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.
Neag School Welcomes Back Educational Leadership Alumni for 2016 Annual Forum
Written by: Shawn Kornegay
Following an evening of networking among more than 130 educational leadership alumni, students, and colleagues, two notable Neag School alumni — school principal Alicia Bowman and superintendent Joseph Macary — took to the stage to share their program experiences and insights on leadership during Neag School’s Second Annual Educational Leadership Alumni Forum, held Nov. 1 at UConn’s von der Mehden Hall in Storrs.
Featured speaker and three-time Neag School alum Alicia Bowman ’01 (ED), ’02 MA, ’08 6th Year, who began her education career as a sixth-grade teacher at West Woods Upper Elementary School in Farmington, Conn., rose through the ranks to become team leader, then literacy specialist, then assistant principal, before beginning her current position as principal. She spoke about her lessons learned in these roles over the past 14 years.
“Leadership is making happen what you believe in, and I believe that learning and leading are inseparable,” says Bowman, who was recognized in 2015 by both the Connecticut Association of Schools and the National Association of Elementary School Principals as the National Distinguished Principal of the Year. “As a school administrator, I have the opportunity to create a community where students, teachers, and administrators are teaching and learning simultaneously, under the same roof.”
As a former sixth-grade teacher, Bowman compared school leadership to leading a classroom. “It involves the same challenges: thinking critically, seeing situations in new ways, being able to make mistakes, knowing yourself, and being passionate about the work that you do,” says Bowman. “Leadership development is a personal journey aimed at becoming an authentic leader whom others will follow.”
Bowman went on to speak about her realization that effective leaders do not have all the answers, but that they should have the ability to ask the right questions; consciously surround themselves with colleagues who believe in the work and have shared core beliefs; listen and engage with students; share emotions in order to build deeper relationships; and maintain work-life balance between work and family.
“Leadership is making happen what you believe in, and I believe that learning and leading are inseparable.” Alicia Bowman ’01 (ED), ’02 MA, ’08 6th Year
Bowman says she used to think that recognition and celebration did not need to be a priority in high-performing organizations, and that having fun might make an organization’s team appear as if they were not working hard enough, or were not serious enough. That outlook, she admits, has changed: “I think celebration, recognition, encouragement, and appreciation are vital to an organization. When the recognition is specific and deliberately delivered, it’s even more motivating than money.”
She also focused on the importance of cohort learning, which she experienced as part of the Neag School’s UConn Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP).
“Our cohort was a community of learners where each member brought a unique perspective and their own experiences to our collective leadership development,” she says. “That cohort experience modeled for us the power of professional collaboration and shared accountability. In a culture of trust and support, we were able to have honest conversations about teaching, learning, and leading.”
From Intern to District Leader
Another three-time UConn alum, Joseph Macary ’94 (CLAS), ’05 ELP, ’16 Ed.D., superintendent for Vernon Public Schools in Vernon, Conn., served as the evening’s next guest speaker. Macary talked about his managerial, leadership, instructional, and political experiences, calling his superintendency “the most challenging and rewarding position I’ve ever had.”
Macary’s vision for leadership centers on working together as a team to make learning with high expectations a priority for all children. “Education is truly the way people excel in today’s society,” he says.
A first-generation Lebanese-American, Macary’s family came to the U.S. years ago for the educational opportunity. “My family left their country, left their families, so that we could get a better education in a prospering society,” he says.
He says he learned early on about the importance of getting firsthand experience. While earning a degree in political science at UConn, he had an internship at the state Capitol, assigned to the appropriations committee. That experience would prove invaluable, as he often now works with elected members of school boards and other political entities.
Prior to accepting the leadership role for Vernon Public Schools, Macary spent 10 years with Wolcott Public Schools, in Wolcott, Conn., starting out as an intern while attending UConn’s Executive Leadership Program (ELP). While holding a full-time teaching job, attending board meetings that often ran late into the night, and welcoming his second child, Macary completed 120 hours for the internship — and says he “loved every moment of it.” He emphasized the power of internships, whether at the state Capitol or as part of ELP.
Macary moved up the ranks in Wolcott, achieving the level of superintendent, before moving over to Vernon. While in Wolcott, Macary also pursued the Neag School’s Ed.D. program, with a research focus on secondary education and policies for helping secondary schools improve.
All along the way, Macary has focused on making a difference in children’s lives and creating conditions for success. He says he believes in the “whole-child approach to learning: the academic, the social, and the emotional.”
