In a dramatic reversal, Miguel Cardona, an assistant superintendent in Meriden, is expected to be chosen as Connecticut’s next state education commissioner, rather than Bloomfield Superintendent James Thompson, sources close to the search committee said Tuesday.
The state Board of Education is expected to recommend Cardona to Gov. Ned Lamont this week.
Sources said Cardona was chosen over Thompson because, as the selection process came to an end, he appeared to be a better leader for the times. Just last week, sources said Thompson, 72, was the governor’s choice and would likely be recommended by the State Board of Education.
However, one source said Tuesday that as conversations with Thompson continued, “it became clear that the administration and the State Board of Education and Dr. Thompson were not on the same page with respect to roles and responsibilities.”
Cardona, on the other hand, another source said “came prepared, he came with a vision. He came with the sense that he wanted the role for the right reasons.”
“Miguel was the most competent for this moment to become commissioner,” the source said. Thompson was informed that he was not selected on Tuesday.
Stan Simpson, a spokesman for Thompson and the Bloomfield school district, had sharp words for Lamont Tuesday.
“James Thompson is a man of high character and integrity – and one of the most influential voices in New England on strategies to reduce the academic achievement gap,” Simpson said. “That the governor didn’t have the conviction to stay with his first choice for Education Commissioner is extremely disappointing – and lacks integrity. He snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.”
Simpson that Thompson is “very disappointed. He accepted a written offer from the governor’s office and was looking forward to working with staff and state superintendents on executing substantive strategies to reduce and eliminate the state’s academic achievement gap.”
He said the agenda also included “partnering with community colleges, universities, foundations and corporations to promote readiness for college and meaningful careers.”
Paul Mounds, chief operating officer for Lamont, said the offer letter sent to Thompson was not a typical offer letter, but more like an invitation to continue with negotiations over the position. The letter specified, he said, that the governor could not nominate a candidate for commissioner until the State Board of Education recommended a candidate to the governor with a formal vote.
Mounds said that as the conversation with Thompson continued “concerning the roles, responsibilities and potential salary” to become commissioner, it became clear that the discussion over salary was not moving toward agreement.‘A terrific leader’
Cardona, 44, who has a doctorate from the University of Connecticut and is bilingual, started his career in Meriden, climbing the ladder from teacher to principal and now serves as assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m thrilled for Miguel and the state,” said Mark Benigni, who as Meriden superintendent has worked closely with Cardona for many years. “He’s a terrific leader and been an exceptional partner in the work in Meriden and I know he will do a great job at the state.”
“Miguel is a champion for all kids,” Benigni continued. “He wants to make sure those students who need assistance are getting that help. He wants to make sure our highest performers are being challenged each day as well.”
Benigni said Cardona was an exceptional principal at Hanover Elementary School and was named principal of the year in Connecticut in 2012.
As assistant superintendent, Cardona “played a huge role in some of the [school] turnaround work we’ve accomplished in Meriden,” Benigni said. Cardona also was co-chairman of the state’s Achievement Gap Task Force.
“Miguel is very creative, innovative and passionate. I’m sure that passion came out in the process,” Benigni said. “I think what he’ll bring to the table is that he is a true collaborator. He will work well with other commissioners. He’s not afraid to look at things from a different angle and think outside the box.”
Benigni said that Cardona has also worked closely with foundations investing in Meriden’s public schools, including the Dalio Foundation, which earlier this year committed $100 million over the next five years to help students in struggling schools. Those funds are to be matched by $100 million in taxpayer dollars.
Cardona has two children who attend Meriden public schools.
This story originally appeared at ctmirror.org, the website of the Connecticut Mirror.