July 25, 2008

Omata School Flush With Its Success

By PALMER, Harriet

TODAY Omata School is thriving with 147 students -- five years ago it was staring down the barrel of a gun.

The school was almost closed in 2003 as part of a Ministry of Education scheme which forced 15 Taranaki primary schools to shut their doors.

Having grown nearly 50% from 107 students, Omata now has an enrolment scheme, is struggling to find space for new students, and has two additional teachers.

Principal Karen Brisco said the school would have been merged with Oakura School, which had also introduced an enrolment scheme and was full up.

"We only just survived the review, " Ms Brisco said.

"The initial decision was to close us."

The school escaped closure after hard work by the community and the board of trustees who presented an illustrated 20-page booklet to the ministry outlining why "the best little school in the west" should stay.

Ms Brisco said it had been 18 months of hard work ensuring the school stayed alive and they had proved they were right.

"The school is in good heart, we have a really strong community and parental involvement," Ms Brisco said.

And she denied the review was what made them strong.

"I don't think the review has made us a success, the review held us back probably for a couple of years. The growth and the success of the school is not a result of the review."

Ms Brisco had been at Riverlea School, one of the schools which was closed, before moving to Omata and said she felt for the communities who had effectively lost their heart.

"The schools that survived are doing really, really well. The communities that lost their schools lost something really important, I feel for them," she said.

Omata board of trustees chairwoman Catherine Jones said the school had grown naturally because of the number of houses being built.

"Drive up Hurford Rd and you would be surprised at the number of houses, there are 60 or 70, there used to be just seven farms," she said.

Mrs Jones said the community had been surprised when told they were being reviewed as the school had been growing since the early 1990s.

"There were only 50 or so students in 1990 and 107 in 2003, we never thought we belonged in that review."

Mrs Jones said the community had been deeply affected by the possible closure but had pulled through and was as strong as ever.

"We were one of the lucky ones," she said.

* The emotional story of Pihama School, one of the unlucky 15 Taranaki schools shut in 2003, will feature in tomorrow's Taranaki Daily News.


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