A small-town school has four empty classroom and has lost 80 students in four years following local job losses.

Westport North School's roll has dropped 30 per cent.

Principal Cath O'Loughlin said it was "heartbreaking". The school has 185 students, just one down on last year, but has lost 80 students in four years following Solid Energy cutbacks.

In the past two years the school had reduced staff numbers by four, Mrs O'Loughlin said.

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Despite the setbacks, she said she and the school staff remained positive.

Other Westport school rolls remain steady this year. Buller High School (BHS) has 333 students - four fewer than last year.

South School has six more taking its roll to 309 and St Canice's is up 11 to 143.

Reefton Area School's roll is down 30 students to 170. Granity has 38 students - down four - and Karamea Area School has 88, up one. Bilingual unit North School started a bilingual unit last year.

The unit, Eke Panuku, opened with 16 students - it now has 12.

This year the bilingual students had to join the mainstream classes while the teacher, Lara Hall studied in Christchurch.

Ms Hall had realised that as the children developed, their needs in Te Reo increased, Mrs O'Loughlin said.

"She realised she didn't have the level of language and expertise needed."

The school had advertised a teaching position in the bilingual unit but had not attracted anyone.

"Lara very bravely made an effort to keep the unit going. She has made a huge sacrifice."

The school will reopen the unit next year. Until then the school was keeping the Eke Panuku "whanau together" by engaging in activities which supported the unit's culture.

Mrs O'Loughlin said North School thrived on its nearness to BHS. It meant North School children could enjoy things like the breakfast club BHS offered.

North took advantage of having a relationship with the high school, enabling good transitions between schools, she said.

This was a big focus of the new Communities of Learning (CoL) initiative which five schools in Buller had recently joined. Mrs O'Loughlin looked forward to getting involved in the CoL.

"The CoL is a fantastic opportunity for all schools to be working for all the children of our community."

The CoL would mean all schools would work collaboratively towards shared goals. The Eke Panuku children were at the Maori carving shed today

- Westport News