Meet our relieving Disability Strategy director Lisa Whittaker

Image: Lisa Whittaker, Relieving Director Disability Strategy Implementation team

Lisa Whittaker joins the Disability Strategy Implementation as Relieving Director in March 2020 as Gill White steps into another role in the Department. Most recently, Lisa led the Systems Design team in NSW Education that drives strategic projects to improve learning and wellbeing outcomes in our schools to reduce the impact of disadvantage.

How did you first hear about the Disability Strategy and what attracted you to working with the team?

I first heard about the Strategy during its development. I had been working in the Department for some time and was aware of the broad consultation that was being undertaken. When the Strategy was released in 2019 I was a project coordinator in the Learning and Wellbeing Directorate. There was a buzz of anticipation waiting for the Strategy to be release and I couldn’t wait to read it.

I am excited to be part of the Disability Strategy Implementation team and was originally on the Improving the Learning and Support Journey Project in early 2019 before moving to the Acting Director role in Systems Design. It is great to be back on the team.

You have a lot of experience working in schools – how do you think that has helped prepared you to lead this work within the department?

I have been very privileged in my career to work with amazing students, their families and colleagues. I started out in the Department as a school learning support officer (SLSO) and I’ve had many different roles since then including teacher, Disability Programs Coordinator, Networked Specialist Facilitator, and Learning and Wellbeing Coordinator. All of these roles have had a strong focus on improving the educational outcomes and experiences of students with disability and diverse learning and support needs. I have valued every role I have been in and each position has provided me with the knowledge and experience needed to drive this important work forward.

What do you think the priorities for the Disability Strategy will be over the coming months?

The important work of the Disability Strategy continues while many of us across the state are learning and working differently. It has been fantastic to hear about all the great stories from schools who are supporting students with disability who are learning from home.

Over the coming months we will drive forward our focus on strengthening support to teaching and support staff, improving the family experience, and tracking outcomes. We are currently continuing many of our initiatives as planned, as well as looking at how we may need to adapt others.

We are testing how the Access Request process, used to apply for additional student support, can be streamlined to be more timely, transparent and consistent for families.

We look forward to launching the second round of our Inclusive Practice in Education Scholarship later this year, as well as working with the 186 teachers who have taken up the scholarship already. Over 1000 participants have completed the first modules of our pilot trauma-informed professional development and will complete this training later this year.

We’re excited about working with the Innovation Program’s successful applicants who will trial innovative approaches that improve student learning and wellbeing.

Across all of this, we will continue to collaborate closely with students, families, and educators.

What are some of the key changes you’d like to see in schools over the next few years as a result of the strategy’s implementation?

The strategy sets out our commitment to build a more inclusive education system, one where all students feel welcomed and are learning to their fullest potential.

We want to see students with disability achieve strong educational and wellbeing outcomes. We are working to ensure students have an equitable learning experience that equips them for fulfilling lives after school.

Around 97 per cent of students with disability learn in our mainstream public schools and we will work together to build school capacity to meet the needs of local students.

We want our teachers and leaders to feel better equipped to support students with disability, by building their skills, confidence and capabilities.

We also want to be able to monitor our success by improving the way we use data.

There is lots of work to be done and I look forward to leading the team to achieve the Strategy’s aspirations “to build an education system in which children with disability thrive academically, develop good physical, mental and emotional health, and gain the skills to live a fulfilling, independent life post-school”.

To contact the Disability Strategy Implementation team please email disability.strategy@det.nsw.edu.au.

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