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Christchurch school closures 'another aftershock'

Daniel Tobin
Phillipstown School principal Tony Simpson comments on how the school and community are feeling before Education Minister Hekia Parata's announcement today.
Hekia Parata
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON
DECISION TIME: Education Minister Hekia Parata announces which schools will close, merge, or remain untouched.
ANNOUNCING CHANGES: Education Minister Hekia Parata.
KENT BLECHYNDEN
ANNOUNCING CHANGES: Education Minister Hekia Parata.

Only a few kilometres separate them, but the contrast couldn't have been greater.

At Christchurch's Burnside Primary School there were tears of joy as they learnt today the Government was keeping the school open.

But for Phillipstown School principal Tony Simpson the sadness, after being told his school was merging with Woolston School, was overwhelming.

The tears fell all around as he broke the news to the gathered community from beneath the school flag pole.

"I'm feeling very very sad right now," he said.

"If this decision becomes a final decision in 28 days, then we aren't going to be coming to this wonderful, wonderful school for much longer."

And so, as an education expert said today, the ''aftershocks'' of the February 22, 2011, Christchurch quake continue.


Click here to see Government's full plan


Hekia Parata, the much maligned education minister, said today's proposals were different from those changes originally mooted, with 12 of the 31 schools now not merging or closing.

She had listened to the schools, parents and their communities, she said.

What does this mean?

Seven are to close: Branston Intermediate, Glenmoor, Greenpark, Kendal, Linwood Intermediate, Manning Intermediate and Richmond.

Six schools would remain open: Burnham, Burnside, Duvauchelle, Okains Bay, Shirley Intermediate and Ouruhia (which should relocate to West Belfast when the population grew sufficiently).

Six mergers (12 schools) should proceed: Burwood and Windsor, Central New Brighton and South New Brighton, Discovery One and Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti, Lyttelton Main and Lyttelton West, North New Brighton and Freeville, and Phillipstown and Woolston (on the Woolston site).

Three mergers (six schools) should not proceed and remain separate: Bromley and Linwood Ave, Gilberthorpe and Yaldhurst, and TKKM o Waitaha and TKKM o Te Whanau Tahi (in the latter case, one should relocate to another part of the city to ensure better access).

All 31 schools would be given until March 28 to make further comment, provide feedback and add to their submissions about the interim decisions. It was expected that final decisions would be announced by the end of May.

"I acknowledge that the interim decision to close seven schools will be disappointing news for those communities," Parata said, while promising parents they would be supported in making decisions about their children’s futures. It’s a promise they will hold her to.

There were many options  and "the Government is absolutely committed to rebuilding Christchurch".

"Greater Christchurch will have one of the most modern schooling networks in the country that will serve communities for many years to come, and help each and every child get a great education."

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The numbers involved were quite small, she emphasised.

The interim decision to close the seven schools affected about 670 children, or less than one per cent of the entire greater Christchurch student population of nearly 72,000, she said.

"The face and make-up of greater Christchurch has, and will, continue to change dramatically due to the earthquakes, and the education sector must respond to those changes.

"There were already around 5000 places available in schools in greater Christchurch before the earthquakes, and 4300 students have not re-enrolled, meaning there are now 9300 places available - that's roughly equivalent to the entire student population of Gisborne.

"We have looked at not only earthquake damage, but also roll size, population movement and projected growth, building issues, and what opportunities existed to create better, more modern schools," Parata said.

Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said difficult decisions had to be taken but Parata had "botched" the process.

"The future of education in Christchurch is too important to get wrong  . . . how can people be confident that today's decisions have been taken based on solid information," asked Hipkins.

Professor Niki Davis, University of Canterbury's acting Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education), said the announcement would bring more emotional turmoil for students, staff and parents in the week of the quake's second anniversary.

''These school closures are basically an aftershock of the earthquake.''

Davis said teachers and school staff had significant emotional attachments to their schools and being forced to walk away would be difficult, she said.

''I can well understand how upset people will be at these decisions."

That emotion was there for all to see. As Simpson broke down people at other schools across the city were whooping with delight.

Burnside board of trustees chairwoman Tracy Williams said staff at the school were ''over the moon''.

"We were just speechless, we didn't really say much. We just looked at each other and burst into tears.''

Ouruhia School Principal Mark Ashmore-Smith said he was thrilled they were staying open.

"It was not what I was expecting first thing this morning.''

The school would move in five years as the population grew.

''It's great we have five years to plan for that," Ashmore-Smith said.

He thought the school was able to remain thanks to its minimal earthquake damage.

Parent Troy Lipsham, whose son Aidan, in year 6, jumped off the school steps with excitement on hearing the good news, said he was pleased the school would stay open.

If it hadn't there would have been havoc, he said. That havoc is playing out elsewhere.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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