Queen’s Birthday Honours for leading educators

The exceptional work of two Education Department staff members has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, writes Pascal Adolphe.

Image: Leading by example: Karen Jones.

Two Department of Education staff members have being awarded Public Service Medals in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for their outstanding contribution to public education.

Executive Director Aboriginal Outcomes and Partnerships, Karen Jones, was honoured for her success in driving school improvement - most recently in Aboriginal education - over nearly 40 years.

Relieving Director Risk and Governance, Trish van Tussenbroek, was recognised for improving the Department’s emergency planning and response systems which serve as a means to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of all staff, students and visitors in schools and workplaces.

Ms Jones believed the award was for her “long-term commitment to equity” and she was honoured to have been nominated by her executive team.

“They told me about it about a month ago and I never gave it another thought,” Ms Jones said.

“I was thrilled [to get the Medal] for myself and everyone I’ve ever worked with. It’s great that people have confidence in me and supported me throughout my career.”

Ms Jones began her career as a special education teacher in 1982 and has dedicated her career to improving the education system to meet the needs of all students.

She said the highlight of her career had been “working with kids and seeing the difference you can make in their lives”.

“I’ve had a number of successes in driving school improvement including writing the first curriculum structure for students with disabilities,” she said.

As the principal of Wyoming Public School, Ms Jones significantly transformed and unified the then struggling school and her teaching and learning initiatives resulted in the percentage of students achieving literacy growth between Years 3 and 5, increasing from 12 per cent to more than 86 per cent.

As Executive Director, Aboriginal Outcomes and Partnerships, she has advanced the education of 64,655 Aboriginal students in public schools across NSW.

She was also instrumental in developing a 10-year, formal partnership agreement with the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group Incorporated.

Ms van Tussenbroek said she felt “very honoured” but “hasn’t stop blushing” since she received news of her Public Service Medal.

As Manager of the Emergency Response team, she is responsible for working with emergency services to support schools and their communities through all disaster and critical event responses.

In response to the 2019-2020 bushfires, she prepared schools for the possibility of a major fire event, establishing a systemwide response that allowed the Department to rapidly evacuate schools and workplaces should fires threaten local communities.

“I work with such an awesome team of people, who are really passionate about supporting our schools,” Ms van Tussenbroek said.

“The most rewarding part of my role is working with these extraordinary principals and directors and the incredible work they do in pulling together their community, especially during emergencies.

“What our school communities have been through has been extraordinary and it really started in August 2019 with the bushfires on the North Coast.

“When the fires started, our school communities were coming off a period of significant drought, then they also had floods to deal with, all before COVID. They are such an incredibly resilient bunch.”

The official citation for her award said Ms van Tussenbroek was an “asset to the Department for her capacity to resolve complex issues, her insightful knowledge, and her liaison skills”.

“She is highly regarded by other agencies for her collaborative approach, and her commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of others,” the citation said.

“Ms van Tussenbroek has demonstrated the importance of emergency management planning across government entities, and the benefits of well-co-ordinated systems to support a whole-of-government response.”

Image: Trish van Tussenbroek ready for the next emergency.
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