Schools hope Parata pays heed

TINA LAW
Last updated 05:00 12/11/2012

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Principals, boards and parents across Christchurch are hoping they have done enough to convince Education Minister Hekia Parata to keep their schools open.

Parata left the city on Saturday after spending almost two weeks visiting 35 of the 39 schools the Government is proposing to close or merge.

Her willingness to front up to schools gained her a lot of kudos, with many principals saying they were grateful she gave them the time.

But she also had many detractors who were upset the meetings went for only one hour and were often held on a week day, hindering many parents' ability to attend.

Parents coming out of the meetings also complained Parata did not answer their questions and instead repeated information already on the Education Ministry's website.

Every school was given an hour with the minister and it was up to each one to decide how to spend that time.

Parata visited as many as five schools a day, so many felt the pressure to do whatever they could to be memorable.

Some schools welcomed Parata's entourage with a powhiri involving all the pupils, who were usually ushered away before the meeting started.

Others gave her a tour of their facilities and at one she was met by pupils, wearing "Save Our School" T-shirts.

At one school a pupil presented her with a bunch of flowers, like a peace offering.

Many parents had tears in their eyes when telling Parata why they believed she should keep the school open.

Parata went to great lengths to tell people "the proposals, are just that, proposals" and at Ouruhia Model School last week she said she would be reading all of the submissions from the schools.

The last school to meet with Parata was Linwood Avenue School on Saturday. Principal Gerard Direen said it was hard to know how much the meeting would influence the fate of the school.

"When our submission comes across her desk she'll have a memory of Linwood Avenue School and that's the best we could hope for."

Parata yesterday said it was "an absolute honour" to meet schools on their terms, on their grounds and to listen.

"The meetings were respectful, thoughtful, informative and focused on wanting the best for their children and for the identity of their community."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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