Corran girls to fight

BY MELANIE VERRAN
Last updated 05:00 22/04/2009
Photo: AMELIA JACOBSEN

BATTLING ON: Corran School student Grace Benedek Rooney, 14, and her mum Susan Benedek say they won’t give up the fight to keep Corran from merging with Saint Kentigern.

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Fuming Corran School parents are promising to fight for their school to "the bitter end".

About 300 parents attended an emergency meeting last Wednesday to discuss the planned merger with Saint Kentigern Trust Board.

The news that Corran’s senior school would close and its junior school be rebranded came as a shock to the small Remuera private school’s 320 pupils when it was announced in the last week of term one.

Susan Benedek, a Corran old girl and mother of a year 10 student, says the plan is "devastating".

She says the timing of the announcement – before Easter weekend and the school holidays – was deliberate and made it hard for parents to "mobilise".

"They’ve ambushed us really. They’ve caught us on the hop and told us the actual merger is due to go through on April 30."

Corran Trust Board chairman Brent von Sierakowski says the school has suffered financial difficulties for five years and the merger is the "best solution".

As of next year the school would remain open on the present site for years 1 to 8 but be renamed Saint Kentigern School for Girls at Corran.

All senior students would be offered a place at Saint Kentigern College in Pakuranga.

Mrs Benedek says the board underestimated the reaction from students and parents.

"I don’t think they understand how strong these girls are and that they’ll fight tooth and claw and will bring their parents with them," she says.

"There’s a lot of people who are so upset they can’t even talk about it. We have very strong, emotional links to this school and I don’t think they really banked on the depth of feeling we’ve had and how unique we consider Corran to be.

"My daughter will be there to the bitter end because she’s a Corran girl, I’m a Corran girl and we stand by our values."

Mrs Benedek says she and her husband chose the school for their 14-year-old daughter Grace Benedek Rooney largely because it offered Cambridge international exams, but also because it was small and single sex.

She says sending Grace to Saint Kentigern College, where she would have to study NCEA in year 11, is just not an option.

Grace fears the Corran identity would be lost at such a large school.

"They think we should be able to fit into their school campus but there’s 1600 in their senior school and there’s 145 at Corran, so there’s a big difference and I think if we went, our voice would be lost."

To continue her Cambridge studies, Grace would like to attend King’s College in Otahuhu, in years 12 and 13. But it’s not open to girls in year 11, meaning she would still have to find an alternative for next year.

Saint Kentigern College is offering the International Baccalaureate programme this year for the first time. Of the 240 year 12 students, 30 have chosen to take it up.

Corran parent Neville Seagar, who chaired the emergency meeting last week, says parents are split into three groups – those who have accepted the decision and are working with Saint Kentigern, those who are hoping to fight or stall the merger, and those who simply want out.

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Already more than 55 applications have been made to Diocesan School for Girls. Ten have been accepted.

He says a group of parents has sought a legal opinion from a queen’s counsel to determine whether anything can be done to reverse or slow the process.

Other schools that offer Cambridge exams – such as King’s College and schools within the Academic Colleges Group – were not approached by the board.

"That could be the crux of a legal challenge because as a trust you must get the best price," Mr Seagar says.

"But even if you can intervene you’ve got to have a plan B. We don’t want to destroy that offer and end up with nothing."

Back-up options being explored include the possibility of assistance from the Anglican church. But until the Corran board reveals its assets and debts, parents are working "in a vacuum".

Mr Seagar says the board’s silence since the announcement is fuelling a feeling of mistrust. Saint Kentigern had three representatives at last week’s meeting but Corran’s trust board was a no-show.

"The parents really are in quite a void. The board has said: ‘This is what’s happening.’ Now they’ve kind of done a runner.

"We haven’t got the facts and that’s the problem."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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