Solo mother fighting closure of small rural school

Hurleyville School is closing down after almost 125 years. Sarah Hampton, center, was the last principal at the school ...
PETRA FINER

Hurleyville School is closing down after almost 125 years. Sarah Hampton, center, was the last principal at the school before she left in December.

A solo mother is still fighting to keep her children's tiny school open, despite the Ministry of Education supporting the school board's decision to close it.

Hurleyville School in rural South Taranaki opened almost 125 years ago but is facing closure after having just seven students on its roll at the end of last year.

Some have since enrolled at other schools - bringing the number down to three.

Paula Gray said it was the best school for her two children and she wouldn't think of sending them anywhere else.

While at the school her son Dane, 6, had excelled in his reading while her daughter Hunter-Lilley, 9, had also done well.

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At the beginning of December, Hurleyville School's Board of Trustees (BOT) called a meeting to discuss the future of the South Taranaki school, which recently lost its teaching principal.

With only two or three weeks to go until schools begin to open again after the holidays, Gray and her neighbour, Jaynie Abbis, whose son attends the school, said they had been left in the dark around whether there would still be a school to send their children to.

Schools can choose to open anytime between January 30 and February 7.

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While Deb Jones, the BOT chairwoman, had told them the school was due to be closed, they were yet to receive anything in writing and they would be dropping their children off at the school gate on January 30.

Gray said she wanted to fight the closure for her children but had been bounced around by the BOT, the ministry and Minister of Education Hekia Parata's office.

"I don't know how to fight it, I don't know who to go to," she said.

The decision to close had been taken away from the last parents with students at the school, the women said, because all the other parents had since enrolled their youngsters at other schools in the area.

Jones said her decision, and the decision of other board members, to move their students to another school wasn't related to the school's closure and was instead about making it easier for the individual families. 

To close the school, the BOT had to recommend to the Ministry of Education that it is no longer viable, which it did in December. 

Gray and Abbis said they would be happy to take over the positions on the BOT to keep it running and it still had some support from within the community.

If the school was allowed to stay open with only three students, it would become the one of the smallest schools in the country alongside Ngamatea School in Whanganui, which also had a roll of three students as of July 1, 2016.

Ministry of Education sector enablement and support, David Wales, confirmed it was going through the process of closing the school.

"The reason for this is that the school is no longer viable due to a falling roll and no population growth in the area, therefore there is very little likelihood of any new enrolments," he said.

"The board held a number of community consultation meetings before arriving at the decision.

"The board has applied to close on February 6 and we support the board's decision to close the school, but we need to work through our ministry process in the next week."

 - Stuff

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