Parents, students ‘blindsided’ as private school announces snap closure

A community north of Melbourne is in shock after being told their school has been placed into administration and will close its doors on Friday, leaving hundreds of students with just two days’ notice to find a new school.

Colmont School, which only a month ago was known as Kilmore International School, notified parents on Wednesday. Students from years 3 to 10 will finish school on Friday and at least some staff the following Tuesday. The board and principal have reportedly stepped down.

Colmont School in Kilmore, which has announced it will close this week.Credit:Adam Carey

The non-government school – which is a boarding and day school and one of the only regional Victorian campuses to offer an International Baccalaureate program – is described as having a “family atmosphere where girls and boys from Melbourne, country Victoria and from around the world become part of a close-knit learning community”. It has roughly 350 students.

Shocked parents met with the college principal on Thursday morning.

Rachel Bowcott, a parent who is also the principal’s assistant, said families were almost in disbelief.

“It’s a great school, it’s a wonderful community. The children, they’re absolutely devastated,” she said.

The school’s international baccalaureate program is a major drawcard for parents, both locally and internationally. The school has boarders from countries including China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Myanmar.

Bowcott said some families had moved to the area specifically to be near the school.

“There’s nowhere else for these children to go at the moment and that’s the heartbreaking thing as a parent, you make a decision about the type of education you want for your child,” she said.

In an email sent to parents, administrators said the school would continue to run on a “usual basis” for Year 11 and 12 students, while they liaise with the International Baccalaureate Organisation to transition them to alternative schools. But from Friday, students in Year 3 to Year 10 will need to find another school.

The email said parents could liaise with teachers and support staff until 5pm on Tuesday to get their child’s schooling record, but beyond that, Year 3 and Year 10 teachers would no longer have jobs.

Kilmore has a large Catholic secondary school, Assumption College, but no state secondary school. Students who attend government secondary schools travel either to nearby Wallan or Broadford.

Parent Cheryl Abela has a daughter in year 10, who has attended the school since grade 3.

She doesn’t know where her daughter will go to school next week, but said she would almost certainly have to withdraw from the international baccalaureate program and take up VCE.

“I just spoke to my daughter and she said her year level, we’re all just sitting here crying. Some teachers are just finding out this morning and it’s that much of a shock,” Abela said.

“I actually feel blindsided. I don’t understand why, if it was so dire, there wasn’t more transparency. The kids feel blindsided and it’s challenging to grapple with the idea of what we do now.”

Steve Waterson has a daughter at the school and said the communication had been chaotic. A hasty meeting with administrators was called last night, but many parents, including himself, were not informed.

“I found out through other parents last night, probably at about 8-8.30pm,” he said. “So now we’ve got to find a location for my daughter [to go to school]. Horrified.”

“The only thing I can do is try and get my daughter into Assumption College, which I’ve already been through this morning. My son goes there so I’m hoping that helps.”

Assumption had put a sign out the front of the school welcoming Colmont parents in for a coffee, Waterson said.

He said he doubted if parents would receive any refund on their annual fees.

International education agent Sonny Zhang said he thought “COVID definitely had an impact on this school”.

He has placed international students from China at the school and said before COVID he thought there were about 60 to 70 international students who paid “pretty high” tuition fees to attend.

“I don’t think they have too many international students to be honest at the moment, maybe just a couple.”

The school leases its grounds and even paid a fee for its former name. It is understood it changed its name to Colmont last month to save money.

Independent Schools Victoria chief executive Michelle Green said the school’s efforts to secure short-term financial support had been unsuccessful.

“Our immediate priority is to do anything we can to ensure any disruption to students’ education is minimised,” she said.

“We will work with the school regulator, the Department of Education and Training, and other schools to find alternatives for any affected students.”

Mitchell Shire Mayor Bill Chisholm said with about 100 teachers and 400 students, the closure would have an impact on the shire’s economy.

“For a lot of people, this is a real disaster.”

More to come

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