Miguel Cardona, the state’s new education chief, charged the state’s superintendents to challenge “the normalization of failure” to ensure that all students have a chance to succeed.
“For the past 20 plus years, I have devoted myself to being a public school educator, yet I am part of a system that produces results that are still predictable by zip code and shades of skin,” Cardona said at the annual state back-to-school meeting Wednesday for state superintendents. “We must do better.”
While poverty is a major factor, it’s not the only one, Cardona said, noting that “more affluent black kids perform worse than poorer white kids” and more affluent Latino children perform similarly to poorer white kids in academic work.
“This is not an urban issue. This is a Connecticut issue,” Cardona said. “I am tired of hearing about the gaps in Connecticut and … the normalization of failure. Personally it takes up a lot of my emotional bandwidth. Together, let’s get rid of them.”
The line drew applause from the superintendents, many of whom were meeting the new commissioner for the first time Wednesday at A.I. Prince Technical High School in Hartford. Cardona, 44, who is the state’s first Latino education commissioner, started his new position Aug. 7.
“There is no assembly of people that is more wide-reaching and can positively impact the lives of our children in the state of Connecticut more than this group right here, right now,” Cardona said, adding that “the success of the half million students in Connecticut will depend on how well we partner together.”
Collaboration was a major theme in Cardona’s remarks, as it was in those of several other speakers at the event.
Allan Taylor, chairman of the State Board of Education, told the group the great “mission of public education is to even out the absence of equal resources with the work you do to make it possible for all students to succeed. As a state, as a country, we cannot afford not to have all of our children able to succeed.”
The State Board of Education can pass policies that hinder or further the work of educators, Taylor said.
“Talk to us, share your concerns, share your ideas,” he said. “Let’s work together. Together, we can, we must and we will do better by our children.”
Alan Addley, Darien superintendent and winner of the “superintendent of the year” title said the needs of children should be met first.
Drawing on a slogan used by the Mayo Clinic to demonstrate its commitment to patients, Addley said, “We will meet those needs with unsurpassed collaboration… With unsurpassed collaboration, we can make a difference to all kids in the state of Connecticut.”
Cardona said his agency will “blur the lines and collaborate” with the state departments of housing, economic development, early childhood and transportation “to redefine how we serve our shared constituents.”
Cardona also said he is committed to partnering with Connecticut businesses leaders to “create lucrative pathways for our students and provide them with the skills and experiences for the jobs that wait for them when they graduate.”
He spoke about designing high schools to create courses that interest students, provide “micro-credentials” such as certificates, or guaranteed credit-bearing internships and pathways to employment.
And he talked about doubling down on dual enrollment options, enabling high performing students to take college courses while in high school and earn college credits.
Cardona said he plans to promote practices that will enable educators to share their expertise and solutions to problems across districts.
“The smartest person in the room is the room itself,” Cardona said, quoting the author David Weinberger. “We is always better than me.”
He said the department will strive to provide support, guidance, and direction to superintendents and their districts and said he plans to highlight promising practices through social media platforms, with districts participating and sharing the work they are doing.
“For now, we are working to get our Facebook and Twitter handles out there to create a wider base,” he said. “We control our narrative.”
Cardona was given a standing ovation by the superintendents, many of whom had high praise for him as they left the event. Megan Bennett, superintendent in Region 12, said Cardona is “really talented and inspirational for the children of Connecticut.”
She applauded Cardona’s “emphasis on making sure we have equity and recognizing that we have a charge for all of our students and we have to make certain we are providing all with opportunities. I think he’s going to make certain those opportunities exist for the children of Connecticut.