Diversity a goal for new DM Penfound

Rosalind Penfound, the province’s new deputy minister of education, brings teaching background, record of professionalism to position.

Rosalind Penfound was appointed deputy minister of Education on Jan. 18. Photo: CIPHI

Newly appointed Deputy Minister of Education Rosalind Penfound says infrastructure renewal for universities tops her to-do list, but concrete plans are a ways off.

”I’m at the bottom of a very steep learning curve,” admitted Penfound, who took over as deputy minister on Monday, Jan. 18.

But even after only three days in office, Penfound admits there's an elephant in the room.

“Everybody knows there’s a huge infrastructure deficit in universities,” she said, adding she plans to comply with the department’s 2009-2010 education business plan in investing $114-million in projects for all 11 universities and community college campuses across Nova Scotia. 

Enlarge Timeline
Timeline of Rosalind Penfound's career.

Penfound has a diverse resume within the government of Nova Scotia, holding such positions as deputy minster of agriculture and fisheries, executive officer of agriculture and aquaculture, and her most recent roles as public service commissioner and deputy minister of immigration and seniors – to name a few.

Penfound was deputy minister of immigration during the 2007 N.S. Nominee Program scandal, in which some immigrants paid $130,000 for a six-month mentorship of questionable value. 

Leonard Preyra, MLA for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, praised Penfound’s character and professionalism during the fiasco.

“The department went through a very difficult time under her watch, and she was able to keep that ship steady and that department in very strong shape,” he said at a Dalhousie political science event on Monday.

Penfound said although the program had flaws, it still exists and merits great opportunity.

“(The mentorship program) was only one section of the nominee program that was at issue, there are still several up and running, ” she said, citing the international graduates program, where students immigrate to Nova Scotia to obtain a university degree – a more commonly accepted credential by employers when hiring immigrants in N.S.

Penfound bridged her previous deputy minister position with the department of education, highlighting the opportunity of immigration and university enrolment. 

“The potential we have there is really great,” she said. “Having a wide variety of people attend our educational institutions and become a part of government and Nova Scotia society … that’s the diversity we’re looking for.”

Penfound said the goals outlined in the 2009-2010 education business plan will “hold true,” including the memorandum of understanding on university funding and tuition fees, and investment in capacity at the Nova Scotia Community College. She said these are hugely important to her both as deputy minister and on a personal level.

“I have some familiarity with what it’s like to be a family getting kids educated, and to be sure there is equitable and affordable access,” referring to her children, Kate and Will, who have both attended two post-secondary institutions.

Penfound has university degrees in physical education and law from Dalhousie University. Although she never put her physical education teaching license to use, she was a part-time professor in Dalhousie’s law department for almost 20 years.

Aside from academics, Penfound has had her hands in teaching full-day sessions on public service values across the provincial government. She said she considers herself “very much a teacher at heart.”

Penfound has big boots to fill. Former deputy minister Dennis Cochrane, 59, retired late last year, accepting a position as interim President of St. Thomas University in New Brunswick. The former Progressive Conservative leader and junior high school teacher was the longest serving deputy minister of education in Canada, according to the Government of Nova Scotia.

As public service commissioner  – among other roles – Penfound made more than $171,000 in 2009, the highest paid in the public service department. Former deputy minister of education Dennis Cochrane made more than $184,000.

The estimated expenses for the department of education for the 2009-2010 fiscal year is more than $1.2-billion dollars. 

Penfound said her experience working in a number of different departments is a “really positive thing.”

“As corny as it sounds, it really is about public service,” she said. “Wherever you are in government … you have a chance to affect the lives of Nova Scotians … it’s no truer than it is in education.”

 

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