SOUTHINGTON — Honorees at the Connecticut Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents gala emphasized the importance of education within Latino communities while enjoying a formal night out at the Aqua Turf.
Community officials and family members danced the night away to salsa and bachata music to celebrate Latinos in education. Proceeds from the the event, which took place Oct. 8, go toward funding future scholarship opportunities.
CALAS is one of the state chapters of the national organization ALAS. A group of school leaders from New Haven founded CALAS to expand resources for Latino and Hispanic educators.
“CALAS’ mission is to foster equality for Connecticut Latinos, build capacity within the Latino community and provide scholarships for Latinos interested in pursuing a career in education,” CALAS President Evelyn Robles-Rivas said. “When we started this organization, it was because we saw the need for students to see themselves represented in leadership.”
Many of the night’s honorees put an emphasis on the importance of education for Latinos.
Mark D. Benigni, superintendent of Meriden Public Schools, was presented with the Outstanding Educational Leader Award.
“I am truly the lucky one I can work with so many innovators…Together we are ensuring all students succeed in Meriden,” he said.
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona received special recognition. He discussed the inequities within the education system and encouraged educators to continue to advocate for Latino students. Cardona is a former Meriden administrator and teacher and former state education commissioner.
“I wear my sunglasses when I walk through airports because there are so many moments in the last 7 months where my eyes well up from how blessed I am to serve at this time at the moment….If I didn’t wear the sunglasses people might look at me like “porque este bobo esta llorando?” (Why is this punk crying?). I wear sunglasses because I think of Marissa and how much we had to give up so I could serve God's plan, this call to service,” he said. “We are in a pandemic that widened opportunity gaps … If not now, when? If not us, who? The real fight of boldly addressing inequities in our system. You’re gonna have haters because you're disrupting a system that normalized failures for some students.”
Ingrid Canady, State Education Resource Center Executive Director, received the Equity Champion Award. She discussed her personal experience coming from Costa Rica as well as her pride in receiving the Equity Champion Award.
“Cultural diversity represents the reality of this country. Together we can make the difference that this country and this world needs,” she said.
State Rep. Geraldo Reyes Jr., D-Waterbury, was awarded Policy Change Award. He discussed his successful effort to pass a law mandating that all school systems in the state offer an elective course in Black and Latino studies.
“I had the privilege of leading the Black and Puerto Rican caucus, which is something I don’t take lightly. Change always comes from small groups. I had the privilege of being here tonight with three of my colleagues. Everything we touch we look at it through the lens of equity and injustice,” he said.
Honorees also included: Kevin Booker, Jr., Edith Johnson, Michelle Martinez and Adrian Solis. Special recognition also went to Tomas Miranda.