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Trustees must make their voice heard in reviews

Trustees must make their voice heard in school reviews

New Zealand schools are going to see more and more empty classrooms, with 35,000 fewer students predicted by 2010 and 73,000 fewer by 2021.

And the New Zealand School Trustees Association says with dropping rolls being a reality, significant numbers of school communities may face changes in their schools, including potential closures or mergers.

Managing falling rolls and how to handle a review of a school’s future is one of the issues on the agenda at the association’s annual conference in Blenheim this weekend, and NZSTA executive member Raewyn Rooney is urging trustees to speak up when the future of their schools is questioned.

She says the school reviews held to date have been a learning process for the boards of trustees involved and NZSTA is taking the opportunity to share what they have learnt with other trustees. There are currently 80 schools around New Zealand under review.

“The first priority for boards of trustees is the education of our children, and what NZSTA is saying to trustees of schools coming under review is that if you believe you are providing a quality education and you have the resources to sustain that level of education into the future, then put the case for your school.”

However, the other important message for trustees was that if they find their school under review, then make sure they involve themselves, Raewyn Rooney says.

“It has been made very clear that if boards of trustees do not take part in the process, they risk losing the chance to influence the final decisions through the reference groups.”

For schools with a falling roll, the first issue was to look at why. If it was due to reasons of poor education performance, then the board may need to look at better planning or more community involvement.

If however, the decline was a result of demographical changes, then the first question a board needed to ask was whether the school was still providing a good education.

“School communities don’t need to wait for a review to happen. They can start the planning themselves and look at alternative solutions to their roll decline.”

Raewyn Rooney says the experience of other schools which have already been reviewed is that there is a lot of information boards of trustees can ask for, such as:

- School transportation – can a school have another bus route and how long will there be guaranteed funding for it;
- What is the difference between closures and mergers and what will each mean for the school community;
- What is the financial impact of each option;
- What is the impact of staff; and
- Are there other schools that have been through the same process that the board can talk to;
- If the school is closing, can the community retain use of the swimming pool or hall?

“Once a review is underway, it becomes a very emotional time for a school community and the more information a board has, the better input to the process it can have.”

With significant numbers of school reviews on the horizons, NZSTA wants boards of trustees to be as fully informed as possible. However, Raewyn Rooney says it is important trustees ask their association for help as they can’t provide support unless invited.

[ends]

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