“The mental health of our children is our biggest problem right now,” he adds. “For those of you in schools and classrooms, that is what we struggle with each day, and we need to reflect a whole-child approach.”
He also believes in having a partnership with the communities and families. “You need the parent, you need the student, and you need the teacher working together.”
And creating those conditions for success is the responsibility of school and district leaders, he says. “It’s the leadership that puts the students in front of that classroom, fed, well-nourished, healthy, and ready to learn. It’s the leadership that puts the teacher in front of that classroom, properly trained, with a good curriculum, and with a strong instructional core.”
Macary noted that, for him, the key parts of leadership — the political, the managerial, and the instructional leadership — all came from UConn.
“We need to understand that we need strong leaders in education today, so that we can create the conditions for people to succeed, that they can create that instructional leadership, and that instructional core, to make things happen,” he says. “We need school and district leaders to create the conditions for students to succeed in our schools and classrooms across the state and nation. I urge you to support leadership — through UConn — to make a difference in children’s lives.”
Following their presentations, Bowman and Macary responded to questions from the audience.
Are you interested in taking your education career to the next level? Find further information about Neag School’s Executive Leadership Program (ELP) or UConn Administrative Preparation Program (UCAPP) today.
Neag School Hosts Inaugural 2015 Educational Leadership Alumni Forum
Written by: Stefanie Dion-Jones
Before an audience of more than 125 friends, colleagues, Neag School graduates, students, and faculty, two high-profile Neag School alumni took to the stage this Tuesday at UConn’s von der Mehden Hall in Storrs to share their insights on leadership, as well as their own preparation program experience at UConn, as part of the School’s inaugural educational leadership alumni forum.
‘Leadership Is Not About You’
Three-time Neag School alum Desi Nesmith ’01 (ED), ’02 MA, ’09 UCAPP, now chief school turnaround officer for Connecticut’s state Department of Education, spoke in part about some of the challenges currently facing many school districts – particularly large, urban districts – across the country, including negative perceptions, teacher turnover, and the ever-present pressure to raise student achievement.
“Because the pressure to perform becomes so great, we oftentimes forget what we need to focus on in the classroom at the student level,” said Nesmith, who has previously served as an elementary schoolteacher and principal in Connecticut, and in 2014 received the prestigious Milken Educator Award. “As school and district leaders, what are we going to do about it? The keyword there is ‘we.’”
“Good leaders don’t do it alone. They create a community of leaders around them – people they want to support, people they want to empower.”
–Desi Nesmith ’01(ED), ’02 MA, ’09 UCAPP
According to Nesmith, being a skillful educational leader is about far more than “having a business card and your name plate on the door.” It requires collaboration – successfully getting parents, students, as well as teachers to “buy into your vision and help you move it forward.” Leadership, he added, “is not about you.”
Nesmith also emphasized the time and investment it takes to shape qualified educational leaders, and credits the UConn Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP) with providing the vision and robust set of learning experiences – including a cohort model and thoughtful internship placement – that he believes are necessary to creating well-rounded leaders.
“Good leaders aren’t made in a day, a week, or a month,” he said. “It takes time. It takes experience. Good leaders don’t do it alone. They create a community of leaders around them – people they want to support, people they want to empower.”
Evolution of a Leader
Garth Harries ’12 ELP, superintendent of New Haven Public Schools, also spoke about how his Neag School experience, as part of the Executive Leadership Program (ELP), helped shape his own evolution as a leader.
Harries shared a story from his time in a previous role in New York City, where he led a controversial decision to close Bushwick High School in Brooklyn. Though he initially faced great opposition from the community, Harries ultimately opened three new, successful small schools in place of Bushwick High, and the graduation rate tripled.
“When I left New York – before I went through the Neag program – I had one perspective on that: It was a lesson in what is possible, on the urgency of the work we do,” he says. “It was a lesson in the inevitability of controversy as we try our mightiest to provide the education we believe our students deserve.”
Now an ELP grad and a third-year superintendent, Harries says: “I’ve come to see other layers of that story.”
In part, he told the audience, “Where I once may have taken a somewhat paternalistic sense [that] we did what was right, and in the end we were successful, what I’ve come to understand is … the need to engage the full community.” Harries talked about bringing the lessons he learned at the Neag School with him to New Haven – for instance, involving the teacher’s union in education reform efforts, acknowledging the importance of the instructional core, and coming to the understanding that “students are not just evidence of success; they are agents of success.”
Following their talks, Nesmith and Harries together fielded questions from the audience.