John Wallace Middle School announces UCAPP alum, Dan Dias, as the new Assistant Principal on the Newington Public Schools website.
Within an hour of her retirement back in 2010, the University of Connecticut Administrator Preparation Program offered distinguished principal Dale Bernardoni, Ed.D., a position as a clinical supervisor. Dr. Bernardoni has been with the UCAPP Program ever since, working alongside other outstanding faculty to prepare the next generation of school leaders in Connecticut. Earlier this semester, we spoke with Dr. Bernardoni about her career as an educational leader.
1. How did you start your career in education?
Like so many others who are teachers, my mother was a second-grade teacher. From a very early age, I knew that I loved children and that I thought teaching was a very special profession. I knew I would, in some way, shape or form, be involved in education. Interestingly my first teaching role, because I was an avid ballet dancer and later a performer, was teaching ballet for several years when I was in high school. I loved that so much that I went onto college with a double major in education and dance, not knowing which direction I was going to go in. I went in the dance direction for a little while, and then came back and finished my undergraduate degree.
2. What led you towards educational leadership?
I had been a teacher for 16 years, and during that time, I organized a student newspaper, facilitated a student council, and taught classes after school just for the fun of it. From early on I was told,
“You ought to be a principal, you ought to be a teacher leader.” After my third year of teaching, I was selected to design and implement a program for gifted and talented in Cheshire, which was where I was teaching at the time.
From that point on, I was given opportunities to present professional development, both within the district and on the state level. It was at that time, even before I became a principal, that I became aware of the Connecticut Association of Schools, and became involved with a variety of things through the CAS workshops. It was a very seamless transition for me, and I’m one of the few people who went directly from being a classroom teacher to being a principal.
3. You were the founding principal at Wintergreen K-8 Interdistrict Magnet School in Hamden, CT. What was that experience like?
It was one of the schools in the late ’90s that was started in response to Sheff vs. O’Neill. Approximately 30 interdistrict magnet schools were opened in the state at that time. As one of the few magnet schools in the New Haven area, it serviced the towns of Hamden, New Haven, Wallingford, Woodbridge, [and] now also includes students from Meriden as well as choice students. Wintergreen Interdistrict Magnet School was unique in that it was the only school in Connecticut developed in partnership with Edison Schools and the only Interdistrict Edison school in the country. I often described the school design, curriculum, and professional development structure as being intelligent and elegant. I got to hire the entire staff, which was such a unique opportunity. A lot of people were very interested in what we were doing and how we were doing it. It was very exciting to be part of that.
4. Today controversy surrounds school choice, vouchers, magnet schools, and charter schools. Where do you see Connecticut heading with its choice programs?
Providing a variety of school designs strengthens educational opportunities. Theme focused magnet schools, for example, enable families to match their child’s skills, talents and needs with schools that offer specialized programming. However, I personally question the belief that offering vouchers will improve education overall. It has the potential to take badly needed funding from schools that serve students with the greatest challenges therefore broadening the gap between privileged and less privileged students.
5. Your final principalship was at McKinley Elementary School in Fairfield, a school with a very diverse school community. School leaders sometimes struggle to create home and community partnerships. How were you able to successfully build partnerships with your parents and community?
I was invited to go to McKinley specifically because that’s a school, unlike one might picture in one’s mind about Fairfield schools; filled with immigrant children. There was a year when there were 42 different languages spoken by McKinley families. It was an honor to work with such a beautiful community with a real sense of global respect and appreciation for each other. It’s a model of what schools can become [and] for how people who have come together from all over the world can live together and appreciate each other’s cultures and languages. There was a highly functional PTA, not just raising funds and doing fun things with kids and their families, but actively supporting numerous cultural activities. We also were able to take advantage of a lot of community resources, which is part of what my work there was about. I did presentations at General Electric to help them understand that, at least in this one section of Fairfield, there were a lot of people from various other countries. Many of the parents of the students had been professionals where they came from and they left because it was no longer safe to live there. I also worked with the United Way, [who] designated McKinley as a School of Hope. They provided resources for us. We started a Title 1 funded preschool for children whose families spoke another language at home, and we added text materials that supported the work with early literacy. We also partnered with the Boys and Girls Club of Coastal Fairfield County, who provided high school students who tutored some of our students after school four days a week. Because there were so many high school kids that came into work with so many of our identified students who needed just an extra boost, they hired a coordinator who oversaw that program for our school. Between our three biggest community donors and grants that we received, we were able to really create a very comprehensive and energized school.
Dr. Richard Gonzales, UConn Director of Educational Leadership Preparation Programs, appreciates the guidance and wisdom Dr. Bernardoni shares with aspiring school leaders.
“Our participants continue to benefit from accomplished educators like Dale Bernardoni who’ve dedicated their careers to improving teaching and learning across our state.”
As for Dr. Bernardoni, she will continue to help the program evolve to meet the needs of UCAPPers in an ever-changing education landscape.“I love it,” she beams.
“I tell everyone it’s absolutely the best administrator preparation program in the state of Connecticut. I’m unabashedly biased in that regard. I’m honored to be a part of it.”
Editor's note: This piece originally appeared on the Neag School website and was written by Shawn Kornegay.
In our recurring 10 Questions series, the Neag School catches up with students, alumni, faculty, and others throughout the year to give you a glimpse into their Neag School experience and their current career, research, or community activities.
Four-time Neag School alumnus Miguel A. Cardona ’01 MA, ’04 6th Year, ’11 Ed.D., ’12 ELP is the assistant superintendent for teaching and learning at Meriden Public Schools in Meriden, Conn. Prior to that, he was a performance and evaluation specialist and also served for 10 years as a principal for Meriden Public Schools. In 2012, he was recognized by the Connecticut Association of Schools as Connecticut’s National Distinguished Principal and, in 2013, by the Neag School’s Alumni Board as Principal of the Year. Today, Cardona also serves as adjunct faculty in the Neag School’s UConn Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP).
