Wanganui Park Secondary College, Mooroopna Secondary College, and McGuire College will close in 2021 and Shepparton High School will close at the end of this year. The new school will be built on the site of Shepparton High, which will be demolished.
The Andrews government claims it must close the four schools to turn around poor academic outcomes that have not improved for decades.
Education Minister James Merlino said 60 per cent of year 9 students at three of the community’s four schools are in the bottom quartile of academic performance.
“It’s difficult to talk about this because our teachers do their absolute best,” Mr Merlino said.
“This has not been happening for one or two years, it hasn’t been happening for 10 years, this has been happening for decades. We simply cannot ignore what is happening in Shepparton and Mooroopna.”
Mr Merlino said that a large school would be able to offer every student a full range of opportunities and experiences.
Robyn Boschetti is a mother of three school-aged children, who founded a campaign to stop the project.
A petition she launched against the super school plan was tabled in State Parliament this month and has so far gathered more than 2500 signatures.
Ms Boschetti said a generation of students would be disrupted by the two-year transition, in which students will be sent to different schools depending on their year level.
She said it was unacceptable to put 3000 schoolchildren on a school site that was built for about 1000.
Shadow education minister Cindy McLeish said Shepparton families would be denied choice.
“In a town the size of Shepparton, if you have only got one school and it doesn’t fit your child you’ve got nowhere to go,” Ms McLeish said.
Ms McLeish also called on the government to commit full funding to the project as soon as possible.
The school is estimated to cost $120 million, but the Andrews government has committed just $21.5 million so far.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said the $21.5 million would support the design and site works for the school.
Artist’s impressions of the school were released by the Victorian School Building Authority on Wednesday.
The multi-storey school in central Shepparton will be divided into three “neighbourhoods” of about 1000 students each, each of which will have three houses.
Students will remain in their houses until their senior years, in what the government said would mimic the experience of a smaller school.
Dr Emma Rowe, a senior lecturer in education at Deakin University, said governments had long favoured mergers as a means to address schools with poor academic results.
Larger schools were often better resourced than small schools, but mergers also created anxiety among parents.
“These communities are more vulnerable and they do get these sorts of policies imposed on them from the top,” Dr Rowe said. “A lot of parents don’t want these schools; if we are being responsible about engaging the community we should listen to them.”
Phil Squire, principal of Shepparton High between 2008 and mid-2018, has been instrumental in developing the super school concept.
He said the idea of combining resources at the four schools had been bubbling around for several years.
Mr Squire said it made no sense for four state schools to compete for enrolments given they were also competing against better-funded private schools.
“I understand change is difficult for people but I’m really confident in the long run this is going to be the best thing to happen around Shepp for a long, long time,” he said.
Adam Carey is Education Editor. He joined The Age in 2007 and has previously covered state politics, transport, general news, the arts and food.