project that aided elementary schools in Jamaica.

He has been a martial arts practitioner for 15 years and holds a second-degree black belt. He works as an instructor in the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do.

He is a most deserving scholarship recipient, and we are delighted to welcome him to the Alma Exley Scholarship Family.