One-plus-one equals not enough
By RENEE REDMOND
NUMULGI Public School student Annamekah Grace has no trouble getting her teacher Genevieve Slocombe's attention ? she's the only pupil.
But Mekah's enrolment might not be enough to save her school, which the Department of Education and Training say could be closed unless numbers improve for 2006.
The seven-year-old student, from South Lismore, said while she loved her teacher, newly-appointed Genevieve Slocombe, she missed having more kids around.
Last Thursday the department met with about 32 community members and said 12 enrolments were needed for 2006.
About 32 people attended and at least eight local families were keen to enrol in the school next year.
Mekah's father, Des Grace, said when she started in 2003 the school had 12 students and future enrolments appeared to be strong.
The school, north of Lismore, has six computers, acres of playground and a vegetable garden.
Mr Grace believes student numbers began declining because of a rapid turnover in principals.
"Mekah has had five temporary teachers in two years," he said.
But Mr Grace was confident the new principal was here to stay.
"We've already seen a huge improvement in Mekah in the past three months, she's jumped a whole year level in her reading ability," he said.
The school employed Ms Slocombe from the Wagga District to give the school a fresh start.
"It's vital for the community to keep the school going. Children in small schools receive one-on-one attention," she said.
"Every week we invite students from Corndale and Whian Whian Public School to come and play our Marimbas instrument for a music lesson and Mekah goes to Corndale for sport," she said.
Department spokesperson Sven Wright said even if there were no enrolments next year the school could be 'mollycoddled' for a further 12 months.
"It can still be maintained for another year to see if the situation improves," he said.
Mr Wright said there was no fixed minimum student number for small schools to stay open.
"We need to look at transport, proximity to other schools, road conditions and even the possibility of a subdivision in the area which would bring more children to the school," he said.
"We're not drawing a sharp line in the sand just yet.
"Just because a school is small it doesn't mean it can't stay open."
Mr Wright said to his knowledge there were no other schools on the North Coast at risk of closing.
"Our teachers are trained to cater for the needs of each student, so there's no educational disadvantage for smaller schools," he said.
Mekah's mother, Katie Swainson, said they wanted Mekah to go to a small school so she could get a better education.
"I didn't want Mekah to get lost in the system," she said.