Wellingtonian Editorial: School merger not well handled

Last updated 15:31 22/11/2012

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OPINION: School mergers are fraught with difficulty. The uproar in Christchurch recently after Education Minister Hekia Parata floated the idea of closing 13 schools and merging another 18 was palpable.

Previous Education Ministers ran into similar problems with mergers in areas such as Invercargill, Timaru and the Taieri.

Even Trevor Mallard's decision in 2001 to combine Wainuiomata College and Parkway College and to close some Wainui primary schools met with anything but unanimous community support, though it's sometimes touted as a roaring success.

However, even in the rocky history of school mergers, what's gone on in Strathmore/ Miramar takes some beating.

Strathmore Community School and Miramar South School are to be merged on the Strathmore site.

The new, as yet unnamed, school, with about 146 pupils, will be up and running next year.

It seemed as if all might go well, with a merger board of six people representing interests from both schools.

However, as time has gone on, it has looked less like a merger and more like a takeover.

Miramar South School seems to be moving in lock, stock and barrel to the Strathmore premises.

Miramar South deputy principal Kyran Smith is to be the new school's principal.

Then last week news came that three teachers, a teacher aide and an office administrator from Miramar South were all to be given jobs in the new school, compared with one teacher and a caretaker from Strathmore Community School.

Different stories are emerging about what was promised to who, but there is no doubt Strathmore Community School staff feel aggrieved.

Principal Pele Tui said that though the proposed staff selection might be legal, the situation was unfair.

Only staff on permanent contracts were guaranteed jobs, and Strathmore was forced to relinquish its permanent roles when its roll plummeted about five years ago. When the numbers recovered, and three teachers were due to be put on permanent contracts, the planned merger put a freeze on new appointments.

On the other hand, the Miramar teachers, sitting safely on permanent contracts, were offered jobs in the new school.

Teachers at Strathmore are adamant they were promised jobs in the new school and feel let down. They feel the new merger is more of an aggressive takeover than a fair and reasoned process.

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Board chairman Wayne Lowther denies any suggestion of a takeover saying there had been a rigid process.

He said he was aware of unhappiness among some Strathmore staff. His reported comment last week - "Dare I say it, it's life" - was hardly designed to appease wounded feelings.

Closing a school at any time is a major event for a community. Basically having its premises taken over by new teachers, including the principal, from another school, merely means feelings will be that much more raw.

Mr Lowther conceded communication could have been better, but said children adapted quickly and that it was not a concern that their teachers were changing.

He may be right, but experience at other merged schools indicates he would be wise to be a little less sure of himself and a little more receptive to the feelings of the people involved.

 

 

- The Wellingtonian

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