Lisa S. Lenkiewicz CTLatinoNews.com
Dr. Miguel Cardona, whose grandfather left Aguada, Puerto Rico (and the world of sugar caning) to come to Hartford to work in the tobacco fields, first became the youngest school principal in the state of Connecticut at age 27. He now has just added another feather to his cap with his recent appointment as assistant superintendent for teaching and learning in the Meriden school system.
Cardona was also an Alma Exley Scholar—only the second recipient of the scholarship program when it started in 1997–created to “honor future teachers who mirror the diversity of the student population, understand students’ diverse cultural backgrounds, serve as positive role models for minority and non-minority students and provide a classroom environment that respects and celebrates a diversity of cultures.”
At that time, Cardona was becoming a teacher in the Meriden public school system. Fast forward to today, and it is clear the scholarship committee was right on target when they recognized his potential.
“I remember 35 years ago walking through the doors of a public school in Meriden and being nervous. Now I have the opportunity to positively influence the school system that did so much for me,” Cardona recalls in an interview with CTLatinoNews.com while on vacation this week in Puerto Rico.
Through hard work and sacrifice, his family has chosen career paths of community service. Cardona derives a great deal of satisfaction from this family legacy. His father, Hector, has served as a police officer for 32 years. His mother, Sarah, instilled values of hard work in Miguel and his siblings: younger sister, Marisol, who was a social worker in the Meriden Public Schools, and his brother, Hector Jr., who is a detective sergeant in the Meriden Police Department.
Miguel and his wife Marissa reside in Meriden with their children, Miguel Jr. and Celine. Marissa, a former Miss Connecticut, is a family school liaison in the Meriden public school system. She is also a singer known as Marissa Lavoz and released an album in 2012 of Spanish folkloric music with a contemporary style.
Cardona graduated from Central Connecticut State University with a degree in education. He then earned a master’s in bilingual and bicultural education from the University of Connecticut and an administration certification and an executive leadership certification from UConn, followed by a doctorate in educational leadership also from UConn.
He worked as a fourth-grade teacher at Israel Putnam School, and then was named principal of Hanover School.
Cardona co-founded the Meriden Coalition for Educational Excellence, an advocacy group that has united people from the community in support of funding for the Meriden Schools. He has co-chaired the Connecticut Legislative Achievement Gap Task Force. He also serves on a statewide Early Childhood Leaders Committee, Chronic Absenteeism Task Force and the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council.
Among his numerous awards are the Meriden Wallingford NAACP Education Award for 2005, the Connecticut Technical High School Alumni of the Year for 2006 and the Meriden Chamber of Commerce Shining Star Award for 2009.
In 2012, he was named National Distinguished Principal by the Connecticut Association of Schools. He was honored at the White House along with 59 other principals from across the country.
The Alma Exley Scholarship Program was created in memory of Exley of West Hartford, a former educator and employee of the Connecticut Department of Education who worked “to bring more people of color into the teaching profession.” Since her death in 1995, the Alma Exley Scholarship Program has been carrying on her work. Those eligible include African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans.
The Community Foundation of Greater New Britain, which administers the Exley Scholarship Program, cites statistics from the State Department of Education that indicates only about seven percent of public school teachers in Connecticut are persons of color, although students of color comprise approximately 40 percent of the state’s public school pupils.