District: West Bay South
Current profession: MLA
Interview with Tara Rivers
Kayla Young: Hi, this Kayla Young with the Cayman Compass. We’re here with independent candidate Tara Rivers running in the constituency of West Bay South in the May 2017 elections. Welcome, Ms. Rivers.
Tara Rivers: Thank you.
Kayla Young: Introduce yourself and tell us why you’re running for the Legislative Assembly.
Tara Rivers: As you said, my name is Tara Rivers and I am running and standing as a candidate in the constituency of West Bay South to continue the hard work that I have been giving to the country and serving the people of my district. I’m hoping to have an opportunity to be able to continue to do that in the next term.
Kayla Young: What’s the most important issue facing your district?
Tara Rivers: There are a number of local, neighborhood-specific concerns that have been expressed to me through my walk-arounds and interactions with the people of West Bay South. I would say the overarching issue that seems to be common in all of those communities is the concern about crime and safety and security issues in general.
Certainly I will look to continue to work closely with the new commissioner of police to try to put in place certain provisions to address the concerns that have been expressed to me about the level of policing and the activities surrounding criminal activity in the district that people are concerned about.
Kayla Young: What would you say is the most important issue facing Cayman as a whole?
Tara Rivers: I think this is a very interesting question. Like many other countries in the world, the cornerstone of democracy and the cornerstone of development and prosperity and sustainability for any country is really education. Certainly as the current minister of education, I have a passion for ensuring that we create a system that gives our people the best opportunity to compete globally right here in the Cayman Islands. Continuing to focus on our education system to make sure that we strive to achieve a world-class education system, not only in name but certainly in the level and quality of graduates that we produce, but also the quality of education that we offer to ensure that all of our students, irrespective of their abilities have the opportunity to achieve their full potential in our system.
Kayla Young: What is something Cayman is doing right and how will you help continue that?
Tara Rivers: Well I think certainly, keeping on the focus of education, by making that a priority, by looking at improving our system, really by taking a critical analysis of where we are today, what is currently in place, what we’ve put in place to address some of those issues that may continue to be areas of challenge or needing support. By actually seeing the results of focusing on those gaps, I think that is something we as government and certainly as minister of education I am very proud to say we have moved forward in the right direction.
If we look at where we were just a few years ago, we’ve already started to see some targeted improvements in some critical areas like that of literacy and numeracy rates, as well as it relates to the behavior issues which were very prevalent when I took office. Specifically we see that the literacy rates and the numeracy rates of our graduates are increasing and have significantly increased over the years. An example of this is the Year 11 students going in to Year 12. More and more of them are actually accessing early opportunities to do college prep type work or A levels. We moved from 20 percent in 2015 to 34 percent in 2016. That’s a significant increase in the number of students who go on to do either the first year of their associates degree at UCCI or A levels. That’s an indication that we’re going in the right direction for literacy.
As it relates to behavior, we’re also seeing some very specific, targeted improvements in that area as well. We’ve seen in a comparison of one year, from 2015 to 2016, there is actually a decrease of about 53 percent of incidents requiring exclusions from John Gray High School. We know that of all the schools, that seemed to have had real challenges when it came to behavior concerns in the country. We’re definitely moving in the right direction. There is some great work happening, not only at John Gray High School but in all of our public schools. The concerns of our education are being addressed in a very methodical way. We’re actually starting to see real, positive results, as a result of that commitment.
Kayla Young: If reelected, what’s your top priority on day one?
Tara Rivers: To certainly continue the progress. To continue the progress that we’re seeing to make sure that we continue to support our education system. Bear in mind, education is not just the responsibility of the government. It is the responsibility of everyone in this community, parents first and foremost as well as the wider business community, as well as the wider supporting community as a whole. We all have a role to play in supporting our students. Students themselves have a role to play in ensuring they are not only having but taking advantage of the opportunities. It’s developing these partnerships. It’s continuing to promote the progress. It’s continuing to invest in our students.
We’ve also seen a dramatic increase in the number of students who are being supported for post-compulsory education. We’ve seen a 42 percent increase in the number of students, to be exact, from the time we took office in 2013. When I took office in 2013, there were about 850 students who were on the education scholarships. Now, as of 2016, that number has increased to about 1,450 students. That is a dramatic increase in terms of the kind of investments as government that we have been doing to promote further education of our young people. That also includes a substantial number of students who are doing technical and vocational training programs. It covers the gambit of actual tertiary education, but also of technical and vocational education.
Certainly, the priority on day one is just to continue doing what we’re doing, focusing with laser-sharp precision to ensure that we don’t continue to have what has happened historically as it relates to education, the political football that the system has become. I think that’s the message that I would really like to leave with the viewers is that the need for consistency, the need for commitment and the need for rolling up your sleeves to actually get things done is going to be very critical in this election. I would encourage people to choose very wisely according to those criteria.
Kayla Young: Ms. Rivers, thank you for coming and meeting with us.
Tara Rivers: Thank you for having me.
Kayla Young: Once again, this is Kayla Young with the Cayman Compass.