News about the program and our honorees

Family Launches Dr. Cardona To New Heights

HARTFORD (August 7, 2019) — For Dr. Miguel Cardona, family is what it’s all about. 

That was apparent this morning as the Meriden educator celebrated with his extended family as he was sworn in as the Connecticut Commissioner of Education at the State Department of Education.

Celebrating at the swearing-in ceremony with Miguel and Marissa Cardona (center) are, from left, Natalie Gill, Marissa’s sister; Marissa’s mother; Lr. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz; Celine Cardona and Miguel Cardona Jr.; Naiem, a nephew; Hector Cardona Jr., Miguel’s brother; and Jonathan Beamon, a friend an an attorney with the City of Hartford.

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who administered the oath of office, said, “The governor and I can’t think of a better person to be part of our experienced and diverse team.” She cited Dr. Cardona’s extensive experience in the classroom, his being named a National Distinguished Principal, his leadership role in the large Meriden school district, and his teaching and mentoring educators (as an adjunct professor at UConn).

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz administers the oath of office to Dr. Miguel Cardona, accompanied by his wife, Marissa Pérez Cardona, and children, Celine and Miguel Jr.

The selection committee of the Alma Exley Scholarship Program is proud to have chosen Miguel Cardona for a scholarship in 1998 when he was an undergraduate at Central Connecticut State University. He went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees from UConn. 

Welcoming Dr. Cardona to the State Department of Education are Allan B. Taylor, chair of State Board of Education, and Estela López, vice chair.

He began his career in his hometown of Meriden as a fourth-grade teacher at Israel Putnam School. At age 27, he became the state’s youngster principal when he was named to lead Hanover Elementary School. Since 2015, he had been serving as assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. In that position, he spearheaded the district’s comprehensive drive to build a more diverse teacher corps. 

Dr. Cardona takes pride in his roots in Meriden, where his father, Hector, served as a police officer for 32 years and his mother, Sarah, instilled in their young children a spirit of hard work, devotion to family and service to the community.

Dr. Cardona’s sister and brother also have pursued careers in public service, Marisol as a social worker in the Meriden schools, and Hector Jr. as a sergeant detective with the Meriden police.

Proud parents, Sarah and Hector Cardona, with Dr. Cardona.

Over the years, Dr. Cardona has remained a strong supporter of the Alma Exley Scholarship Program, serving on the selection committee and offering advice and counsel. And he has been a faithful participant in our annual receptions, where he has joined with other previous recipients to honor their newest colleagues. Since he was selected in 1998, the only time he has missed a reception was when he was hosting a birthday party for his daughter, Celine. 

The Cardona family, from left, Celine, Marissa, Miguel and Miguel Jr.

Dr. Cardona has had a big impact as a leader in Meriden and statewide. He co-founded the Meriden Coalition for Educational Excellence, an advocacy group that supports funding for the Meriden Schools. He has co-chaired the Connecticut Legislative Achievement Gap Task Force, addressing achievement disparities in our state. And he has served on a number of local boards of directors in his city.

In 2012 he was honored at the White House upon being named National Distinguished Principal by the Connecticut Association of Schools. Other honors have included the Meriden Wallingford NAACP Education Award for 2005, Connecticut Technical High School Alumni of the Year for 2006 and the Meriden Chamber of Commerce Shining Star Award for 2009.

Now he has the opportunity to have a significant impact across the state as Commissioner of Education. As a highly valued member of the Alma Exley Scholarship family, he exemplifies the values of our program. Through his commitment to serving the children of Connecticut, he provides an outstanding example to future recipients of our scholarship.

Alma would be delighted to know that a recipient of the scholarship bearing her name has ascended to the highest level of leadership of the public schools of Connecticut. What’s more, she would be pleased to know that Ann Marie Hitchery, who was a colleague of hers in the Bureau of Professional Development, is now serving as Dr. Cardona’s administrative assistant. 

– Woody Exley

Isabella Horan Honored As 2019 Alma Exley Scholar

Isabella “Ivy” Horan was honored as the 30thAlma Exley Scholar at a reception May 9 at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford. 

On hand to celebrate with her were previous recipients of the Alma Exley Scholarship, from left, Desi Nesmith, Chastity Berrios Hernández, Theodore Martinez and Chi-Ann Lin. 

