Thursday, June 29, 2017

New committee to help save school

A community liaison committee has been established in Brannockstown aimed at helping the village's school and its management to save it from potential closure, writes Brian Byrne. And the committe's first job is to spread the message that the school is not closing down.

This was the result of a public meeting last night which heard forthright views from parents of children still at the school, parents of former pupils, and older members of the community whose families had been involved with Brannoxtown NS in the past.

The meeting was also attended by Monsignor Dan O'Connor from the Diocesan Education Secretariat and its legal advisor Declan Lawlor, as well as Kilcullen parish administrator Fr Niall Mackey. Political representation came from Deputy Martin Heydon and Cllr Rob Power.

Chaired by Gerry O'Donoghue, the meeting was told that up to this week, only 19 pupils were confirmed for the academic year beginning in September, which is down from 86 four years ago. There was anecdotal suggestion that 'five or six' of those might not still be there when the school reopens.

Msgr O'Connor told those present that a school can remain open as long as there are eight pupils on the roll. It can maintain this status for two years, during which time the Department of Education would assess whether demographics and birth rate in the community might sustain it further.

A range of views on what had brought the school to this position were expressed from among those present. These included alleged communication difficulties between parents and the school management, and worries that reduced numbers would mean a lack of socialisation opportunities for remaining pupils — a particular issue for those in higher classes who would soon be moving on to second level.

Some parents who had themselves come through small school education noted that it had been a positive experience — sentiments echoed by Gerry O'Donoghue, himself a retired national school teacher and principal. But others said a school that might have just eight or 12 pupils just wouldn't work for what their children needed.

Others at the meeting recalled how the drift in numbers had been happening for several years. Suggestions to management that there should be 'exit interviews' with parents who were taking out their children had not, apparently, been acted on.

Deputy Heydon reluctantly likened the situation to a 'run on a bank', where parents were trying to protect their children's education by deciding to move from a shrinking school. "It's a dreadful situation," he said. "Things are at a critical point, and a liaison committee to me seems like a good idea, so we can face into the summer and fix this."

Cllr Power, who serves on the BOM of a school in Naas, said he was also prepared to help the proposed committee in any way.

A member of the audience noted that the school management would have to recognise and accept the liaison committee. A former member of the school's Parent Teacher Association noted that a number of the fundamental issues had been identified three years ago and communicated to management.

Former members of the Board of Management said they had felt 'hamstrung' by BOM and teachers' union rules when they made suggestions.

It was noted that the current Board of Management would no longer be able to function from the end of this week, because parent and community nominees would not have children at the school. A quorum would therefore not be achievable.

Gerry O'Donoghue told the meeting that the school Patron can appoint a single manager to a school, who could liaise with parents, principal, and any liaison committee.

"We're down to the wire now," he added. "But there's an awful lot of goodwill in the community for the school, a lot of good things happen there."

Nine people volunteered for the new liaison committee, and a resolution was unanimously passed by the meeting that the community 'very much supports the school, and wants to see it continue'.