The Ministry of Education, Employment and Gender Affairs has announced Caymanian veteran educator Shari Smith as the new Senior Policy Manager and Advisor for Inclusion.
In her new role, Ms Smith will be working to develop and lead national strategies and policies on behalf of persons with additional educational needs or who are otherwise at risk of exclusion from educational opportunities, including those persons with disabilities from early years through adulthood, youth exhibiting emotional and behavioural challenges, English as Second Language (ESL) students and Gifted And Talented Education (GATE).
Ms Smith has more than 20 years of both classroom and management experience starting at the Lighthouse School as a teacher, then Deputy Principal and eventually taking the helm as Principal of the school (1994-2005). Most recently she was the Director of the Sunrise Adult Training Centre, overseeing the numerous programmes and workshops that currently serve 39 clients with varying disabilities. Fellow Caymanian Kimberly Voaden, who previously held the position of Programme Manager at Sunrise, has succeeded Smith as Acting Director.
“The Ministry of Education is thrilled to welcome Ms Smith to her new post, and looks forward to the advancement of the Ministry’s Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) agenda under her capable leadership,” said Chief Officer Christen Suckoo.
“This post was previously held by a non-Caymanian who completed a two-year contract; prior to the expiration of the contract, an open recruitment process led to the successful appointment of a qualified Caymanian. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ms Annita Cornish, who previously held the position, for her dedicated service,” he added.
Mr Suckoo also congratulated Mrs Voaden on her new appointment to the role of Acting Director at the Sunrise Adult Training Centre.
“SEND has been recognised as one of the priority areas of focus for the Ministry of Education, and it is most encouraging to have two experienced Caymanian educators heading up the various initiatives that will allow us to better serve individuals with special needs and/or disabilities,” he said.
Meantime, the new Senior Policy Manager said she is excited to work with the Ministry to facilitate the implementation of the Cayman Islands Disability Policy and soon the Disability Bill, to ensure that persons with special needs and disabilities have access to lifelong learning, support services and opportunities for employment which are important elements of independence and being active in their communities.
“We are moving towards being a truly inclusive society and therefore need to ensure that our educating institutions, vocational training programmes and special schools are not only preparing our students and clients for such, but that we are working with our leaders and community members to create that inclusivity,” she added.
Education, Employment and Gender Affairs Minister Tara Rivers said she is pleased to have someone of Ms Smith’s calibre heading up such an important area of Cayman’s education system.
“Her diversity and years of experience, coupled with her passion for working to improve the lives of people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities makes her a key advocate and resource in the Ministry to help to carry out the government’s agenda to place greater emphasis and focus on addressing the challenges experienced by persons with special education needs and disabilities.”
Ms Smith was the chair of the Cayman Islands Disability Policy (CIDP) subcommittee which was commissioned to develop and write the Disability Policy as well as the Secretary for the CIDP Steering Committee.
She is currently a member of the Long-term Mental Health Facility Steering Committee and the Disability Policy Inter-Ministerial Implementation Task Force and also sits on the Public Education Committee tasked with the development of the Cayman Islands Disability Bill and implementation of the Disability Policy.
She has Master’s degrees in Clinical Psychology, Adaptive Physical Education and Exceptional Childhood Education and is working on a doctorate in Clinical Psychology.