The future of education in Marlborough is hanging in the balance, and soon the community will have its say about a $63 million development which will transform the town’s historic schooling arrangement.
Blenheim’s two single-sex high schools will co-locate onto a single site in 2021, and principals and staff have been investigating the different teaching and classroom options available for more than a year.
Details on the consultation process are expected in the second week of May, but parents, students, businesses and the wider community will be asked to take part.
Marlborough Girls’ College board of trustees chairman Bernie Rowe said the school was excited to hear the community’s aspirations.
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The schools would be seeking feedback on what facilities should be shared, and what focuses the schools should have.
He had visited schools which placed a huge importance on culture and music, but he predicted in Marlborough the community would also want to see strong sporting facilities, and links to trade.
“[The consultation] will be survey-based, initially,” Rowe said. “I’m sure we’ll have some public meetings in there too.”
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The responses would help the schools develop their “co-location brief”, a vision of the development which would be presented to the Ministry of Education.
Rowe said Marlborough would have to think in the long-term, as the schools were expected to last for the next 50 years.
The region had a “pretty poor record” when it came to getting high school leavers into local tertiary institutions, which he thought should be discussed.
Marlborough Boys’ College assistant principal James Ryan said the colleges were still trying to find funding to set up a School of Wine, teaching achievement standards in subjects such as English, chemistry and maths which would be contextualised to make them relevant to the wine industry.
Having the School of Wine located on the new campus was still up for discussion, Ryan said.
Marlborough Boys’ College was already experimenting with different learning environments in preparation for the new schools, but teacher Dan Searle hoped people might use the consultation process as a last-ditch opportunity to object to the development.
Searle, an outspoken critic of the new schools, said he had spoken to people who did not want to see Marlborough Boys’ go, but they were not vocal enough.
“I said to someone the other week, ‘it’s all very well telling me you’re against it, but you are not telling the rest of the community’,” he said.
“They are not making a big enough noise.”
Marlborough Boys’ College began trialling a new learning space, dubbed a “modern learning environment” for its science classes, enabling two lessons to be taught in the same space in term one.
Searle said he was still opposed to classes sharing one room, and said there were some schools in New Zealand and Australia who tried modern learning environments and then put walls back up.
However, head of science Eliot Attridge said the new trial classroom space, with collapsible sound-proof glass doors, was “working out fantastically” for science teachers and students.
“[Teachers have] been able to do quite a lot of enrichment activities with the students.”
The science room comprised two labs and a third, smaller study room in the middle, and the doors could be opened and closed to form separate rooms, so noise was not an issue.
“I think we are the only school in New Zealand using [those materials].”
The school’s next experiment would be more ambitious – a space where social sciences, maths and English could be taught at once.
Marlborough Boys’ College deputy head boy Anaru Anderson, 17, said he thought the college had “done its time”, and it was time to move forward into the future.
Marlborough Girls’ student Morgan Gurr, 17, said she thought it was more important younger children had a say than older students.
“They are the ones who are going to be there, using the facilities.”
Staff members from the colleges had been travelling around New Zealand investigating how other modern schools and co-located schools operated, and that was expected to continue next term.
Education Minister Hekia Parata announced in late 2015 the schools would become co-located, spurring speculation as to where the site would be.
Despite the ministry expressing an interest in a 24-hectare vineyard on Alabama Rd belonging to the Montford Corporation, the site was still to be finalised.
Montford Corporation director Haysley MacDonald said he was still waiting to hear back from the ministry.