What drew you to the Neag School of Education?
As a fourth-grade teacher, I heard about a program that was being offered at UConn for a master’s degree in bilingual/bicultural education. After looking into it, I was hooked. Soon after, I was encouraged to join a leader preparation program. After researching different programs, I felt UCAPP was the best in the state, and I was honored to be accepted. Similarly, the Ed.D. and Executive Leadership programs were the ones that I felt best prepared me for a successful future in education and leadership. I feel blessed to have had the great learning opportunities at UConn over the last 20 years. The Neag School is a tremendous resource, not only as a school of education, but as partners as we work to improve education in Connecticut.
“Great educators build relationships with students and set a high bar for their growth. Great educators believe in the potential of their students, even if the students don’t yet. Great educators pay attention to detail and … value the importance of preparation.”
What led you to choose to pursue the field of education?
Kids. There are few things as gratifying as knowing that your hard work will improve the lives of children. Coming from a family who modeled service to others, I knew I wanted a profession that would give me the opportunity to serve others and help strengthen my community. Teaching did that. Initially, I wanted to become an art teacher. I love the arts and the important role it plays in the development of a person, but I gravitated toward elementary education once in the program. Being an elementary teacher is akin to being an artist, so I got the best of both worlds.
What do you believe makes a great educator?
Great educators are ones that do not look at their work as a job, [but] as an extension of their God-given gifts. The passion and commitment from great educators comes from within … Great educators build relationships with students and set a high bar for their growth. Great educators believe in the potential of their students, even if the students don’t yet. Great educators pay attention to detail and, like any other profession, value the importance of preparation. Whether that is lesson design, or getting to know their students, great teachers invest in their work — and they reap the benefits of their students’ success. … The role of teacher is the most important of all. Teachers shape lives.
How did the Neag School prepare you?
The Neag School prepared me in many ways. I had the fortune of learning from some of the best professors, latest research, and driven cohorts. Neag instructors balanced research and practice well, whether it was through program design that required field experience, or through partnerships with some of the leading thinkers and practitioners in the state. The coursework was enhanced with seminars, invitations to functions in the state, and guests that provided unique perspectives from which I grew.
What do you like about working with the Meriden School District?
I love being a part of the Meriden team. As a lifelong resident, and product of its schools, I love being a part of the important work for this city. I work with amazing people, and it is really important to me to remember that the decisions I make in my role as assistant superintendent affect all children, including my own.
What have you enjoyed about serving as an administrator?
It is about relationships. Working with adult learners and a greater number of families was a highlight of serving as building principal for 10 years. I enjoyed working with driven teachers whose input always made our building better. I learned so much from my colleagues and feel that my success is a result of the collective experiences I had as a teacher and school leader.
What are some recent initiatives of which you are most proud?
Serving as co-chairperson of the Connecticut Legislative Achievement Gap Task Force has been a great source of pride. It has resulted in legislation and practice that works to support student success in ways that make it truly the great equalizer it needs to be in this country. Supporting and advocating for quality programming for our youngest is some of the most rewarding work there is. At the local level, establishing systems that empower teacher collaboration and systematically raising the bar for tier 1 instruction have given me great pride. Another local initiative that brings me great pride is being able to bring community partners into the educational process. Whether that is a local agency aiming to improve the experiences of children after school or a local college that wants to collaborate to create a dual enrollment program for our high schoolers —connecting the K-12 experience to the community is a great source of pride and satisfaction.
What are your thoughts on the Neag School’s participation in the new University Preparation Program Initiative (UPPI) and how it will help school administrators?
I am thrilled we have an opportunity to partner with UConn in Meriden and know that the UPPI program will only enhance our work with leadership development. As a tier 1 research university, the resources we will benefit from will ultimately enhance the experiences of our learners in Meriden. Given the history I had with the educational leadership department at UConn, I look forward to a great partnership with the Meriden Public Schools.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I hope to continue in this role in Meriden for the foreseeable future. I enjoy what I do and love that it is in the same community in which I live. I feel my role is an extension of my commitment to this community, my family, and to the children in Meriden. I hope to also continue teaching at the university level. The courses I teach at UConn for prospective leaders inspires me. I love the passion and energy of the students whose role will be to shape the educational landscape for the next 30 to 40 years. In my plans, I also expect to enjoy my 10- and 12-year-old as much as possible, and never miss a school concert.
What were some of your favorite moments at UConn?
As the son of two parents who sacrificed so much so their three children could have more than they ever had, the favorite moment for me was being hooded and earning my doctorate. I remember filling up a school bus with family and driving up to Storrs, Conn., for my graduation. When I crossed that stage, it represented the hard work, sacrifice, and guidance that was given to me by my parents and those that supported me. It was a highlight for me as a father also. It sent the message to my kids that the sky is the limit.
New Haven Public Schools announces Principal of the Year Award, UCAPP Alumna Grace Nathman.
Learn more about Neag School’s UCAPP Program
A closer look at Neag School and UConn Law’s combined program in educational leadership and law in UConn Magazine.
The Courant (EDLR’s UCAPP mentor, and now clinical supervisor in the UCAPP program, Donna Schilke recently retired)
Smart Brief (Alumni Paul Freeman and Kelly Lyman wrote a piece on their experience in Jordan as part of the instructional team for Queen Rania Teacher Academy)
The Daily Campus (EDLR’s Richard Gonzales was interviewed about the Wallace Foundation initiative)