A Thirteenth Feeder School for Mayer Lutheran
Questions and Answers for Adding Grades Six Through Eight at Mayer Lutheran High School
Why is this being considered?
The goal of adding grades 6-8 is to offer the opportunity of a Christian middle school education to families outside our traditional church communities. Preparing the next generation of Christian leaders is needed now, more than ever. By increasing the number of young people on our campus, the goal of that mission can be maximized. When we begin offering middle school, we will be the only stand-alone, independent middle school in the far west metro, a key draw for families who may not approach a school directly attached or owned by a Lutheran congregation. Our curriculum will be Christ-centered and Biblically based, which is highly desirable compared to government-run schools. Finally, we are able to maximize high school resources, materials, and staffing to provide a developmentally-appropriate, robust educational experience.
Why do this now?
Several reasons explain why we would plan to add grades 6-8 beginning the 2023-24. First, the turmoil in public schools regarding non-traditional social and educational mores has caused families to look for alternatives, especially in the middle school years. Second, the demographics indicate that a market exists for schooling in the grades we plan to offer. Third, we have had a growing number of families inquiring about middle school options for their children. The negative educational and social effects of the COVID shutdown have encouraged parents to seek alternatives. Fourth, as Lutheran feeder schools are experiencing significant enrollment growth, some will confront space limitations. We are able to provide assistance by providing an outlet for those schools’ middle grade students.
What do the demographics in our region indicate?
According to the Fullensite Demographic Report, provided by the Lutheran Church Extension Fund on March, 29, 2022, the population in a twenty-mile radius of Mayer is expected to grow almost 8 percent from 331,675 in 2026 to 357,753 by 2031 (p.4). By 2026, a projected 17, 931 students of middle school age will reside in our twenty-mile service area. Less than 1,000 of those students attend non-government school feeder schools of all types—Lutheran, Catholic, charter, homeschool—so the potential for enrollment seems significant. With our current twelve Lutheran feeder schools enrolling less than 2% of the available students in the region, enrollment potential for all of us quite positive. The increased growth will provide opportunities for enrollment growth at our school, especially as community “public” schools begin to run out of space due toa growing population and the effects of open enrollment.
Have we conducted a market analysis to help predict the feasibility of a middle school at Mayer Lutheran?
A survey shared by other schools who added grades six through eight was emailed in December to families with school-age children throughout our region. We have had more than seventy responses so far.
How will adding grades 6-8 affect the twelve feeder schools who already have the same grades?
In our research in high schools who have added middle school grades at (Cleveland Lutheran West, St. Louis Lutheran North, St. Croix Lutheran in West St Paul, Martin Luther Lutheran High School in Northrop, MN, and Concordia Prep in Towson, MD), we have found a mix of returns in this area. In locations with greatly diminishing enrollments in the feeders, some schools simply sent their middle grades to the high school (Martin Luther, St. Louis North). In the others, few transferred. Most of our Lutheran elementary schools are the strongest they have been in years. We do not believe that the draw to transfer to Mayer will be as strong as it was before the COVID crisis when feeder enrollment saw significant overall declines, especially after grade five. Naturally, there may be some transfers, as this is already happening as families look for new middle school opportunities after grade five in many of our feeders.
Why will the supporting Lutheran High School in Mayer Association churches continue to support Mayer Lutheran High School if we offer the same grades?
The very generous support of our Association churches is a key consideration that has factored into NOT adding grades, even though the idea has existed for the past seventeen years as seen in the 2006-07 Strategic Plan. The support of the member congregations is intended to support only the high school in Mayer. We will not increase the membership fee because of the additional grades nor will we offer an “Association Tuition Discount” for the middle school. The middle school will be an outreach opportunity for Mayer Lutheran and will also provide an opportunity for our owner-churches to connect with our families as they seek a church home. The changing mores in society and public schools have moved families to consider other experiences for their children and we stand ready to welcome those students.
Will Middle School students be pressured to join a Lutheran church?
We desire that each student at Mayer Lutheran grow in a relationship with Jesus. More than half of our current students are not Lutheran and they are living testimonies of the richness of relationships they discover among fellow Christians from all denominations and worship traditions. Naturally, for families without a church home who desire to join a faith community, we will connect them with local Lutheran churches to help them in this process.
How will Mayer Lutheran work to not knowingly recruit students from the supporting schools?
First, we will charge a much higher tuition and fees than our current schools charge. Second, we will not provide an association discount for the middle school. Third, financial aid for prospective students from existing feeder schools will be greatly diminished for families looking to make a change. Fourth, we will install protocols in our admission process that will inform feeder school principals as soon as one family from the school contacts us about the Mayer Lutheran Middle School. Fifth, many traditional families in our feeder schools desire in-school catechesis for their children to avoid having to send their children for confirmation instruction on a weekday evening. We will not offer formal catechesis in connection with a Lutheran congregation in our middle school. Finally, we will only market grades 9-12 in our feeder schools and congregations with schools, not our middle school. Middle school marketing materials and strategy will be directed to the community at large apart from our churches and schools.
