Church plans new school

Posted: Friday, February 23, 2001

A new Christian private school will be opening soon in the central peninsula.

Grace Lutheran Church on Ciechanski Road will open Grace Lutheran School in September. The new school will serve children in kindergarten through grade eight.

"We feel a Lutheran school is a unique Christian school," said Tom Schmidt, the pastor.

The church, which has been active in the area for about 20 years, belongs to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. It is a conservative, Bible-teaching church, according to the school handbook.

Although the central peninsula already has four Christian schools, three within a few miles of Grace Lutheran, several traits will set the new school apart, Schmidt said.

One is opening the school to students from outside the church. Although families belonging to Grace Lutheran will have priority, other Christian families, especially those without a church home, are encouraged to get involved, he said.

Another is the background and resources of the teachers. The Wisconsin synod has a long tradition of Christian education, dating back 150 years and now encompassing about 650 schools. Its literature describes it as "the fourth largest private educator in the country."

The synod operates its own accredited, four-year teachers' college in Minnesota and certifies its teachers as submitting to church doctrines, such as the infallibility of the Bible. The synod's district president will give the Kenai Peninsula church a list of qualified, available teachers.

"We don't hire teachers. We call them," Schmidt explained.

"These teachers are trained to know the difference between truth and error based on the Bible."

But unlike some Christian schools in the area, the new school will use some secular texts. If something in a book differs from the church's position, the teachers will discuss the discrepancies with students.

The goal, according to the handbook, is to help students learn to discern biblical truths from worldly philosophies and theories.

"We try to teach discernment," said Marian Werth, a teacher on the school committee.

For example, in science class the school would favor creationism, but discuss evolution as a theory.

"We would mention it and point out the error," she said.

In addition to basic academic subjects, the school will teach physical education (including sports), art, music and computers and will introduce a foreign language. Each school day will include a devotion, sacred music and Bible study, using the Christ-Light Lutheran religion curriculum.

The church is finishing a large addition to its 12-year-old building a block off Kalifornsky Beach Road. The new space will provide a multipurpose sanctuary. The old sanctuary area will be converted into two classrooms.

The congregation began planning for a school in 1997, shortly after Schmidt became pastor.

The members were planning an expansion of the building. In the course of discussing an addition, one member brought up the idea of adding a school.

"We didn't do too much with it, because everyone thought it was a crazy, impossible idea," Schmidt recalled.

But only three months later, he was at an out-of-town meeting where synod leaders announced that generous donations to the denomination made it possible for individual churches to obtain grant funding to launch new missions. Grace Lutheran Church formed a school committee, decided to launch the school when its new space was complete and obtained a $30,000 grant to pay for texts, equipment and remodeling, he said.

"It is heartening to have that kind of back-up as we start this," he said.

Money concerns always take a back seat to spiritual goals, he stressed, but the grant allows the organizers to focus on getting the school ready rather than on paying bills for it.

Parents will pay tuition, now set at $2,700 annually for grades one through eight, and $1,870 for kindergarten. Discounts are available for multiple children and early payment. The church also has established a tuition assistance fund.

"If the Lord opens the door and gives us a push, He is going to give us the money. This congregation has been so generous," Schmidt said.

The synod has supported the church throughout the process. Specialists in starting schools visited several times to offer guidance.

"They helped us study the feasibility, the community and the congregation's attitude. And they always left us with homework to do," Werth said.

This winter, the church began signing up students. It gave members of the congregation the first opportunity and signed up 15 children.

Those children are of all ages and come from public, private, charter and home schools, Werth said.

Now the school has opened enrollment to the general public. About 30 families outside the church have called to inquire, Schmidt said.

The organizers plan to close preliminary enrollment March 15, to allow time to line up teachers and supplies. Parents may enroll children later, but later children may end up on a waiting list.

"We are going to have to cap it at about 35," Schmidt said.

"And then we'll see how the Lord blesses us, and if we have to build again for the second year."

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