2009-07-08 / Front Page

Not your typical CEA president

By Richard Foster

Lisa Billings/Chesterfield Observer Frank Cardella, the Chesterfield Education Association's new president, listens intently during a community meeting at Crestwood Elementary School last week.
It's a pretty safe bet that Frank Cardella is the first ponytail-wearing, goateed rock drummer and Star Trek/Star Wars fan to become president of the Chesterfield Education Association (CEA).

"A student told me I can go from cool to dork in five seconds," Cardella, 38, said with a self-deprecating laugh. The Manchester High School biology and chemistry teacher served as vice president of the CEA for the last four years and was treasurer for the three years preceding that. Cardella replaces outgoing CEA President Lois Stanton, who served from 2004-09 (see story on page 9).

Of the transition, Chesterfield County Public Schools Superintendent Marcus Newsome said, "We look forward to our continued partnership and spirit of cooperation with the CEA under the new leadership of Frank Cardella."

During his two-year term of office, which began July 1, Cardella will be on leave from his teaching position at Manchester. As the CEA's paid president, he will receive the same salary and benefits from the CEA as he received in his job as a science teacher.

On the day Cardella became president, he and Stanton flew to San Diego for the National Education Association's annual conference, at which Cardella served on a panel discussion with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The discussion touched on topics such as teacher compensation, teacher-evaluation methods and standardized testing, many of the same issues Cardella may likely be grappling with locally as CEA president.

Originally from New York, Cardella graduated in 1993 from the State University of New York at Binghamton with a bachelor's degree in biology and philosophy. He's currently working on a master's degree in environmental leadership through Virginia Commonwealth University and the MathScience Innovation Center in Henrico County.

Cardella taught in New York state public schools for three years prior to moving to Virginia in 2000 with his wife, Shanon. A former math teacher, Shanon wanted to be closer to her parents, who live in North Carolina, and she's now a stay-at-home mom to their two sons, Anthony, 6, and Shawn, 3.

As a teacher, Cardella holds the coveted National Board Certified Teacher status from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Fewer than 100 teachers out of Chesterfield's 4,100 faculty members have earned that distinction. Earning it is an arduous, three-year process that requires the teacher to undergo extensive examination and analysis of their teaching methods.

"I bring a lot of personality into the classroom," Cardella said. "I have a life outside of school, and that's one of those things you have to remind students sometimes: that teachers are people, too." Students are often impressed, he says, to discover that he drummed in a local rock band (Dead Air) in the '90s when he was in New York. "But then I come out and I wear my periodic table T-shirt, and that just confirms the dorky science teacher stereotype," he added with a laugh.

Cardella has also brought a lot of personality into his role as a teacher advocate for Chesterfield's teachers, students and overall education system.

"He's energetic. He's very focused," Stanton said of Cardella. "As a National Board Certified Teacher, he has a strong interest in instruction, and that's also something I was interested in. He is in some ways more of a data-oriented person than I am. I come from a humanities background. As a scientist, I think he views data a little bit differently."

In recent years Cardella has been a frequent speaker at school board meetings. Though he's quick to point out that he's mostly spoken as an individual, Cardella's talks usually mirror the CEA's overall stances on issues such as compensation. Cardella has spoken in favor of achieving teacher salary parity with other regional school systems, as well as compensating teachers for "volunteer" activities like leading after-school clubs.

One of Cardella's major pushes as an individual has been to advocate for changes to school-day start and end times. For instance, many county middle school students are home at 2 p.m. Cardella would like this pushed back to 4 p.m. so latchkey kids would not have to be home unsupervised for as long as they are now. Similarly, he would like to see high school start later, as studies have shown high school students require more sleep and generally stay up later than younger students.

"These are just things we need to always consider," Cardella said. "Are we best serving students with the way we're doing things? I always want to be [asking], 'Is there a better way to do it?'"

With the economy in such bad shape, Cardella knows there are likely to be budget arguments ahead, but he says the community should value the education their children are getting and the preparation the school system is giving tomorrow's work force, and should want to make sure it's well funded. Additionally, as CEA president, he wants to ensure that county schools are funded equally, and that there isn't disparity between suburban, rural and more urban schools within the county.

"We can't ignore the fact that current jobs are disappearing, but in many cases we're not training kids for jobs that are disappearing now; we're training them for jobs that are going to be there in the future," he says. "An educated citizenry is definitely the strongest asset this nation has."

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