Keep calm. It’s still Walther.

After meeting with a consultant and taking a hard look at their students and constituents, Walther Lutheran High School in Melrose Park and Walther Academy in Forest Park have changed their names to Walther Christian Academy, Upper and Lower Schools.

“We wanted to rebrand ourselves to accurately reflect our identity and what we are,” said Kyle Clauss, director of admissions and marketing.

With the tag lines, “More than college prep” and “Education in the Lutheran tradition,” the schools hope to maintain the name proudly remembered by decades of alums and to “reduce the barrier to entry” for new students, said Clauss, noting that the new name was “more inclusive to better understand what we do here.”

He said only about 30 percent of students at the high school practice the Lutheran faith.

“We still have religious education and we still attend chapel in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod tradition,” Clauss pointed out. “But we want to make sure that we better ourselves as a school moving forward.”

Three-hundred-fifteen students attend Walther High School, while 72 preschool-through-eighth-grade students attend the elementary school in Forest Park.

The Forest Park school, formerly called St. John Lutheran, was first formed in 1870 when a teacher was hired for the first 25 students, who paid fifty cents a month. In its heyday there was even a branch on the south side of Forest Park. In 2007, the operation of the elementary school was taken over by Walther Lutheran High School Association in connection with the Melrose Park high school. Today only nine students are Forest Park residents, said Lower School Principal Kathy Craven.

“I’m a Walther grad,” Craven said. “Forest Park public schools are perceived as quality, and in this economy, as long as parents feel that, they like their child going to a neighborhood school.” She said the “lower school” has students from the surrounding region, including Cicero, Elmwood Park, Maywood, Lyons, Chicago, Broadview and Westchester. “All over, really.”

The schools also partner with another area Lutheran-based education organization: Concordia University in River Forest’s education department sends over student teachers and tutors regularly, Clauss said. “Also, our faculty are adjunct staff at Concordia,” he said.

Craven described the lower school as a “three-way” partnership. St. John Church provides facilities and support. Paul Lindblad, St. John’s music director, is the music teacher at the school.

Concordia University and the Walther High School Foundation are the other two groups that partner to support the lower school, Craven said.

“Concordia professors have written grants for us,” she said. “They provide teacher aides, student teachers and their professors do in-services for us.”

“It’s really a unique partnership.”

Clauss said following the name-change announcement, the school heard back from worried alumni, but anxious Broncos were quickly reassured that the schools have not changed. “We’re still Walther. That’s what we are, that’s what we call it,” he said, adding that Walther is streamlining to develop “more of an independent school model.”

“We want students to be here from pre-K to 12th grade, so we have an inclusive brand name.”

The new name is not that different from the old name, said Craven. “It opens us up to more people who identify as being Christian so we can minister to more people.”

“The opportunities increase for us to reach more people that way,” she said.

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...