Ministry does U-turn on zoning

STACEY KNOTT AND JAMES GREENLAND
Last updated 13:00 23/01/2014

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The Ministry of Education has done a sudden backtrack on school zoning plans in Nelson.

Following a Nelson Mail story yesterday revealing the proposal and Nelson principals' disappointment at the move, the ministry this morning announced that it will "take a step back".

The ministry had proposed that Nelson Central School, Hampden Street School, Clifton Terrace School and Victory Primary School were to be zoned by term three this year.

Its head of sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, said the ministry wanted to invite the schools' principals to work with it to find alternative solutions to problems caused by overcrowding.

"We're taking a step back from our proposal to develop enrolment schemes to address looming issues of overcrowding at Nelson schools," she said.

She said she emailed the schools this morning to tell them they could "set aside the current focus on enrolment schemes and the deadlines".

The ministry would provide the principals with information on growth trends, school capacity and projections, and work with them to see what options they could come up with, she said. It would also give the schools a chance to assess the information and talk with their communities.

"Enrolment schemes will remain a consideration, because they are a valid and cost-effective option. However, there may be some other cost-effective options that the schools are able to develop that achieve the same result."

She said the ministry wanted to have this part of the process completed by the end of term one, and then decide what would be implemented.

Nelson MP Nick Smith said this morning he had been speaking with principals and the ministry about the move, and had "expressed concern [about] where the ministry was heading".

"I have concerns that we need to maximise parents' choice among our schools, and only use zoning where absolutely required. I have had concerns from those principals and the board of trustees and parents," he said.

"Nelsonians have long had the flexibility of a lack of zoning, and have consistently expressed the view that we should avoid it where possible."

Principals spoken to this morning said they were pleased with the backtrack.

Hampden Street principal Don McLean, who woke up to the email from the ministry, said he was "shocked".

"I think it's really positive, the way to go. The ‘one hat fits all' method doesn't work."

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He said he was happy that the schools could work with the ministry on the issue.

Clifton Terrace principal Rob Wemyss said he was "thrilled" with the decision.

At a December meeting, it had been made clear that the zoning would go ahead, he said. The ministry's suggestion that it work with schools to find other solutions was exactly what the schools had wanted out of the meeting.

"We know that when schools are overcrowded, the Ministry of Education can impose these zones, but really, none of us are in this situation. We are not overcrowded at all."

Maps supplied to the Nelson Mail by the ministry from July last year show where Nelson pupils live in relation to their schools.

While all the maps showed clusters of pupils living close to the schools they attended, they also showed that others were travelling from further distances. For example, there were children attending Clifton Terrace School who lived close to Nelson Central School, and also in Washington Valley and Tahunanui.

The Hampden Street School map showed many pupils living on the Port Hills and around Enner Glynn School, and there was along a trend around the Atawhai Dr area.

Nelson Central pupils were mostly living in Brook St and around the Wood, but the map also showed a trend around Atawhai Dr, around the Port Hills and out towards the Nelson Intermediate School area.

The Victory Primary School map showed a dense cluster around the Victory area, but once again there were pupils living in Atawhai Dr, and as far away as Stoke.

- The Nelson Mail

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