What? No confirmation class at the Mayer Lutheran Middle School? What if a child or family decide they would like to do catechesis after learning about the Christian faith in class?
When families without a church home ask about joining a church, we will, with their permission, share their name with a supporting parish closest to their home and follow up with the pastor to ensure the opportunity to be shepherded in the faith will occur. Since we anticipate many students may not have a church home, working with our congregations will be a great blessing to those students and their families.
Will there be a draw of younger students to the Mayer Lutheran Middle School from our feeder schools when a family’s oldest child enrolls in Mayer Lutheran High School, to create a “one-stop-shopping” scenario?
We cannot predict whether this will occur. Our protocols to deter transferring from a feeder school to Mayer will come into play. Over the past several years, though, the “one-stop shopping” scenario has unfolded when a family’s oldest child enrolls at Mayer Lutheran and they enroll the younger siblings at Zion Lutheran School in Mayer, often transferring from another Lutheran partner school.
Where would Mayer Lutheran hold grades 6-8? Will the school need to build additional facilities?
Our “300” classroom wing has three classrooms, restroom facilities, and office space large enough to accommodate three 25-student classrooms along with a unique middle school entrance. This dedicated space would be large enough for seventy-five students. The interest and enrollment in grades six through eight may require future classroom space and we have room from the “300” wing to accommodate future expansion. Gym space, music and art rooms, lunchroom, and other educational and recreational spaces already exist.
What about the teachers who currently teach in the projected classrooms?
The rooms in the “300” hallway are not currently completely utilized. The computer lab will be incorporated with the newly-updated STEM lab. Teachers in the other two classrooms will be “floating” teachers who will teach each period in whatever classroom is available. Teachers who do not have a permanent classroom and “float” are common in most high schools. Our resource room will remain in the “300” hallway at this point.
Will membership costs increase for Association Churches?
The membership cost to the budget of Mayer Lutheran High School will not increase because of the addition of the middle school. It will remain the same as it has for the past fifteen years. Members who may choose to attend the Mayer Lutheran Middle School will not receive an association discount. The support of our faithful congregations will help us meet the high school’s financial needs with the middle school largely supporting itself.
Why should our congregations continue to support the ministry of Mayer Lutheran High School?
An intentional, vibrant, and successful ministry to teenagers is a precious asset to the Church. At the cost of a little more than a dollar per week per communicant member, the eleven Association congregations own and operate a ministry that most, on their own, would be unable to provide. Each year, almost two-hundred young people in the halls of Mayer Lutheran High School hear about Jesus and the salvation He won for them on the cross. They are trained to respond in gratitude to such Good News to be servant leaders for Him. We proclaim the Gospel of Jesus as our Lord and Savior that builds upon the spiritual training in the home and congregation. Thanks to the traditionally generous support over the past sixty years, Mayer Lutheran sent 3,400 graduates into the world as Christian leaders. As a note on the value to our congregations on their investment at Mayer Lutheran High School, almost 15% of active teachers in the Minnesota South District of the LCMS are graduates from Mayer Lutheran High School.
What about staffing? Will the students be taught by existing high school teachers?
Mayer Lutheran High School teachers will not be the primary teachers for grades 6-8. Our art, music, industrial arts, technology, and physical education teachers may likely be engaged in teaching middle school students along with an occasional upper school teacher from other departments. Our long-term goal is to maintain a uniquely dedicated middle school teaching staff including administration. In our early years, we expect to hire a teaching principal who will have time in the day to plan and execute strategies for strengthening the middle school. This is a common occurrence as several local Lutheran schools have teaching principals who provide outstanding leadership. Depending on enrollment, a second teacher would be needed as well with the Principal teaching grades seven and eight and the second teacher providing a more self-contained classroom environment for grade six. We envision the addition of clerical help for the middle school as well. The office assistant may be a part-time (less than 30 hours/week) position
Will Mayer Lutheran take teachers from our local Lutheran schools for the new middle school?
In hiring teachers, we traditionally have avoided offering positions to teachers already serving in our feeder schools and we intend to follow that practice as we seek teachers for the middle school. Naturally, in our LCMS calling structure, any teacher may apply for a position in any school that has an opening. Our strength at Mayer Lutheran High School has traditionally relied on strong feeder schools taught by talented and strong teachers. Our desire is to not change that reality.
How many students can we expect to enroll in the middle school?
This answer will only be known once we announce the formation of the school in early 2023. Every school we studied varied based upon their location and situation. Some schools are in states that offer parent choice programs and their schools started with more than seventy students. Others, in more rural areas, saw significantly smaller enrollments. While we do not know the enrollment number now, we would consider full enrollment to be 25 students per classroom with our current facilities.
How many students does the middle school need to open next fall?
