Blackmount School defends 8-strong roll

'All it is is a numbers game'

ALANA DIXON
Last updated 05:00 08/11/2012
Curtis Whyte
NICOLE GOURLEY/Fairfax NZ

SMART ROLL: Six of the eight Blackmount School pupils, back from left, Curtis Whyte, 10, Bob Gow, 8, Nikita Gow, 11 and front row from left, Anna Slee, 11, Sarah Slee, 7, and Bethan Clark, 10. The remaining two children enrolled at the school are absent.

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One of Southland's most isolated schools is in talks with the community and the Ministry of Education about its future.

Blackmount School board of trustees chairman Tim Gow said parents, the community and the ministry were aware its number of pupils for the 2013 school year were expected to be lower than the existing roll of eight.

The school had sent out feedback forms to those within the Blackmount community, which were expected to be returned within the next month. After responses were received, the school would discuss the issue with the ministry, he said.

Along with Stewart Island School, Blackmount School was the most isolated in Southland. It was about 40km from the end of the valley to the next nearest school, he said.

"We cover quite an area up here and we've got a pretty supportive community. We celebrated our 100-year centenary last year, so we've been around for quite a while."

The isolation and the nature of the area, which was largely a farming community, meant the school was a traditionally small one but the next generation of families with young children was starting to come through, he said.

He declined to comment on whether the closure of the school because of its small roll was possible.

"I couldn't really comment on that, because it's a matter for the community and the ministry to talk through . . . [But] it's been here such a long time. It's a big part of the community."

Mike O'Brien, a member of one of the oldest families in the area, agreed. "It's the core of the community, and it always has been. It's the focal point of the area. You've just got to look here [on the road through Blackmount]. You've got the swimming pool, you've got the school, you've got the chapel."

The fluctuation in roll numbers simply reflected the ebb and flow of the population. "We certainly don't believe that it's inevitable that the roll's going to stay down".

"It's a very good school; it's a very good-resourced school and the children that come through here have done well . All it is is a numbers game. There's no other reason to close it, other than the numbers."

Ministry of Education acting regional manager southern Kathryn Palmer said enrolments for next year could not be confirmed until the school opened for term one.

The ministry had been invited to discuss the "ongoing viability of the school and its options" with the board, she said.

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