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Class dismissed for last time at tiny school

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 20/12/2012
Jacobs River School
DEAN KOZANIC/Fairfax NZ

CLOSED: One of the country's smallest schools, Jacobs River on the West Coast, has shut its doors for the last time.

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The school gate has rattled for the last time at New Zealand's most remote mainland school.

Jacobs River School, one of the country's smallest, has been forced to close by Education Minister Hekia Parata, hitting the tight-knit West Coast community that fought hard to save it.

The school will officially shut on January 27, a day before the start of next year's school term, and will be sold within two years.

On Tuesday, its four pupils packed their schoolbags for the last time and headed home.

That night, many tears were shed at their Christmas concert, where they entertained residents and former pupils who were mourning the school's demise.

School board chairwoman Nicky Harris wept as she gave her farewell speech and was unable to finish it.

"I'm absolutely gutted that the school will be sold and someone else will own it," she said yesterday.

"It probably won't sink in until next year when other schools reopen for the new term."

She moved back to Jacobs River in South Westland about five years ago so her children could go to the school, becoming the fifth generation of her family to attend.

Two of the four pupils, including Harris' 12-year-old son, are leaving the school to attend high schools.

She was unsure where her 11-year-old daughter would finish her primary schooling.

Terry Head moved from Te Kuiti with his two grandsons, who he has custody of, in June last year. They moved to flee the gang influences of the North Island township.

The elder, 6, had thrived at the school and he had wanted the younger to start next April when he turned 5 but was unsure whether he would stay in the area.

Parata wrote to the school board last week about her decision to close the school, saying it had had 10 learners or more in only six of the past 20 years.

"I am aware that it is not an easy matter for the board and community to be involved in the closure of its school and acknowledge transportation to schools in remote communities can pose difficulties," she wrote.

Harris said she would have to drive 120 kilometres a day to take her daughter to the nearest school.

Another school board member, Brenda Monk, said the board planned to lobby MPs and Parata to try to reverse her decision.

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