New chief keeps open mind

11th November 2005 at 00:00
As she picks up the reins as Newport's director of education, Sharon Menghini says her wide-ranging career - encompassing practical experience, academia and research - will help her to look at the challenges of her new job from a broad perspective.

The 47-year-old taught for more than a decade after gaining a postgraduate certificate in education in physical education and art from Dartford college.

Then, rejecting the headship route, she took on a part-time advisory role for children with special physical needs in Wiltshire. She found it was a post that fitted in with the demands of motherhood.

In 1995 a career move took her to Liverpool, where she headed a team of peripatetic teachers helping those with special physical and learning needs to get into mainstream education.

With characteristic verve, she added an MA in special educational needs and a diploma in specific learning difficulties to her qualifications.

A stint as children's services manager in Shropshire - supporting educational psychologists and behavioural support teachers - preceded her appointment as assistant director of education in Dudley, West Midlands.

She said: "I think it's important to be open to methods that can help us move forward. We can look at other regions and countries and and learn from the way they do things.

"That said, it's also essential these methods apply to your particular patch - you cannot simply take a model and transplant it to another region without taking local issues into account."

On the subject of providing the lone female voice in her new territory, she says that gender is not an issue.

She said: "We're all in this together, working hard to get the best for young people. There's a lot of positive feeling in Newport. Much regeneration is taking place and people have fresh ideas."

Former colleague and Dudley's director of education, John Freeman, says she was instrumental in revitalising the authority's education service following a poor Ofsted report.

He said: "Sharon put in place effective new systems, policies and procedures for ensuring that every child receives the best possible education within the resources available."

And her special-needs armoury will come in useful in her current role.

Despite a generally favourable report by Estyn, the Welsh inspection agency, Newport was identified as having gaps in this department.

Following a recent meeting, Sioned Bowen of the Association of Directors of Education Wales, commended Newport's new helmswoman on her "vibrant contribution and clear vision".

Out of working hours, Ms Menghini likes to keep fit, although a serious ski accident has curtailed her competitive sporting activities. While her sons, aged 14 and 21, have picked up the sporting banner, Ms Menghini says she now channels her energy into education.

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