MERIDEN — Local officials hailed the possibility that current state Education Commissioner and city native Miguel A. Cardona is among the candidates who could become the country’s next education secretary.
Cardona was appointed to his current post in 2019 after having served as an assistant superintendent in Meriden.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati, reached late Thursday morning, said he was not surprised “knowing that Miguel is more than qualified and capable to serve in the Biden administration and make all of us proud in education.”
“I think Dr. Cardona embodies and has experience across almost every level of education,” Scarpati said, noting he has a vast understanding of issues around education and equity. “He understands the challenges of our students and a district like Meriden.”
When Cardona was appointed, he became the first Hispanic to lead Connecticut’s Department of Education.
The Washington Post broke the news Wednesday night that Cardona and another candidate, Leslie T. Fenwick, dean emeritus of the Howard University School of Education, were among the top contenders for the position. The Connecticut Mirror reported Cardona ended up on President-elect Joe Biden’s radar through another educator from California who is serving on the incoming administration’s transition committee.
Cardona grew up in Meriden, was a student in the Meriden Public Schools and later became a fourth grade teacher in the system. He served as principal of Hanover Elementary School from 2003 to 2013, and was named the state’s principal of the year in 2012.
Prior to his appointment as assistant superintendent, he served as a performance evaluation specialist for the district from 2013 to 2015.
Scarpati noted one of the accomplishments the Meriden Public Schools has achieved over the past decade had been addressing issues around access to technology and connectivity. Now all students have device access and family connectivity is considerably more widespread through increased access to internet hotspots.
“We transformed Meriden into a real 21st century school district,” Scarpati said. “He [Cardona] can take what we’ve done, using it as a model not only for the state of Connecticut but the entire nation.”
Meriden School Superintendent Mark Benigni had similar praise for his former school district colleague.
“I think it’s a great honor for Miguel and the Meriden Public Schools and the whole state of Connecticut,” he said. “Miguel has served with distinction as a teacher, principal, commissioner, college professor. He’s served in so many capacities. His voice and perspective would be so beneficial. More than that, he’s a great leader, but an even better person.”
Benigni said he thinks the prospect of Cardona becoming the nation’s next education secretary “represents all that is truly right about American public education. If you work hard, you take education seriously, treat others with respect and stay grounded, you can realize your dreams and your potential. That’s what education is about.”
Meriden Board of Education President Robert Kosienski Jr. had similar praise for Cardona.
“Miguel Cardona is an exceptional educator and an exceptional leader, who would serve the president-elect very well, and he would certainly represent the education community with pride. He would do an exceptional job,” he said. “There’s so much more he can offer, not only in Connecticut, but for the nation with his experience and his way of looking at things.”
Gov. Ned Lamont said during an afternoon press conference that no one from the Biden transition team contacted him about Cardona.
“I’m a little surprised,” he told reporters. “They never called.”
Lamont said he left a message for a senior Biden staff member to offer praise for Cardona.
“Miguel is extraordinary,” Lamont said. “I don’t want to lose him. He’s a hero for the state, and a hero for the students.”
Reporter Mary Ellen Godin contributed to this story.