‘There’s lots of work to be done but it’s nice to be part of the change’
TRURO – Issues surrounding special needs students will be a top priority for Nova Scotia’s new education minister, the Colchester North MLA says.
“One of the first things I want to do is ensure that our students who have special needs and challenges in learning have the supports they need in the classroom,” Karen Casey told the Truro Daily News, shortly after receiving her portfolio on Tuesday. “I’ve seen that eroded over the past four years and that is very frustrating for the students and the parents and for the teachers,” she said. “So that certainly is going to be a focus for me to get a good handle on what those needs are.”
Casey, who was sworn in Tuesday as minister of education and early childhood development, was one of 15 of the Liberal Party’s 33 MLAs named to the cabinet by Premier Stephen McNeil.
“I feel great,” Casey said of her posting. “I feel pleased that I can now be part of the decision making that will make things better for the kids in our public schools. There’s lots of work to be done but it’s nice to be part of the change.”
Casey has previously carried both the health and education portfolios while serving under the Progressive Conservative government. Before entering politics she spent more than 30 years as an educator and a school principal.
Casey first became MLA in Colchester North in 2006 and again in 2009. In January 2011 she crossed the floor to become a member of the provincial Liberal Party and handily (by 2,838 votes more than the runner up) retained her seat as the Colchester North MLA in the Oct. 8 election.
While the 33 seats won by the Liberals was more than even party members anticipated, Casey said, they were not surprised at being elected to power.
“We sensed that there was a desire for change (and that McNeil was the right leader for that),” she said.
And while she is confident in her abilities to carry the education portfolio, Casey said it is pleasing the premier also has faith in her competence.
“The premier has acknowledged that he thought I was strong in the portfolio before and knew that I was very much a part of working with him and staff on building the platform that we just presented,” she said. “I know he values my opinion and he respects it so I felt honoured that he had enough confidence to give me the portfolio again.”
Casey acknowledged that “a lot of things have changed” since she was last education minister, including department funding, but she said as an opposition critic she has kept abreast of the issues and believes she can quickly get back up to speed.
“So one of my priorities is going to be looking at the skill sets that they need in order to be successful whichever way they go,” she said, of students transitioning from schools into the post secondary sector or into skilled programs or into the workforce.
To that end, the minister said her department will be looking at outcomes for graduating students to ensure they have been given the best possible training and learning before they leave the public school system.
“The work has already begun (to bring ab0ut needed changes to make students successful),” she said.
Name: Karen Casey
Position: Minister of education and early childhood development
Married to: Glen