Task force to explore ‘creative solutions’ for Lutheran education

Students at First Immanuel Lutheran School in Cedarburg, Wis., walk back to their classroom after activities on the school’s playground one day last fall. (LCMS/Erik M. Lunsford)

Leaders committed to the future of Lutheran education convened in St. Louis Feb. 16-17 for a meeting of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Lutheran Schools.

The task force — created by the 2013 Synod convention and directed to continue its work by the 2016 convention — was established “to assist our congregations to embrace Lutheran schools as a critical ministry in congregational life and to support our schools as they serve in the 21st century” (2013 Res. 3-04).

Since 2005, “LCMS congregations have closed 458 schools” and “enrollment has dropped by 99,113 students” (2016 Res. 8-03A).

In 2016, the Synod in convention directed the task force to grapple with this decline and to look for “creative solutions” to meet the challenges schools and workers are facing.

“There is no doubt that alongside the heartbreak of school closures we also find a growing number of thriving models for Lutheran education,” said Terry Schmidt, director of LCMS School Ministry. “Most exciting is that given all of the changes to the U.S. educational ecosystem, we believe we are living in one of the most opportune times to grow Lutheran education in America.”

Over the next year, the task force will cast a wide net for ideas and insights, according to Schmidt. Members will seek input via formal and informal research, gather creative and collaborative options, set the stage for pilot projects, address the economic needs of rostered and non-rostered workers and the impact of those needs on congregations, and identify reasons for the decline in schools as well as opportunities for growth.

The task force’s findings and recommendations will be reported at the 2019 convention and distributed Synodwide.

“We trust that the Lord has already blessed us with everything we need to carry Lutheran education forward faithfully,” said the Rev. Bart Day, executive director of the LCMS Office of National Mission. “An important part of our work is to seek out success stories and bring as many voices into the process as possible.”

The task force started its work in May 2016 and is quickly gathering momentum, according to Chairman Jeffrey Beavers, executive director of Crean Lutheran High School in Irvine, Calif.

“It’s clear that task force members have a passion for the work and firmly believe the future of Lutheran education is a bright one,” he continued. “Our challenges are real, but they are inspiring innovation, not inertia.”

To add your voice to the conversation or to share a success story related to Lutheran education, email school.ministry@lcms.org.

Posted March 7, 2017

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10 Responses to Task force to explore ‘creative solutions’ for Lutheran education

  1. Karen March 7, 2017 at 11:34 am #

    I am really surprised to hear that so many LCMS schools closed! Here in the north Texas suburb of Frisco there is such a demand for preschool and school options. Many LCMS parents in our congregation end up going to other church schools sponsored by non-denomination or Methodist congregations. This seems like such a shame and I do hope that the LCMS puts more focus on sponsoring schools. Also, our LCMS church sold some of its land to a private Montessori style school. I had hoped our church would have kept the land and built the school itself.

  2. Megan March 7, 2017 at 4:49 pm #

    We really want to start a school in our small town, but don’t know how to get started.

  3. Terry Schmidt March 8, 2017 at 1:52 pm #

    Megan,

    Feel free to contact me directly to discuss starting a Lutheran school that is associated with an LCMS congregation. 888 843 5267

    Terry Schmidt
    LCMS Director of Schools

  4. Paul March 11, 2017 at 1:39 pm #

    It seems to me with population declines and growing cultural hostility it makes sense to try and work outside or alongside the system, avoid code requirements, limit overhead, share resources, and generally move away from the large brick and mortar idea of “school” that has become the norm in American society. Many congregations have underutilized facilities. Viewing such buildings as blessings with great potential rather than as burdens to bear might offer new perspectives on what is possible. Such buildings serving as a hub for a homeschool co-op or one room school house for several families or congregations makes great sense, especially for establishing new schools.

    I’ve often thought if you could combine the Classical Conversations model of campuses with tutors and the Teach for America model of recruiting and training young adults for two year service periods it would be possible to staff dozens of such ‘non-traditional’ schools in existing, and currently unused or outdated buildings owned by parishes, while also immersing both teachers and students in a classical Christian environment. Possibly throw in housing for your tutors in unused parsonages, and you could have a comprehensive and scalable model that could also be tailored to local conditions. Certainly a small group of creative and committed families can pool resources to provide an excellent, Christ-centered education for their children.

  5. Joe M. March 13, 2017 at 9:26 pm #

    This may be a good time to grow Lutheran schools across the nation. New Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is a huge proponent of homeschooling, charter schools, school vouchers, and school choice. Many Republican governors also have the same position as it relates to education. If people are pulling their children out of public school to home school, there is an opportunity to reach out and minister to them. The same thing goes for those who choose to go the route of charter schools. A great ministry in the inner city is with school vouchers, where individuals can use the money allotted by the state, to send their student to a parochial school of their choice.
    My small community (pop. 8,000), and church went out on a limb a few years back by purchasing the old skating rink in town and converting it to a school. What started out as a K-4 school 2 years ago is now K-6, and will be K-8 next year. My son loves this school. The vineyards are plentiful!

