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St. John's Lutheran School suspends operation for coming year

ATWATER -- St. John's Lutheran School near Atwater won't reopen for the 2010-11 year.

The move to a four-day school week in the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District was one of the factors in the decision.

"We are going to temporarily suspend operations for a year and then revisit next summer and see where we're at," said Nick Lilleberg, chairman of the congregation.

Lilleberg said a number of factors contributed to the closing of the tiny K-6 school, which has had 15 to 20 students in recent times.

While enrollment was lower than in the past, it has fluctuated a lot over the years, he said.

The congregation has also sensed less interest in sending children to parochial school.

"The big thing our school offered was religion," Lilleberg said, but it couldn't offer some of the programs that a larger school could.

Since the school has used the services of ACGC school buses, the four-day week presented a challenge.

The church and school are located in the ACGC district, but some St. John's students lived in other districts. Some families wanted to keep a five-day week while others were interested in four days. Bus service would have been available only for four days, though, which means parents would have been responsible for getting their children to and from school one day a week and possibly more often.

Since ACGC will have longer school days in a four-day week, the bus schedules will be different, too. St. John's would have had to keep students at school longer or go without bus transportation either at the beginning or end of its days.

Finding teachers who wanted to come to the tiny school had also been difficult, he said. One of the school's two teachers recently resigned.

While money is always tight at such a small private school, it isn't the reason the school is closing for the next year, Lilleberg said.

The congregation has taken great pride in its school and most have supported subsidizing the school, he said.

"We called it our mission."

Lilleberg, 35, went to school at St. John's himself. Now he is a farmer and lives about a mile north of the school.

"It's something that weighed heavily on me" the night the vote was taken, he said. "It's a hard thing to wrap our mind around, that the school may not be there in the future."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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