The Board of Directors will decide this number in their February 13, 2023 meeting. We would love to have at least twenty students shared over the three grades.
What about the curriculum?
We anticipate that we will offer a traditionally vibrant curriculum in line with other Christian middle schools. Our differentiator from free community schools will be the intentional Christian frame of reference and a Biblical world view in our curriculum not currently available in government-supported schools. In addition to language, science, math, social studies, and theology, we will have electives in music, visual arts, and physical education.
Will there be help for students with special needs?
Mayer Lutheran has traditionally admitted students with special learning challenges and provided a resource teacher to help them maximize their potential in the classroom. We anticipate that we will continue to do so with middle school students as we are able. Staffing will dictate the extent of help we are able to offer and we are intentionally seeking such help.
What about co-curricular activities?
Mayer Lutheran’s middle school will participate with other middle schools in the Minnesota River Conference athletics. We will also partner with our Mayer Knights youth activities to provide additional opportunities for our middle school-aged students. Music, drama, STEM, robotics, and other existing programs will also welcome middle school students as they have done for years. We will continue to host Minnesota Lutheran Athletic Association events.
Will the wider array of co-curricular activities draw students away from our supporting schools?
This may happen, but it is not our intention to draw from those schools who offer the same activities or sports. Mayer Lutheran already welcomes students from our feeder schools to compete and participate in sports and activities that their schools do not offer such as track and field, soccer, softball, golf, drama, and robotics-STEM.
Do you really expect to open the middle school in the fall of 2023?
We already have classrooms, dining hall, gyms, lockers, theater, and other physical facilities. We have personnel to lead co-curricular activities, recruiting and admissions, financial matters, fundraising, curriculum and teacher development, maintenance and the like. Unlike beginning a brand-new school from a vacant lot, adding three grades is very doable by next fall. It will not be easy, of course, but we pray it will be a terrific addition for families of young people in our region.
How much will adding grades six through eight add to the school’s budget? Can Mayer Lutheran afford to add these grades?
Depending upon enrollment, we anticipate hiring two addition full-time workers and one part-time worker. We estimate $200,000 for salary and benefits based upon the average teacher salary and benefits paid during the 2022-23 school year of $70,000/teacher and other incidental staffing costs such as an office assistant. Most of the fixed costs (insurance, utilities, maintenance, classroom supplies etc.) are already covered in the current budget. With potential tuition and fees of $9,700 for the first year of middle school, as few as twenty-five total students enrolled will cover the anticipated costs. Adding grades six through eight is financially feasible depending on enrollment. Thanks to a generous donor, we have already been given $75,000 to help get the school started.
Speaking of enrollment, how many students in each grade will be needed to actually begin school in August? If enrollment projections fall short, how will you make up the income?
As a start-up, we may need to operate the first year with a deficit. We do have savings from a recent gift that is being set apart for making up any shortfalls in adding the three grades. In any school start-up situation, the toughest decision is when to actually open the school. The Middle School Steering Committee and the Board of Directors will wrestle with this challenge.
How will adding grades six through eight affect fundraising?
Anytime we make a significant change, fundraising can be affected. Our prayer is that our many donors will support the Ministry of Mayer Lutheran, including grades six through eight. We can certainly segregate gifts for just one school or the other at the donor’s request, but we would hope our cherished tradition of un-restricted giving will continue. Adding three grades worth of families will increase our potential giving pool of donors. Our sincerest prayer is that those who support the next generation of Christian leaders with their sacrificial gifts will continue to do so and, as stakeholders in our ministry, be willing and open to share advice and counsel as we have enjoyed for many decades.
How can I learn more about this initiative? How am I able to share my ideas and concerns?
As we gather more information and make further plans for the addition of the three grades, we will provide news online through our website, social media, and monthly newsletters. The Executive Director is always eager to discuss any Mayer Lutheran news, ideas, dreams, concerns, and criticisms personally through a meeting, phone call, or email. He can be reached at 952.657.2251 c. 1007 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What if I want to send my child to Mayer Lutheran High School but they do not attend the Mayer Lutheran Middle School? Will we be able to do so?
While our own middle school students will have the first chance to enroll in high school, students from our twelve feeder schools will have the next priority before opening up enrollment to our high school to the general community. We envision enrollment windows for each group that will provide sufficient time for enrollment before opening up enrollment to the next group. The details of high school enrollment deadlines are still being worked out.
With the addition of the middle school and the enrollment from the feeder schools and the community, will Mayer Lutheran have enough space?
Our campus is sizeable and has room for at least three-hundred total students. Back in 1981, our campus was half the size it is now and yet had more than three-hundred students. It is very realistic that we can surpass three hundred students with the outstanding service our families have grown to appreciate and embrace. As we look to growing enrollment in the future, adding additional classroom space will be necessary and we are planning to do so when the time comes. The timing for this expansion is based upon the success of our enrollment in both the middle school and the high school.