Dr. Miguel Cardona Is National Distinguished Principal

I’m delighted to report that the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS) has selected Dr. Miguel Cardona as Connecticut’s 2012 National Distinguished Principal.

This is a well-deserved recognition of a remarkable educator. CAS will honor Dr. Cardona locally at the “Celebration of Distinguished Administrators” on October 25, 2012. He will also travel to Washington, D.C., in October to be honored along with other National Distinguished Principals from the other 49 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

My heartiest congratulations go out to Dr. Cardona. I’m so proud and honored that he is an active member of our Alma Exley scholarship family.

And, while I’m at it, I’m also tipping my hat to our distinguished selection committee. They had the foresight in 1998 to choose Miguel as an Alma Exley Scholar when he was at Central Connecticut State University.

Dr. Carol Virostek, a former State Teacher of the Year who has served on the selection committee since the beginning, said she wasn’t surprised by this recognition.

“All of us on the committee were impressed by Miguel’s talent, his accomplishments and his commitment to education,” she said. “It has been a great pleasure to see him advance in his career and have such a big impact in his hometown of Meriden and well beyond in the years since then.”

Miguel joined the faculty of Israel Putnam School in Meriden, Conn., in 1998. Then in 2003, at the age of 27, he became the state’s youngest principal when he was named to lead Hanover Elementary School. He earned a doctorate from the University of Connecticut in 2011.

Ever humble and gracious, Dr. Cardona said, “I would not have been eligible to receive this prestigious recognition had it not been for the supportive and student-driven environment that Meriden provides. The professionals here understand the importance of supporting one another and aim to focus their energies on what is best for children.”

Here’s what CAS said in announcing the award:
“Dr. Cardona is known for his insistence on high standards and his single-minded commitment to high levels of student learning.
“He has coupled passion and courage with purpose and direction to build a vibrant, nurturing, child-oriented community where student achievement is abounding; teachers are challenged and supported; and parents are fully engaged in the life of the school.
“He has succeeded in boosting the academic achievement of a diverse and challenging student body while at the same time enhancing the social and cultural climate of the school. Visitors to Hanover are immediately struck by the warm, open and caring environment fostered by Dr. Cardona.”

Dr. Cardona has initiated a number of programs that have helped to improve student learning at Hanover.
• The “Million Word Club” is a literacy initiative that rewards students who read one million words with a monthly non-cafeteria lunch with the principal.
• “Leaders’ Literacy Day” welcomes local leaders into classrooms to read books and discuss their role in the community.
• “Success Time” allocates 30-minute learning slots during which teachers provide individualized literacy instruction for students.

One of Dr. Cardona’s greatest successes has been his ability to increase parental involvement. Each school year begins with a “First Day Celebration.” He greets parents and students on the school lawn and personally escorts them into the building to meet teachers and visit classrooms.

He makes parents feel like valued and vital members of the school community, and Hanover has achieved 100 percent parent participation in student conferences for the past five years.

Says Dr. Kristina Talbert-Slagle, a Hanover parent, “Dr. Cardona emphasizes that student learning involves not only the school, but also the parents and the community, and that our involvement in our children’s learning is always welcome. He is a committed, passionate educator, principal and child advocate, actively engaged in promoting student achievement and fostering connections between home and school.”

Dr. Cardona has had an impact as a leader in the Meriden community and statewide.

He co-founded the Meriden Coalition for Educational Excellence, a two-year-old pro-education advocacy group which has united community members in support of education funding for the Meriden schools.

He co-chaired a task force formed by the Connecticut Legislature to address the academic achievement gap in the state’s schools. As guest speaker at our annual scholarship reception in 2011, he gave an inspirational message about his work on the achievement and the role of teachers of color in today’s public schools.

Colleagues in Meriden view Dr. Cardona as a gifted administrator who is able to balance a strong professional focus with a warm personality. They say he is both a leader and a listener; he supports yet challenges.

Here’s what some of them said upon learning of the award:
Dr. Mark Benigni, superintendent: “Dr. Cardona is an exceptional leader who brings out the best in his staff and students.”

Robert Angeli, associate superintendent: “The high academic and behavioral standards at Hanover School are nestled in a welcoming and nurturing school climate focused on the social and emotional growth of the students.”

Susan Perrone, supervisor of Language Arts K-5: “Hanover is successful not only because Dr. Cardona expects excellence, but also because he is a principal who consistently demonstrates hard work, admirable character, diligence, empathy and drive.”

Pamela Dominello, first grade teacher: “Miguel instills in us the belief that we are all responsible for student success. He motivates us through his example and by providing us with the support and resources that we need to be effective, caring educators.”

I’m pleased to share this great news about an outstanding Alma Exley Scholar who is making a difference in the lives of so many fortunate students.
– Woody Exley