Conchord's former high school faces closure

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Grammy-winning Kiwi comic Jemaine Clement isn't laughing about the threat to close his former high school.

The internationally-acclaimed funnyman one half of Flight of the Conchords sent a message of support to Makoura College, after the Masterton school was earmarked for shutting down by the Ministry of Education.

Clement, 34, attended the school in the 1980s while growing up in a Masterton state house with his mother Merianne McArdell and brothers Zed and Te Maia.

When he heard about Makoura College's impending doom, he sent it an email of support laced with his trademark humour.

"I suspect the undeserved image of the school is what ultimately led to the dramatic drop in the school roll," Clement wrote.

"In truth, Makoura was the opposite of its reputation.


"No gangs of 13-year-old thugs terrorised the science block, you couldn't get whiskey with your salad roll at the school canteen.

"Not one knife fight ever erupted during our sustained silent-reading class."

Ironically, the plot of Clement's hit move Eagle vs Shark has him playing uber-computer nerd Jarrod who trains in martial arts to return to his home town and exact revenge on his high-school bully.

But Clement said the ministry's attempt to shut Makoura College was a real-life drama.

"When I was there, I think a lot of Mastertonians expected Makoura to be rough because of the part of town it's in," he said.

"For those of us who actually were enrolled at the school, this idea was laughable.

"We're not laughing about it now, though."

The troubled college led last year's Ministry of Education statistics in suspensions, with 30 more than one for every 10 pupils.

Earlier this month, the school's board of trustees resigned suddenly in a move that could spare it from closure.

The resignation came less than a month after the ministry told the 245 students at the low-decile state school that closure was the only option after a cycle of plummeting rolls and past financial and leadership issues.

The school and Makoura community have been fighting the threatened closure, holding a series of town meetings and circulating petitions.

"This is a very emotional subject for current and ex-pupils," Clement wrote.

"For those of us moved by the news of the possible closure, it's easy to let our affection for Makoura overtake the more serious issue of education.

"If Makoura closes, it will be a great loss for the Wairarapa."

The board of trustees resignation meant the ministry has to appoint a commissioner to the school and conduct an inquiry.

A school spokeswoman said Clement's email had helped drum up support.

"He's a very important person at the moment, I'm sure it made a lot of people listen," the spokeswoman said.

Education Minister Chris Carter said: "I am keen to see the ministry working closely with the commissioner to charter a brighter future for the school."

Clement is in the US, writing and filming a new series of Flight of the Conchords. He and fellow Kiwi star Bret McKenzie took home this year's Grammy award for best comedy album and have been nominated for three Emmy awards for Flight of the Conchords.


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