Today is D day for Aranui schools to present their case for survival to the Education Minister. I, like them, will anxiously wait to learn if they will finally be listened to.
On Monday I visited four schools in Christchurch.
The Aranui schools were all looking at options that could work such as combining Aranui High with Aranui Primary and Wainoni Primary without forcing the closure of Chisnallwood Intermediate and Avondale Primary. They hope the Minister will really listen to local voices and support their parents’ concerns about supersizing.
In the course of the day it emerged that Lesley Longstone was getting a big pay out and also that Hekia Parata had been warned by her own Ministry that decisions on Christchurch schools were premature due to the absence of reliable demographic data.
Meanwhile back in Aranui, Phillipstown and at several intermediates Principals were sweating over submissions to the Minister that were trying to justify their existence.
The Aranui schools were looking at options that could work such as combining Aranui High with Aranui Primary and Wainoni Primary without forcing the closure of Chisnallwood Intermediate and Avondale Primary.
Today they’ll be hoping the Minister will finally listen to local voices and support their parents concerns about supersizing.
The impressions of each school were very different but there were common themes.
Schools and communities want to be part of good decision making based on robust data. They want evidence based decision making not generalised rhetoric about “modern learning environments”.
Everyone seemed genuinely open to change but not if that meant their school would be closed based on loose and incomplete information and assumptions. For example, Philipstown School has a primary roll of 159 and is being treated as a small school, but 1100 students use their technology block from all over East Christchurch.
Phillipstown has assessment data showing Maori and Pasifika students are well above the expectations of National Standards in literacy and numeracy. The school is incredibly well networked in terms of social agency support, grandmothers volunteering, breakfast club and after school services and a Community Centre on site.
This takes years of work to develop and so, when the Principal was told they were likely to close, he shed some tears in front of the school. He was told off for this by the Ministry. But this man is not a robot. His school has great support because he cares very deeply about his community.
He has the total support of his Board of Trustees and they are not ready to be merged into a school some distance away. One parent has already told him they simply can’t afford the bus fares.
Behind the emotion is the call for logical explanations. If schools have great ERO reports, stable rolls, and are recovering from only minor damage, then of course they’re not eager to close. They want a fair go. They also want to make sure that the whole process is driven by what is best for their pupils. Not what’s convenient for the Government.
As one principal put it: If the Minister was so convinced that moving these children was a good idea, she should have made sure these supposedly beautiful new facilities they’ll be getting were built first. No one wants kids on new sites in prefabs and relocatables at the end of this year.
Everyone I spoke with was willing to compromise but they want change based on local knowledge, not desktop social engineering and supersizing without evidence it will help students thrive.