  6. Cassie March 15, 2017 at 2:09 pm #

    Our boys used to attend a private classical Christian school. It is amazing how much kids can learn with this method. We now homeschool b/c of several reasons 1) use of “law” was too heavy, 2) youngest is 2e which means he is advanced in many academics, but has difficultly sitting still, 3)and we learned that doctrine matters. In an effort to continue to teach what it means to be Lutheran we are enrolling our 12yo in 7th grade at Wittenberg Academy next year. And continue to keep our youngest at home.
    There is a demand for academic rigor in an environment where there is grace and a physical outlet. The challenge is how to combine these in a uniquely Lutheran environment.
    There is a place in MN called A Chance To Grow (ACTG) where they train teachers to incorporate cross body exercise to help kids focus.
    If we really want boys to be leaders/ pastors then our schools need to welcome and harness their exuberance. This is best done in small class sizes. Most important is supporting/training parents so they are fostering the same at home. Parents are to instruct their kids in the way to go, but many including myself were/are not trained that way themselves.
    I think an easy start is subsidizing Wittenberg Academy to offer classes in each county for 7-12 homeschoolers. Encourage local lcms church bodies to subsidize it further. Lutheran kids can fellowship in their learning. Bring in the talents of the church. This means if there are retired talented folks bring them in to teach their skill/hobby in service to others. Younger siblings should come to initiate catechism, music/art and occupational therapy/exercise, like that offered at ACTG. Anyway just thoughts from the road we’ve travelled. I am so happy to hear this is a priority!

  7. Curtis W April 21, 2017 at 10:20 am #

    The challenge in our area is competition from an explosion of free charter school alternatives and “alternative” parochial schools. Public school is plucking Pre-K kids with free Pre-K, and charters are plucking 6-8th graders with new STEM and health professions focused schools. These schools are decked out with technology, use slick marketing and get a lot media attention for their STEM focus. It is difficult for a church school serving a lower income area to compete financially, and differentiate itself in a meaningful way.

  8. Tim May 4, 2017 at 11:51 am #

    I definitely agree with the above statement in reference to the technology at other schools and the physical outlets to attract everyone of Gods children. From my own road traveled, my children are students of one of your affiliated schools and love their surroundings and growth in our religion, however being self-governed is a concern for this day and age when it comes to health issues. Many district guidelines abide by a wellness policy to keep the teachers and staff setting good healthy examples and not for example using candy or food incentives for rewards. And being mindful of a healthy food rule and restrictions. Many kids in the school often feel like outcasts when they can’t join in the reward system being offered. This is an issue in our beloved school. I know of 5 families with the same faith that would love to join our Lutheran school but won’t do it because of the non-reinforced policies on what their children will be exposed to going against their healthy beliefs and Childs restrictions. So they are attending surrounding Montessori schools that have strict enforcements on such things. Would love to see this change in the future and welcome all Gods children into a healthy classroom of equality.

  9. Natalie Sabol May 10, 2017 at 12:51 pm #

    My parents were both LCMS teachers, and I wanted to send my children to a Lutheran school. However, my husband’s first call as a pastor was in an area where the closest Lutheran school was 1 hour away. We did send them to a Lutheran pre-school at another church in the circuit, which was 25 minutes away.

    So we started homeschooling each of them in Kindergarten. Then my husband took a call and there were Lutheran schools closer (25 min), but my children had developed food and environmental allergies, and so we needed to continue homeschooling. In addition, the ages they are now, our 2 boys–12 years old and 10 years old–need to spend time with their father, and his day off is Friday; if they were in a traditional school, we would not have that family day.

    I believe in Lutheran education, it offers something that the children today really need. I wish more Lutheran schools would realize the benefits of a classical and Lutheran education, a rigorous acedemic education infused with the proper understanding of Law and Gospel, which will lead them to live an active live of faith in their various vocations. This is such a benefit for not only for their own members, but for those in the communities and neighborhoods in which the church serves.

    We do hope to send them to the local Lutheran High School for their 11th and 12th grade years, assuming we can work through and around their allergie issues.

    Natalie S, Minnesota South District

  10. May 10, 2017 at 5:02 pm #

    We moved away from our Lutheran School. (Now it is closed, and the next closest to it is also closed) Cost was a factor when we were starting our family. If the Lutheran High School weren’t an hour and a half away in traffic we would be tempted.

    Now, to be honest we would have a hard time adjusting our family life to go back to a school situation. We love the freedom of time the children have to follow their interests, to worship as a family and to develop the relationships that we’ve built in a world that pulls us in many different directions.

    We have six children. If we were in a traditional school situation (last year) we’d have one in college, 3 in high school, one in middle school and one in elementary school. Multiply that five days a week and that’s a lot of different directions to run and very little time for us to be a family.

    I’m certified as a Lutheran Teacher and taught for five years before coming home full-time.

    Laura W., Texas
    Our eldest daughter graduated a semester early from Concordia University Austin, and we have another daughter heading to college next year. The four boys will keep us busy in the next few years.

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