Final bell to ring for isolated four-pupil school

BRIDGET RAILTON
Last updated 05:00 18/03/2014

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Blackmount School, with a roll of four, is set to close its doors.

The school, on a stretch of highway roughly half way between Tuatapere and Manapouri, made the decision to move towards voluntary closure in February after a long consultation process.

Principal Linda Lewis, a familiar face at the tiny rural school for nearly 30 years, said the decision was hard but the best for the pupils.

Despite every effort to socialise with other rural schools, arranging exchanges, attending sports days and hosting home-schooled children, the pupils of Blackmount needed more interaction with other children their own age, she said.

"For me, this became my school. My heart wants to stay but, realistically, we have to look at it as a sign of the times."

There was no doubt the pupils were getting an excellent education - in the past 15 years, the small school had pumped out two duxes of large high schools, and former Blackmount names always featured in end-of-year school prize lists, she said. "Education wise, they always do really well.

"Our concern was probably focused more on the social needs of the children."

The school was equipped with all the mod-cons of bigger primary schools, and students benefited from greater-than-usual one-on-one time with teaching staff.

However, the large wooden playground dominating the grounds cuts a lonely figure, with hardly anyone swinging from its bars during lunch hour.

Yesterday, Lewis' husband, Ron, who helps out around the school, rang the bell to signal the end of lunchtime for just three pupils.

The school has had a tumultuous history, with a near-closure in 1944 because of low numbers. It was rescued then by the promise of two new children to the area.

It was rebuilt twice, the first time in 1974, adding two classrooms, a library and staff facilities to accommodate a booming school roll. Then, in 1995, a fire razed the buildings, necessitating another rebuild and, in 2001, a community pool was added.

The school was now working through the closure process, which was expected to take about six months, with the Ministry of Education.

It was not yet known what would happen to the buildings and pool, Lewis said.

In the meantime, the school's focus was on making the transition for the four remaining pupils as smooth as possible, she said.

The next closest schools are Hauroko Valley to the south and Mararoa to the north.

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- The Southland Times

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