Founder’s Blog

Woody Exley’s updates on the Alma Exley Scholars

Alma Exley Scholar Growing as a Leader in Meriden

Orlando Valentin Jr., whom we honored in 2016, has emerged as a leader in educational equity issues in the Meriden public schools.

He has been teaching fourth grade at Casimir Pulaski School in his hometown of Meriden since earning his master’s degree from UConn. He is in his second and final year in the UConn Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP). I expect we will see Mr. Valentin go on to a distinguished career as an educational leader in the not-too-distant future.

Mr. Valentin sends a heartfelt message to the students he hasn’t seen in-person in months.

In the past two years he has received about $5,000 in grant funds from an alliance of Regional Education Service Centers (RESCs) to enable him to focus on the recruitment and retention of teachers of color in Meriden. He has used these funds to set up an affinity group for educational professionals of color in the central Connecticut community.

“The affinity group gives the professionals the opportunity to network with their colleagues of color who likely have shared life experiences,” he said. “The group also has had various professional development opportunities such as a book study, attending a conference and training with an equity consultant.

“The program also enables them to take the DISC leadership assessment. This allows them to evaluate their leadership potential and create a roadmap for professional development.” (The DISC tool evaluates behavior in terms of Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness.)

Team of Equity Leaders

Mr. Valentin is entering his second year as one of 12 equity leaders in the district. These leaders train with an external consultant, Dr. David Cormier, and deliver turnkey modules to their colleagues which focus specifically on racial equity. Dr. Cormier, Mr. Valentin and two other equity leaders delivered a 75-minute presentation in August to Meriden’s cohort of new hires for 2020. 

He is active in the community as well. He has been coaching youth football teams since he was fresh out of UConn, and is entering his fourth year as head coach of the Meriden Raiders. He began as an assistant coach, then became a head coach and has led the same group of athletes in successive years as they have moved up to higher levels of competition.

A football player holding a bat on a baseball field

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Coach Valentin giving a pep-talk to his team (prior to Covid-19).

Mr. Valentin said he is grateful to the scholarship program and its supporters who have helped him to launch his career in education.

“Thank you for putting this scholarship together and creating a network of professionals of color here in Connecticut,” he said. “Thank you for the scholarship opportunity which I and many others have benefited from.”

Our selection committee really knows how to pick ‘em. We’re delighted to see Mr. Valentin advancing in his career, taking on greater responsibility and making a difference in his hometown. He is one of many illustrious Alma Exley Scholars who are having an impact in Connecticut and across the country.

  • Woody Exley

Sibani Sengupta Named to Leadership Position

         I’m pleased to report that Sibani Sengupta, Ph.D., whom we honored in 2009, has been named assistant principal at Sacred Heart Academy, Hamden, Conn. She will continue to teach Human Gene Discovery and Honors Biotech Research. Previously, she had served as chair of the Science Department and dean of academic affairs. 

 I love it when I learn about the accomplishments of our scholarship recipients, and I was delighted when Dr. Sengupta told me, “Just like my fellow Alma Exley scholars, my journey as an educator took off when I was chosen to receive the Alma Exley scholarship and so I wanted to thank you for your support.”

        Dr. Sengupta earned B.S. and M.S. degrees from the University of Calcutta, India, and a Ph.D. in molecular biology and chemistry from the University of Connecticut. After doing post-doctoral work at the UConn Health Center, she earned her Connecticut teaching credentials through the Alternate Route to Certification. She can be reached at

Many Educational Leaders

         Of our 30 scholarship recipients, Dr. Sengupta is one of 11 who have served in educational leadership positions. 

         Miguel Cardona, Ed.D., is education commissioner of the State of Connecticut.

         Desi Nesmith is chief school turnaround officer for the State of Connecticut.

         Glenn Allen Jr. is chair of the Special Education Department at Carson High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. 

         Han-Ya Annie Hsu has served as chief of staff in the Office of the provost, Asian University for Women, Bangladesh, and director of global student success at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass. 

         Zakia Parrish, Ph.D., is principal of Hall Regional Career High School in New Haven, Conn. 

         Santosha Oliver, Ph.D., is assistant superintendent for instructional Services in the Windsor, Conn., School District. 

         Violet Jiménez Sims, Ph.D., is assistant principal of the Hartford Montessori Magnet School.

         Vernon-James Riley is associate dean of regional support at Relay Graduate School of Education, Washington, D.C.

         Khalil Graham, Ph.D., is managing director of the Aspiring Leaders Program at Teaching Trust, a partnership with Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Tex. 

         Justis Lopez is alumni affairs coordinator at the Council for Opportunity in Education, Washington, D.C., where he is serving other first-generation college graduates. 

Recognition for Excellence in Teaching

         Dr. Sengupta Sibani has received numerous teaching awards, including the High School Exemplary Educator of the Year Award from the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS), the Hero Award from Ronald McDonald House Charities, and Outstanding Biology Teacher of Connecticut.

         It’s my pleasure to congratulate Dr. Sengupta on her recent appointment. And I’m also sending along hearty congratulations to all of the other Alma Exley Scholars who have accepted challenging educational leadership positions. These outstanding educators are having a substantial impact while serving as role models for students of color in particular as well as all students in general. 

– Woody Exley 

Founder’s Blog

I’m pleased to have this opportunity to reflect on the impact of the scholarship program, the accomplishments of our recipients, and developments in the drive to achieve greater diversity in the teaching profession.Your comments are welcome at

Woody portrait 8-27-2016
-Woody Exley