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School so popular it must turn pupils away

Aug 24th, 2011 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

A WELLINGTON primary school known for its culture of inclusion has grown too big, and will have to start turning students away.

Even though Otari School in Wilton has added two new classrooms, it must introduce zoning in December to meet Ministry of Education restrictions on size.

Pupils who already attend the school will be unaffected, but students who live outside an unconfirmed local zone will have to be balloted if they want to attend.

The school will automatically take students from within the zone and then prioritise immersion applicants and students who have siblings or parents involved in the school.

Principal Clifford Wicks (above) says he has mixed feelings about the zoning, which is likely to cover the Wilton suburb and may overlap into Wadestown or Northland.

“In a way it will preserve the culture. That small school flavour will be retained and we like that.”

He says he does not like having to turn students away, but the zoning will provide a useful tool to manage burgeoning enrolments.

“We want to keep the culture and we want to keep having [only] eight classes.”

Numbers have risen from 150 to 220 since 2006, says Mr Wicks.

The school also has Montessori classes, which are taught separately, and the school’s website says these emphasise the child’s freedom to learn.

These will not be exempt from the zone and will have to be balloted with the general classes.

There are only four Montessori primary schools in the Wellington area, with the next closest being in Carterton or New Plymouth, says Ana Pickering of Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand.

Out of zone parent Jennifer Davidson says her daughter transferred from Otari’s Montessori classes to another school, but returned her to Otari’s general classes because of the school’s attitude.

“Word has travelled that it’s a small school with real character and a kind principal and teachers.”

She also says Otari has built a reputation for inclusion, and welcomes more students with behaviour or learning difficulties than other schools.

Her daughter Ayla (10) told Mum the zoning is not a good idea, because the school is so welcoming.

Otari School’s two immersion classes, taught entirely in te reo Maori, get special programme status from the ministry and will be exempt from the zoning system.

But Mr Wicks says immersion student numbers will be limited, and possibly have stricter selection criteria.

There is no waiting list for the immersion classes.

School board chair Jason Lubransky says the zoning is necessary for the school after its recent growth.

He lives outside the zone, but supports the ministry’s decision, despite his daughter not being guaranteed a place.

“I’m glad we don’t have to get her in this year [for 2012], but I think that with a year of zoning, it will take much of the pressure off.”

He says the zoning will provide stability for student numbers in the future.

The board also wants to ensure that students who are outside the zone still have a significant chance of getting in, he says.

“We’re hoping to have a reasonably small zone so that it won’t be filled with just students from the zone.”

This might allow families who live further away to get into the school, but there won’t be any priority for families hoping to get into the Montessori classes.

Mr Lubranski says the board’s biggest worry is access to the Montessori strand.

“It’s too early to say whether our worries are justified,” he says.

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  1. This is an excellent, interesting well researched story. Congratulations

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