Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Families shattered by Christchurch school closures

Parents Alicia Krueger (L) and Jackie Kissel react after being told by Phillipstown principal Tony Simpson their the school will be merged. Photo / Martin Hunter
Parents Alicia Krueger (L) and Jackie Kissel react after being told by Phillipstown principal Tony Simpson their the school will be merged. Photo / Martin Hunter

Andrew Smith hoisted daughter Serenity into air after the school bell today, a mural of her young, smiling face painted on a playground wall behind her.

It's the same Phillipstown School playground in Christchurch that Mr Smith once enjoyed in the 1970s - along with most of his extended whanau.

Three of his children have kept the family tradition alive, including Down's Syndrome daughter Terina, who's doted on as a "celebrity'' by her peers.

"I suppose the mural will be knocked down along with everything else,'' said Mr Smith, 50, just moments after learning the Ministry of Education was closing his beloved primary school as part of the $1 billion city schools shake-up.

The decile one school with a roll of 165 pupils will merge with nearby Woolston Primary, across the busy commuters' arterial Ferry Rd, to create a 465-child super-school as early as next January.

A total of seven schools will close and six will merge from next year, Education Minister Hekia Parata confirmed today.

Branston Intermediate, Glenmoor, Greenpark, Kendal, Linwood Intermediate, Manning Intermediate and Richmond will all close, affecting around 670 children.

The six to merge into three new schools are Burwood into Windsor School, Phillipstown with Woolston School, and Lyttelton West into a new school on the Lyttelton Main site.

"The face and make-up of greater Christchurch has, and will continue to change dramatically due to the earthquakes, and the education sector must respond to those changes,'' Ms Parata said.

Phillipstown principal Tony Simpson held back the tears today as he told gathered tearful parents of the Ministry's much-awaited final decision.

"It's a sad day for Phillipstown ... [with] the potential to destroy the community,'' he said.

Mr Smith, and his wife Yvonne, agonised over the decision whether to send Terina, who has significant special needs, to school.

But they were impressed with the family nature of Phillipstown, and trusted its teachers and staff, near the earthquake-damaged AMI sports stadium, to do the best for her.

Over the last three years, Terina has flourished with the one-to-one attention, and even losing her fear of crowds thanks to the closeness of the other children.

"It's unlikely we'll send her to Woolston,'' Mrs Smith said.

"It took us a long time to get her settled in here, but she's come a long way. That's the nature of this school, and we're worried that all that work will be undone by a totally new environment.''

The school is the heart of the community - no more so than when the devastating earthquakes struck in 2010 and 2011, many families told APNZ yesterday.

The Ministry of Education, however, says there's an over-supply of small-roll schools in the area.

But the Smiths, like a lot of Phillipstown parents, see it as a decision driven purely by financial motives.

Education Minister Hekia Parata has been "heartless'', Mr Smith said. "She doesn't care about the people. Only the pennies.''

Mr Simpson said the school will continue to fight the closure, and couldn't rule out the possibility of a judicial review.

"I wouldn't like to do it at all, but this Board of Trustees has this decision in front of them. It's one of several options,'' he said.

"There's so much that will be lost if this place closes down. It's worth the fight,'' Mrs Smith said, as she rounded up her three kids, and walked round the corner and home.

- APNZ

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