Ms. Horan, a graduate of Duxbury (Mass.) High School, is an elementary education major in the honors program. She received her bachelor’s degree on Sunday, May 12, and plans to return to UConn in September to pursue her master’s degree. 

Guest speaker was Theodore Martinez, whom we honored last year. This year he has been teaching at the International Magnet School for Global Leadership in South Windsor. He is also an adjunct professor at Asnuntuck College, teaching psychology at a state prison. 

Leadership in Research and the Teacher-Education Program

Prof. Dorothea Anagnostopoulos of UConn’s Neag School of Education introduced Ms. Horan. “Ivy is, simply put, remarkable,” she said. “Before I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Ivy, I had already heard about her work with the Massachusetts Partnership for Diversity in Education that supports culturally responsive teaching as a way to improve educational opportunities for students of color. 

“Over the past two years, I’ve had the fortune of working with Ivy when she served as the president of our Teacher Education Student Association.  Ivy gave new life to that organization. Under Ivy’s leadership, TESA initiated community-building activities for our students and faculty and held forums on important educational issues, including a forum on how teachers can build collegial relationships across their own racial differences to support student learning and teachers’ own professional development. Ivy has served as the voice of our teacher education students and has worked with faculty and leaders to improve our program.  

“I’ve also been fortunate to serve as Ivy’s faculty advisor for her honors research study. Ivy’s study is one of only a few studies of beginning teachers of color. It identifies the conditions that help these teachers stay in teaching. 

“Ivy is deeply committed to improving education for students of color who have historically been mis-served by our nation’s schools. Ivy is keenly aware that doing this requires making sure that schools support teachers of color and provide them with both learning and leadership opportunities so that they cannot only thrive as teachers but transform teaching and our schools to better serve all of our students.  

“I fully expect that over the next few years, Ivy will become not only a beloved teacher, but also a leader in the schools where she teaches and in the broader educational field.  She will be a force to reckon with as she works to improve schools for and with her students and their communities.”  

Research Into Diversity in Education

In accepting the award, Ms. Horan referred to her research into diversity issues. “Through these studies,” she said, “I learned how important it is to recognize diversity in education. It’s important to have diverse teachers in the profession, especially as the population of culturally, racially and linguistically diverse students is growing.  

“Students of color need teachers of color to look up to,” she said. “I didn’t when I was growing up. The town that I’m from in Massachusetts is 99 percent white. Growing up in that setting was hard for me because I never saw a teacher of color, so I didn’t think I could be where I am today. It’s really important that we support teachers of color to help keep them I the profession — so that not only students of color can look up to them, but so that students in the majority can look up to them as well.” 

Selection Committee members Dr. Miguel Cardona and Deveria Berry congratulate Isabella Horan at the reception.

The Importance of Advocating for Educational Equity

Mr. Martinez said that he was impressed with the guest of honor’s accomplishments. “Addressing educational equity is not an easy feat, but incredibly important,” he said. “As teachers of color, it often falls on us to be the voice of experience for our students. I’m happy to learn she has already found her voice and is already advocating for change.”

In teaching in a prison, Mr. Martinez is working with students who, as he said, “have found themselves on the wrong end of the fabled school-to-prison pipeline.” 

He noted that 12 of his 15 students in the prison are persons of color. “While the thought of so many minority students pursuing a college degree fills me with pride,” he said, “their overrepresentation in this particular class, in this particular setting troubles me.

“When I leave the prison on Monday night, and enter my classroom of third graders on Tuesday morning, I’m hit with the same thought: What can I do to make sure these students don’t end up in my Monday night class? How can I help them?”

Among his other observations, Mr. Martinez said, “Students of color perform better when they see someone who looks like them. They achieve more when they have someone who speaks like them, who understands them. I’m sure my fellow recipients currently working in the field can share their own personal stories regarding the truth in this statement.” 

Read his complete remarks here.

The View From the Foundation

Also speaking was David Obedzinski, president of the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain, which manages the scholarship program.

“Alma asked that this scholarship take root,” he said. “It was her wish, and it represents her ongoing and lasting work. 

“Alma is here with us today. She is with each and every Alma Exley Scholarship Recipient. She’s with them as they hear the good news of their award, as they study and learn how they can make a difference, as they discover how they can apply that knowledge, as they think about how they can inspire others as Alma inspires us today, and she is with us as we gather in settings such as this.

“The Alma Exley Scholarship and all that it represents is the essence of what makes a community foundation effective in our communities.”

Read his full remarks here

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.