The Walther Lutheran High School Board of Directors voted 6-0 last Thursday to rename a Forest Park parochial school as the Walther Lutheran Academy at Forest Park. Beginning next fall, the Maywood high school will oversee the longstanding K-8 school at St. John’s Church as part of an effort to save both institutions from dwindling enrollment.
The school had been run by the St. John’s congregation since 1870, but in the last eight years lagging attendance meant less revenue. Two months ago the congregation voted to cut its losses and close the institution this summer.
Board members at Walther Lutheran High School stepped in with an offer to keep the school open, recognizing the opportunity to build a feeder program for the high school.
The new name “identifies not only its location, but with the people at St. John,” Norman Young, who is on the board of directors of both Walther Lutheran and St. John, said. “It identifies it as a part of what has been there in the past, and it’s a long tradition of over 135 years.”
The Forest Park congregation will provide the facility and the maintenance, but the high school will be responsible for the curriculum, staffing and other day-to-day operations. The school is located on Circle Avenue just north of Madison Street.
Young added that it was important to include the words Walther Lutheran in the new name, because the high school’s name is helping to increase awareness of the revitalized school at St. John.
Meanwhile, the Walther Lutheran staff is moving ahead with hiring teachers and planning academics for the coming school year. The academy’s first- through eighth-grade students will be broken into three groups, with at least one teacher per group: first through third grade, fourth through sixth grade, and seventh and eighth grade. The three groups will remain into the foreseeable future.
“That will be true 15 years from now when we’re up to 300 students,” Walther Lutheran Executive Director Don Gillingham said.
The administration is aiming for a student to faculty ratio of 15:1. The pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students will have a lower student to faculty ratio in compliance with state standards.
The Walther administration is planning a May 3 open house for families interested in the Forest Park academy. At that time, it will begin to ask for non-refundable deposits from families.
“By the May 3 open house, there’ll be plenty of meat to put on the bones” of the academy, Gillingham said. And by the following week, Gillingham said “we’ll have the names of some people who have been offered positions and hopefully some who have accepted.”
St. John has only 80 students enrolled this year and is subsidizing its operating costs with a $204,000 loan, according to school officials. In recent years the church has cut staff and liquidated assets to keep the school open.