Neag School of Education alumni, faculty, and administrators, along with educators from across the state, gathered at the Hartford Public Library’s Center for Contemporary Culture earlier this month for an evening of networking and insights from two dynamic Neag School alumni.
Miguel Cardona ’00 MA, ’04 6th Year, ’11 Ed.D., ’12 ELP, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning for Meriden (Conn.) Public Schools, and Bridget Heston Carnemolla ’13 Ed.D, ’14 ELP, superintendent for Watertown (Conn.) Public Schools, each shared insights into their experiences in the Neag School’s educational leadership program and personal revelations on leadership as the featured speakers for the Neag School’s third annual Educational Leadership Alumni Forum.
Neag School Dean Gladis Kersaint kicked the event off with welcome remarks, while Richard Gonzales, faculty event co-host and director of the Neag School’s educational leadership preparation programs, spoke on the strength and national prominence of the University of Connecticut Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP). Gonzales also touched on UCAPP’s involvement in a Wallace Foundation-funded national initiative known as the University Principal Preparatoin Initiative (UPPI), which is focused on improving principal preparation programs across the country.
At a recent national meeting on UPPI, Gonzales said, he listened as the event’s keynote speaker, Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond, recognized UCAPP by name in her address as a principal preparation program dedicated to continuous improvement.
“We have a reputation from the past, and we are continuing that reputation,” said Gonzales. “One of the questions I often get is around the UPPI initiative: ‘Why redesign? Why fix what’s not broken?’ The simple answer is because we’ve learned along the way that we can do better — and why shouldn’t we get better?”
“Stay humble. Titles don’t make you a good leader. Action makes you a good leader.”
— Miguel Cardona, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, Meriden (Conn.) Public Schools
As the first featured alumni speaker of the evening, four-time Neag School alum Cardona spoke about how much he has learned from Neag School’s educational leadership programs and from his family. “I’m really pleased that I have both my UConn family here and my home family,” he said.
In his address, Cardona went on to share personal stories on leadership, including one anecdote starring members from the UConn men’s basketball team. Spending time one evening on the Storrs campus with his son — a big basketball fan — Cardona and his family happened upon a group of UConn men’s basketball players.
This was, Cardona said, “about the same time the UConn men’s basketball team was on their way to winning a championship, and my son and I watched basketball all the time.”
The players took pictures with his son, gave him a T-shirt, and shook his son’s hand. To Cardona, “That was a leadership lesson: Stay humble. Titles don’t make you a good leader. Action makes you a good leader. Be remembered by testimony, not titles,” he said. “That’s something I learned … from my experiences with UCAPP and the other UConn programs, and a life full of leadership experiences at Meriden.”
Cardona also spoke about his experience co-chairing a statewide commission focused on closing the achievement gap. The group had listened to testimony from stakeholder groups and experts, including faculty and administrators from the University of Connecticut and Neag School, Cardona said.
“If you are going to close any gap, leadership matters,” Cardona said, reflecting on the leadership role Neag School faculty played in the effort. “They were trendsetters for reshaping leadership programming.”
“You can’t simultaneously be all things to all people. It’s a necessary limitation, but requires us to be present at the moment — and to consider the role and the impact of that role at that moment.”
— Bridget Heston Carnemolla,
superintendent, Watertown (Conn.) Public Schools
Balancing Personal Life With Professional Life
Superintendent Carnemolla also served as a featured speaker at the event, sharing how her Neag School journey as part of the doctoral program in educational leadership and the Executive Leadership Program (ELP) helped develop her as a leader.
Carnemolla spoke in part about juggling her family life and her position as a school principal while attending the Neag School’s Ed.D. program. Recalling classes led by instructor Robert Villanova, she shared what she learned from him on leadership: “You can’t simultaneously be all things to all people,” Carnemolla said. “It’s a necessary limitation, but requires us to be present at the moment — and to consider the role and the impact of that role at that moment. You also have to know your role as a leader.”
In having shifted from a role as principal to one as superintendent, Carnemolla also says she saw how each of her Neag School educational leadership program experiences served her. “Both the doctoral and executive leadership programs [at the Neag School] prepared me to think of these roles differently and how I could impact positive change,” she said.
Carnemolla reflected on the impact of gender in leadership as well.
“Clearly I’m a female role model, and I have a very specific obligation,” she said. “It is often very different for girls and women who want to be leaders. We face different challenges from our male counterparts.
“We, as strong, competent women who take these positions of power, it’s our moral obligation to teach young people to value everyone and to value everyone’s perspectives,” she added.
Carnemolla credited educators with inspiring her and giving her a tangible goal for who she could be. She was taught, she told the audience, “to find her own voice and to use it for good and challenge things that are unjust.”
“If you are in a current leadership position, I congratulate you and I applaud you,” she says. “If you are just starting, I encourage you to continue. You can, and you will, make a difference.”
View photos from this year’s Educational Leadership Forum, or check out video coverage of the event.