On July 18, Connecticut’s State Board of Education voted to endorse Dr. Miguel Cardona, currently Meriden’s Assistant Superintendent of Schools, as the next Commissioner of the State Department of Education (SDE).
The position of Commissioner of the SDE is somewhat unique in the Governor’s administration. Under state law, the role is appointed by the Governor and must be confirmed by the General Assembly, the same as the rest of his or her cabinet. However, unlike most other commissioners, the Commissioner of SDE must also be approved by the State Board of Education, a 14-member body which sets educational standards, funds Connecticut’s 166 school districts, and operates the state Technical High School System. As Commissioner, Dr. Cardona will serve as a non-voting, ex-officio member of the Board, and like his predecessors, will work continually with the Board as it oversees public education in the state. His title will be “Acting Commissioner," until the legislature formally approves his nomination.
Here’s what you need to know about the incoming Commissioner and where he stands on some key issues.
Dr. Cardona is currently the Assistant Superintendent of Schools in Meriden, a position he has held since 2015. He began his career in education as a fourth grade elementary school teacher, served as a Performance Evaluation Specialist with the Meriden Board of Education, and finally as a principal of Hanover Elementary School in Meriden from 2003 to 2013. During this role In 2012, Dr. Cardona was named Connecticut’s principal of the year as well as receiving the Outstanding Administrator Award from the NEAG School of Education.
In making this appointment, Governor Lamont pointed to Dr. Cardona’s involvement with a number of professional associations, including serving as vice president of the Connecticut Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, co-chairing the Connecticut Legislative Achievement Gap Task Force and the Connecticut Early Childhood Birth to Grade Three Leaders, and membership with the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.\
Dr. Cardona completed his Master of Education degree in bilingual bicultural education, as well as his doctorate in educational leadership, at the University of Connecticut, where he has since taught as an adjunct professor. He received his undergraduate degree from Central Connecticut State University.
A lifelong Meriden resident, Dr. Cardona has served on numerous local boards, including: the United Way, Chrysalis, the Boys and Girls Club, the Meriden Hispanic Foundation, and the Meriden Puerto Rican Festival Committee.
In a state with a student population that is 25.77% Hispanic/Latino, Dr. Cardona will be the first Latino to oversee education.
The Achievement Gap
Dr. Cardona co-chaired the Achievement Gap Task Force (AGTF), formed by the Connecticut Legislature to address the academic achievement gap in the state’s schools. On the task force, he worked with state agencies and community partners to “address factors that lead to home, family, and school disparities with our most vulnerable populations.”
Of this work, Dr. Cardona has said, “Serving as co-chairperson of the Connecticut Legislative Achievement Gap Task Force has been a great source of pride. It has resulted in legislation and practice that works to support student success in ways that make it truly the great equalizer it needs to be in this country.”
In 2011, Dr. Cardona played a key role in establishing the Interagency Council for Ending the Achievement Gap (comprised of state officials, and the commissioners of various state departments) (PA 11-85). This Interagency Council was tasked with working on (with the AGTF) and implementing a Master Plan to eliminate the achievement gaps in the state. That Master Plan, under Dr. Cardona's chairmanship, was submitted in 2014.
In January 2019, the Interagency Council issued a report, identifying it as a key facilitator, over the years, of impressive collaboration, partnership and alignment among various agencies that impact children's achievement--including, but not limited to:
The United Way (especially on Cradle to Career work)
The Department of Children and Families, the Court Support Services Division, Attendance Works, and the Governor's Prevention Partnership (chronic absenteeism)
The Department of Housing and the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness
The Department of Social Services
The Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (IT support for education and libraries)
The Black and Puerto Rican Caucus (policy)
The Department of Public Health
The Open Communities Alliance and the Partnership for Strong Communities (affordable housing)
In Dr. Cardona's own words about these efforts, they "create a tapestry of collaboration in the State of Connecticut, one that shapes our collective values and beliefs. There is no shortage of good ideas in the State; however, without a synchronized approach, our efforts will continue to be fragmented and students will continue to wait."
As a high school principal, Dr. Cardona was credited with initiating a number of programs aimed at improving student literacy, including:
The “Million Word Club,” an initiative that rewards students who read one million words with a monthly non-cafeteria lunch with the principal.
“Leaders’ Literacy Day,” which brought local leaders into classrooms to read books and discuss their role in the community.
“Success Time,” which allocated learning slots during which teachers provide individualized literacy instruction for students.
Beginning his career as a fourth-grade teacher at Israel Putnam Elementary School in Meriden, Dr. Cardona focused on creating a “student-centered classroom” with learning centers for writing, reading, and mathematics. He has said of these efforts: “Groups of five kids make the center, they interact with each other. You try to make learning involve responsibility and ownership; it’s not just about knowledge. It was all academic. Now, it’s academics, social skills and personality.”