News about the program and our honorees

Theodore Martinez Honored As 2018 Alma Exley Scholar

Theodore Martinez of Windsor, a student at the University of Hartford, was honored as the Alma Exley Scholar for 2018 at a reception on Wednesday, May 9, at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford.

Several previous recipients were on hand to celebrate with Mr. Martinez, Desi Nesmith, chief school turnaround officer, State Department of Education; Sacha Kelly, mathematics teacher at the Academy of Science and Innovation, New Britain; Dr. Miguel Cardona, assistant superintendent, Meriden Schools; Dr. Violet Jiménez Sims, assistant principal, Hartford Montessori Magnet School; and Orlando Valentin Jr., teacher at Casimir Pulaski School in Meriden.


From left, Desi Nesmith, Sacha Kelly, Theodore Martinez, Dr. Miguel Cardona, Dr. Violet Jimenez Sims, Orlando Valentin Jr.

Dr. Sims, who received her doctorate from the University of Bridgeport in May, was the keynote speaker. Congratulating Mr. Martinez, she spoke about the need for greater diversity among educators, reflecting on her experiences as a teacher and in her current position as an administrator. Dr. Sims was honored as an Alma Exley Scholar in 2008.

Mr. Martinez was introduced by the newest member of the selection committee, Dr. Diane Cloud, who retired after a career as a teacher and principal and who currently works as a leadership coach and teacher trainer in local magnet schools.

Mr. Martinez is pursuing a Master of Education degree from the University of Hartford and plans to teach in an elementary school after receiving his degree in December. He has a Bachelor of General Studies, Human Services, from the University of Connecticut, and a Master of Science in Psychology from Southern New Hampshire University.

He grew up in Hartford and Windsor after his mother, Laura Martinez, came to Connecticut from Puerto Rico. He graduated from the Metropolitan Learning Center, a magnet high school in Bloomfield operated by the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC).

While pursuing his master’s degree, he has been serving as an associate instructor at Glastonbury East Hartford Magnet School, a CREC school. Long active in advising and mentoring youths, he serves as program coordinator with Youth In Action, a program of the Windsor Youth Services Bureau. He was site director of “4th R,” an educational program of South Windsor Parks & Recreation, from 2012 to 2015. And he has served as an advisor to the Windsor Police Cadets since 2003.

Mr. Martinez  joins 28 others whom we have honored over the past 22 years. They form an extraordinary network that includes teachers, principals and assistant superintendents. Many have been honored for their contributions to education and their communities.

Our selection committee is certain that he has a bright future as an outstanding educator.


Fairfield U Student Honored As 2017 Alma Exley Scholar

Chastity Berrios Hernandez, a senior at Fairfield University, was honored as the Alma Exley Scholar for 2017 at a reception at the Mark Twain House on May 3. Attendees included Ms. Berrios’s family, supporters of the Alma Exley Scholarship Program, educators from Fairfield University, and several previous recipients.

Four Alma Exley Scholars honored Chastity Berrios Hernandez with their presence at the reception, from left, Justis Lopez, Orlando Valentin Jr., Dr. Miguel Cardona and Chi-Ann Lin. Kaye Paddyfote, second from left, a high school student, spoke at the reception.

Keynote speaker Orlando Valentin Jr. offered an inspiring message, reflecting on lessons learned in his first year of teaching at Casimir Pulaski Elementary School in Meriden. Also speaking was Kaye Paddyfote, a senior at Conard High School, West Hartford, who shared her personal experience in making the case for greater diversity in the teaching profession.

Ms. Berrios was honored for her outstanding record of academic achievement and community service at Fairfield University.  She is an English major with minors in Educational Studies, Spanish, and Latin American and Caribbean Studies. She plans to teach in a public elementary school after earning her master’s degree next year at Fairfield.

She came to Connecticut from Puerto Rico at the age of nine with her mother, brother and two sisters. She devoted herself to learning English, did well in school, and graduated from High School in the Community, New Haven, in 2013.

At Fairfield, she has served as a Learning Service Associate at Fairfield University’s Center for Faith & Public Life. In that capacity, she has facilitated discussions on service learning among students at the university. She is also a resident assistant, providing guidance to 45 first-year students.

During her sophomore year, she conducted educational research in Nicaragua. And she has served as a teacher assistant at the Summer Institute for the Gifted in Princeton, N.J.

She has served as a Spanish interpreter, collaborating with nursing students in a fall-prevention program at a Bridgeport community center. Her rapport with the program clients was so exceptional that state officials chose to make a video of her work as an example of best practices.

From 2011 to 2015, she was a manager at a Dunkin Donuts in New Haven, working 15-20 hours a week while maintaining a full course load at the university.

Ms. Berrios was highly recommended by university faculty, who describe her as “deeply committed to becoming a change agent as an urban educator.” She has a strong commitment to community service, and she has demonstrated the ability to teach in traditional and non-traditional settings in two languages.

She is an activist focused on making a difference for students, especially English language learners. In her courses, she has been intent on helping her fellow students to understand the inequities of schooling in Connecticut, convincing some of her classmates to join her in working against racism and classism.

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.