News about the program and our honorees

Orlando Valentin ‘Sent to the Office’ — In a Good Way

More than 20 years ago, Orlando Valentin Jr. entered kindergarten at Hanover Elementary School. This month, he returned to Hanover as assistant principal.

Orlando Valentin Jr. is back where it all began: Hanover Elementary School. — Meriden Record-Journal photo

“As a school leader, it’s the best feeling being able to return to these same halls where I began my educational career,” he said. “I already know many of the teachers, students, and families in the Hanover community which makes this transition that much easier.”

2016 Alma Exley Scholar

Mr. Valentin, whom we honored with a scholarship in 2016, began his career as a fourth-grade teacher at Casimir Pulaski School in his hometown of Meriden, Connecticut. He had earned his master’s degree in the five-year integrated bachelor’s/master’s degree program at the University of Connecticut. This year he completed the two-year Administrator Preparation Program at UConn.

Meriden has a large Hispanic population. Mr. Valentin is proud of his Puerto Rican roots, and he sees himself as a role model to his students. He is a first-generation college graduate who grew up like many of his students in a single-parent household.

Equity Leader

While teaching at Pulaski, he also served in a leadership role in promoting the recruitment and retention of teachers of color in Meriden. He was one of 12 equity leaders in the school system.

The Meriden schools’ leadership for years has placed a high priority on increasing the diversity of its educator workforce. This year, 35 percent of the district’s new hires are persons of color.

Mr. Valentin’s equity work also has extended beyond Meriden. He established an affinity group for educational professionals of color in Central Connecticut.

“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 group and training with an equity consultant.”

Active as a Community Leader

He also has been active in the community as a coach of a youth football team and as a martial-arts instructor.

Speaking for the Alma Exley scholarship family, I can say that we are delighted that Mr. Valentin has joined the leadership ranks in his hometown school system. Best wishes for success and satisfaction, Orlando, in this next leg of your educational journey.

  • Woody Exley

Expanding Educator Pathway for High School Students

Educators Rising, a program to start high school students on a pathway to careers in education, is expanding dramatically. Students in at least 15 school districts will participate in the program in the fall of 2021, up from eight districts since last year.

Dr. Shuana Tucker, chief talent officer at the Connecticut State Department of Education, made the announcement in a virtual program sponsored by the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). She spoke about Connecticut’s educator-diversity initiatives in a presentation to members of state boards of education from across the country.

Dr. Shuana Tucker

EdRising was having an impact at New Britain High School for several years before expanding to other high schools. Many alumnae have entered college teacher-preparation programs, and some are teaching. Read more.

Many Diversity Initiatives Underway

This was just one of a variety of educator-diversity initiatives described by Dr. Tucker.

Another innovative program is NextGen, which enables college sophomores and juniors preparing to be teachers to work in public schools 2 1/2 days a week under the supervision of a mentor teacher. Students are paid at the substitute-teacher rate or more. Priority is given to students from under-represented groups and those preparing for careers in shortage areas.

In a recently announced program, Gov. Ned Lamont signed into law legislation to support pathways for teachers for the state’s highest need school districts. Read more.

A new program to be introduced by the fall of 2022 would provide a pathway for high school students who plan to become teachers. The program would enable them to acquire a maximum of 10 college credits while in high school.

Ten percent of Connecticut’s public-school educators are persons of color, up from 8.3 percent five years ago, while students of color comprise over half of over half of public-school students.

Other Innovative Diversity Initiatives

Other initiatives under way to increase diversity in the educator workforce include:

Legislation passed during the past five years to support minority educator recruitment and retention.

Creation of additional alternate routes to teacher certification beyond traditional teacher-preparation programs in the state’s colleges and universities

Troops to Teachers, which has guided veterans to education careers.

A guidebook to help local school districts improve the effectiveness of their recruitment and retention efforts.

TEACH-Connecticut promotes teacher recruitment and helps candidates to apply to teacher-preparation programs.

Education career fairs, with invitations to recent college graduates, members of Hispanic organizations, and students at historically Black colleges and universities.

The Cardona Era Begins at U.S. Department of Education

Vice President Kamala Harris administers the oath of office to Dr. Miguel Cardona as wife Marissa holds the Bible and son and daughter, Miguel Jr and Celine, look on.

What a thrill to watch on Facebook as Vice President Kamala Harris administered the oath of office to our own Miguel Cardona as U.S. Secretary of Education. How gracious of Vice President Harris to send warm and personal greetings to Miguel’s parents, Hector and Sarah Cardona, who were watching at home in Meriden.

Hearty congratulations to Dr. Cardona and best wishes for success in meeting the challenges of your new position. We know you will serve as an excellent representative of the nation’s students and teachers as well as the public at-large.

Dr. Cardona talked about his plans for addressing the challenges facing him when George Stephanopoulos interviewed him on ABC’s Good Morning America on his second day on the job. Click here to view the interview (after a brief ad).

When we honored Miguel as an Alma Exley Scholar in 1998, the selection committee knew that he had a bright future. And he has fulfilled our expectations again and again throughout his remarkable career in education.

Dr. Miguel Cardona

Dr. Cardona is just one of the many talented and dedicated individuals whom we have honored and who have gone on to make a difference as outstanding teachers and educational leaders. Supporters of our program over the past 25 years can feel good about playing a part in helping them to launch their careers.

Roots in Meriden

When Miguel was born, his parents lived in a public housing project in Meriden. He started school speaking Spanish. After graduating from Wilcox Technical High School in Meriden, he enrolled Central Connecticut State University with plans to become a teacher.

At Central, he was named one of the first Alma Exley Scholars. Upon graduation, he took a position as a fourth-grade teacher in his hometown of Meriden. His talent was quickly recognized, and at age 28 he became the youngest principal in the state. In 2012 he was named Connecticut’s Principal of the Year. He also served as co-chairman of a state task force examining achievement gaps and recommending remedies to the legislature.

He earned his doctorate at the University of Connecticut and was named Meriden’s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. Then last year he became Commissioner of Education for the State of Connecticut.

First in the Nation

Under his leadership, Connecticut recently became the first state to require high schools to offer elective courses in Black and Latino studies.

Family is Numero Uno for Dr. Cardona. His wife, Marissa, daughter, Celine, and son, Miguel Jr., were at his side when he took the oath of office as Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education.

As a candidate, Biden indicated that he would choose an education secretary with experience in world of K-12 schools. Dr. Cardona fills that bill, having worked as a teacher, principal and administrator.

As reported in the Hartford Courant, U.S. Richard Blumenthal said, “His leaving would be bittersweet because he’s great and we’d miss him, but it’s precisely because he’s great that he would be a valuable education secretary.”

Correcting Inequities

Dr. Cardona has long focused on correcting inequities among students in our public schools. He has consistently voiced concern that the pandemic was hurting certain students more than others.

After the pandemic forced schools to close, he worked to procure devices for students who needed them to participate in remote schooling and pushed to reopen buildings.

Dr. Cardona has been a strong advocate for Connecticut’s students and teachers in many interviews on local news media

Impact of the Pandemic

“While many things are unclear during this time in our nation’s history, there is one thing that is not: this epidemic has further exacerbated inequities that have been there all along,” he wrote in May.

The new education secretary’s first task will be to help guide schools through the final phase of the pandemic. Biden has said he wants to see schools reopen and to give them the support they need to do so, including “clear, consistent, effective national guidelines.”

Those of us who know Dr. Cardona and have followed his career over the years know that he is the right man for that job.

  • Woody Exley