Otepopo School closes after 146 years

Otepopo School at Herbert closed yesterday after a direction by Minister of Education Anne Tolley. Its four pupils, parents and staff spent the day in activities to mark the end of 146 years educating the community. Photo by David Bruce.
Otepopo School at Herbert closed yesterday after a direction by Minister of Education Anne Tolley. Its four pupils, parents and staff spent the day in activities to mark the end of 146 years educating the community. Photo by David Bruce.
The Herbert community is grieving the closure of Otepopo School, its remaining four pupils now having to go to other schools as far away as Hampden and Maheno.

Parents and staff yesterday requested privacy to mourn the loss of the school - which was the Goodman Fielder School of the Year in 2003 - particularly for some of its pupils who were very upset.

Yesterday about a dozen pupils, siblings, parents and staff had a "last day of togetherness" away from the school before returning about 3pm to close it for the last time.

Some, who did not want to be named, are still angry about how the closure transpired - dating from an Education Review Office (ERO) report in September 2008, leading to the sacking of the board in March last year, replacement by commissioner Mike Allison, a review of its future in April and the final decision by Minister of Education Anne Tolley in June to close the school from the end of term 3.

They are also upset at the way some aspects had been sensationalised.

At its peak this year, it had built its roll to 22 pupils - it finished yesterday with four.

When Mrs Tolley announced the school was to close, many parents started their children at a new school in term 3, most electing to go to Hampden.

The eventual closure was started by a proposal to investigate amalgamation that had not been discussed or approved by Otepopo's board of trustees.

That led to an ERO report which concluded deteriorating relationships within the board and with a group in the community had distracted the board from its core role of improving outcomes for pupils.

Instances were reported where the boundaries between management and governance had not been well understood or followed.

Issues related to ethical behaviour, conflicts of interest and collective responsibility had also had a negative impact.

"It is vital these issues are addressed quickly and effectively so that educational outcomes for students are not compromised," the ERO report said.

After the appointment of the commissioner, the Ministry of Education was asked by Mrs Tolley to consult the Hampden, Maheno and Weston Schools on the possibility of retaining Otepopo as a "second campus" of one of the schools.

However, no agreement was reached and Mrs Tolley said it was clear closure was the best option

- david.bruce@odt.co.nz