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.

NAACP Honors Miguel Cardona

Dr. Miguel Cardona, 1998 Alma Exley Scholar, received the Education Award from the Meriden-Wallingford NAACP at its 19th annual Freedom Fund Dinner on October 23, 2015.

Dr. Cardona was appointed this year as assistant superintendent for teaching and learning in the Meriden Public Schools. He was one of several community residents honored at the dinner for their outstanding achievements.


Thanking his family and coworkers in the schools, he said, “I’m very proud to work for the Meriden Public Schools, where we understand our work is to promote the cradle-to-college pipeline, not the school-to-prison pipeline.”

The NAACP chapter also gave Dr. Cardona its Education Award in 2005, when he was principal of Hanover School in Meriden. A graduate of Wilcox Technical High School in Meriden, he received the Connecticut Technical High School Alumni of the Year Award in 2006, and he received the Shining Star Award from the Meriden Chamber of Commerce in 2009.

Dr. Cardona earned his bachelor’s degree from Central Connecticut State University and his master’s and doctoral degrees from Uconn. He  is one of four previous recipients of the Alma Exley Memorial Scholarship who support the program by serving on the selection committee.

Desi Nesmith Named To Key Post At State Department of Education

Desi Nesmith, who has gained a reputation as a turnaround specialist in stints as a principal in Hartford and Bloomfield, has been named chief school turnaround officer for the Connecticut State Department of Education.

Super Heroes

Before leaving his position as principal of Metacomet School in Bloomfield, this super hero of education appeared on the roof of the school as Batman with his sidekick, Robin (phys ed teacher Jim Varano), and Wonder Woman (third grade teacher Lisa Lamenzo). It’s something they have done from time to time to welcome the students as they arrive at school in the morning. And the kids love it!

In his new position, Mr. Nesmith will help struggling schools to improve their academic performance. He will be working with the 30 Alliance Districts, which are the lowest-performing school districts in the state.

desi portrait

The Alma Exley Scholarship Program honored him in 2000. He began his career as a fifth grade teacher at Mayberry Elementary School in East Hartford, where he was named the school’s Teacher of the Year.

Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell approached him about the job of chief school turnaround officer based on his experience in making a difference as a principal at under-performing elementary schools in Hartford and Bloomfield.

In his first year as a school principal in 2009-2010, he led a turnaround at America’s Choice SAND School in Hartford. Under his leadership, student scores on the Connecticut Mastery Test improved from among the lowest in the city to the highest. The Connecticut Association of Schools recognized his achievement by naming him the Outstanding First-Year Principal.

Mr. Nesmith became principal of Metacomet School in his hometown of Bloomfield in 2011. There, he has played a leading role in a dramatic improvement in student academic performance. By 2013, third-grade classes had surpassed state averages in reading, writing and math on the Connecticut Mastery Test. Subsequently, he received the Milken Educator Award, which honors outstanding educators across the country.

While Mr. Nesmith, A.K.A. Batman, was gaining a reputation in education circles as an outstanding principal, his students were getting to know him as a leader who makes school a fun place to be. Now he will be able to broaden his impact to schools across the state.