Farewell to Woodbank School after 99 years

The end of the school term is also the end of an era for Woodbank School, which is to close its doors for good.

The move comes following a Ministry of Education decision that the rural school in Clarence, which is in its 100th year, is too small to survive.

Although school staff and families had known about the closure, official notification was only received by the board of trustees last Wednesday.

The school will officially close on February 21, 2014, less than four months out from the school's 100th birthday.

Woodbank's four pupils, along with teaching staff and the community including many past pupils, spent a special evening last week looking back at the school's history.

School principal Ju King, who has been involved with the school for more than three decades, was emotional as she addressed the packed classroom.

Mrs King arrived in 1982 and began working as a relief teacher at the school, before taking up a role as a permanent teacher and then as principal.

Clarence farmer John Murray, who, along with his sons, is a former pupil, also spoke. His grandfather, A J Murray, is credited with founding the school after he wrote to the then-Education Board in 1903 about the need for a school.

Woodbank School opened 11 years later, welcoming the first six pupils: two Murrays, two Laugesens and two Johnsons.

Board of trustees chairperson Sarah Beardmore said the school had been successful for so long thanks to the careful stewardship by the committees over the years. While the board had tried its best to keep the school open for the sake of parents and preschoolers in the area it had just not been possible, she said.

The small school has been the hub of community life at Clarence since it was established, in more recent times serving as the local preschool. Weekly pilates lessons and summer swimming lessons are also held there.

It is not known what will become of the building, but the feeling in the community is that it should be retained and continue to serve as the community centre.

A special picnic will be held on February 15 to mark the school's closure as well as to celebrate its 100th year.

The Marlborough Express