Taking a break from the national stage to visit their roots, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Congresswoman Jahana Hayes paid a special visit to Waterbury schools this morning to welcome teachers and students back and applaud the state’s goal of ensuring safe in-person learning. They were joined by CEA President Kate Dias, Waterbury Teachers Association President Kevin Egan, Governor Ned Lamont, and Connecticut State Department of Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker.
Their first stop was the newly constructed Wendell L. Cross Elementary School, which had its first day of classes on Monday.
“This celebration reminds us that the building is great; new buildings are important,” said Dias, adding, “They identify that we have infrastructure that we’re supporting, but at the end of the day, what really matters are the people, including the teachers and what they’re going to do in that building. That’s what makes the difference.”
Egan, a teacher at Cross Elementary, said, “This is the boost everyone needed, considering everything we’ve been through. It’s great to see teachers and students come into a brand-new building and to have the support of educators and policymakers at the national level.”
“This beautiful school is second to the beautiful community within the school,” Dr. Cardona remarked. Having taught in Meriden for years, he commended longtime Waterbury teacher Hayes for her push for equity, access, and a voice for all students, adding, “You’re an educator through and through, so you know this. A school is not the building; it’s the people in it.”
Recalling his recent travels throughout the United States to visit schools, Cardona—who served as Connecticut’s education commissioner before accepting a position at the federal level, noted that in Connecticut, student health and wellness are paramount, as is protecting school staff.
“I was in Oregon, I was in Los Angeles, I was in Puerto Rico and in the Midwest, and I really feel like Connecticut is a high bar in terms of making sure what we’re doing is putting students at the center. I’m fortunate to have come from Connecticut, to be educated in Connecticut, and to know so many of the folks who are in this room right now and what you do day in and day out for our students. The intentional collaboration that makes school reopening possible happens when everyone puts their heads together. It’s not easy to make difficult decisions and unpopular decisions, but when we make decisions thinking about the health and safety of our students, it’s the right thing to do.”
Acknowledging that schools have historically been pressed to do more with less, the governor said federal COVID relief funding now allows schools and teachers to innovate and use their imaginations.
“Take some of the funding resources we got from the Secretary and put them to good use,” he urged. “Make sure we give all of our kids the best opportunity coming out of what was a pretty tough year last year. Hitting the ground, I know we have additional counselors, we have an amazing new school, we have apprentice teachers coming in and helping. Take advantage of this. That means every teacher, board of ed, superintendent should give the very best ideas so that we can show the Secretary what we’re doing in Connecticut, and he can take it around the country.”
Dias said CEA is working hard to advocate for safe, in-person learning and the resources to make that possible, adding, “Teachers are the professionals who know what’s best for their students, and we are committed to ensuring learning environments that are inclusive, healthy, and safe.”