Meriden’s moment: City anxiously awaits details of first lady’s visit

Meriden’s moment: City anxiously awaits details of first lady’s visit

MERIDEN — City and state leaders are thrilled first lady Jill Biden will be visiting Meriden this week, but say they don’t yet know what she will do while she’s here.

Biden will visit the Silver City on Wednesday, presumably to celebrate the confirmation of Meriden resident Miguel Cardona as the next U.S. Secretary of Education. The U.S. Senate is expected to approve his selection early next week.

Local and state officials were discussing Biden’s travel plans with the White House on Friday in hopes of finalizing an agenda over the weekend, Board of Education President Rob Kosienski Jr. said.

The Bidens were in Texas on Friday surveying storm damage.

Cardona’s looming appointment dovetails with the first lady’s history and plans. Like Cardona, Biden has a doctorate in education. She also taught while serving as second lady during the Obama Administration and plans to continue teaching as a community college English professor while in the White House.

Biden is likely to devote much of her agenda as first lady to public education, with the appointment of Cardona, Connecticut’s commissioner of education, seen as underlining a renewed presidential commitment to public schools and minority relations after the fractious Trump Administration and previous education secretary Betsy DeVos’ support of school choice, school voucher programs and charter schools.

The visit, City Manager Tim Coon said, will likely elevate Meriden’s profile in many ways, not just regarding the city’s schools.

“It’s the first lady of the United States shining a good light on all the good things we’re doing in Meriden,” Coon said.

Kosienski and City Councilor Michael S. Rohde said they hoped that Biden would visit at least one city school with Cardona. 

“I think it will be his coming out party as education
secretary and he will be up to the challenge, I am sure,” Rohde said. “It puts the spotlight on Miguel. I have wondered if she will also put out her platform of what she will do as first lady.”

The visit will help illustrate that city schools are an American model of excellent public education, Kosienski said. 

“It is a visit from someone whose passion and mission for the next four years is education, and her first stop is Meriden. That says an awful lot,” Kosienski said. “We’re proud of that and very, very grateful for the opportunity.”

With its 8,600 students, of whom 74% qualify for free or reduced-cost meals and 71% are minorities, Meriden schools have won four national Blue Ribbon awards for excellence. City schools have also been recognized for excellence by the Connecticut Association of Schools and the state’s Schools of Distinction program.

About 76% of the system’s graduates pursue college degrees, according to the school system’s website.

Biden could use Connecticut schools as a good example of how public schools contend with coronavirus, said U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, which includes Meriden.

Recovery from the pandemic is a major focus of the Biden Administration.

“The First Lady intimately understands the importance of reopening schools for in-person learning, while ensuring students and educators have the requisite protections to stay safe,” Hayes said in a statement. “I am hopeful the First Lady’s visit will be useful as a national strategy is considered.”

 Staff reporter Michael Gagne contributed to this story.

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