Pin pulled on Picton's two-pupil school

Father John Pearce says the school will help its two pupils transition before "turning the key for the last time".
RICKY WILSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Father John Pearce says the school will help its two pupils transition before "turning the key for the last time".

A Catholic primary school has announced it will close after nine decades of religious education in Picton.

St Joseph's School has had just two pupils for about a month, and the acting principal has decided not to renew her contract in July.

Board of trustees chairwoman Lisa Bhandal​ said the board unanimously decided to close the school in a meeting last week.

Bhandal was saddened by the decision, as she was one of three generations in her family to attend the school, she said.

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"Our wee kura [school] is an amazing place and has taught three of my tamariki, myself and many of my whanau members," she said.

St Joseph's School in Picton is closing amid struggles to find a principal and a declining roll.
RICKY WILSON/FAIRFAX NZ

St Joseph's School in Picton is closing amid struggles to find a principal and a declining roll.

"I am happy in the sense that we have always worked with the Holy Spirit."

A date for the last day of school had not been set.

"We are meeting as a board early next week and are trying to assist our families as best we can with the future education of our tamariki," Bhandal said.

The sun sets on St Joseph's School, in Picton, as it closes after 90 years.
RICKY WILSON/FAIRFAX NZ

The sun sets on St Joseph's School, in Picton, as it closes after 90 years.

Parish priest Father John Pearce said the school would not "force them out" but help the pupils transition before "turning the key for the last time".

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The decision came after a public meeting last month, with about 20 people turning up to discuss the future of the school, Bhandal said.

The board spent three years trying to find a permanent principal but had no applications.

Acting principal Jennie Williams taught the pupils with the help a teacher aide.

Enrolments had been declining for years, from 32 in 2005 to 16 in 2015. 

Catholicism was the largest religious denomination in the country, though the number of people identifying as Catholic dropped by 3.2 per cent between 2006 and 2013, census data showed.

But Father Pearce believed families moving out of Picton to find work was more likely the cause of the school's dwindling roll.

"We were going OK with 10 pupils, but then one family with three children at the school moved.

"Then other families thought, 'maybe it's time to move our kids'. For one of them, it wasn't the parents' decision, the child wanted to go to the school where all their friends went."

People moving out of small towns caused problems for secular schools and other industries too, Father Pearce said.

"But you have to move to where the work is."

The two remaining pupils seemed to be enjoying the small class size, Father Pearce said.

"They get a lot of one-on-one time with the teacher. We did have a very good ERO [Education Review Office] report, they weren't even going to come back for three years, they were so impressed."

The Ministry of Education and Archbishop John Dew would work together to de-integrate the school's assets. Equipment such as computers would go to other schools in the area.

The parish would consult with the community for ideas about what to do with the land, Pearce said.

"Closing the school goes against what we're trying to do with Catholic education, but we're reconsidering how we can do religious education, for example we could do it after school.

"There are options to explore."

 - The Marlborough Express

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