West Lutheran High School celebrated 20 years in its Plymouth location last year, and it’s gone through plenty of changes during that time. Enrollment has ebbed and flowed, and the facility has evolved with an addition in 2002 and other more recent improvements, but one thing has remained constant: the philosophy and mission of the school.
“Our training, our philosophy of teaching, our small school size, and our very conservative Christianity sets us apart even from other nondenominational Christian schools. We’re really a Bible-teaching type of school,” says principal Adam Wiechmann. This Bible-centric viewpoint is something the school is up-front about, and a piece of the culture appreciated by students, staff and parents alike.
“We feel the values promoted by the staff and Christian example they lead and encourage is just as important as the academic excellence they provide for their students,” says Jody Preus, who has sent all five of her children to West Lutheran.
Sydney Kappel, who graduated in the spring, attended private Christian school since she began preschool and finds comfort in the common bond religion provides with her classmates and teachers. “It’s not something we hide—it’s in our motto, Christ is centered in everything.” Kappel appreciated the ability to pray openly in class and maintain a daily focus on religion.
Everything is taught in a Christian way, agrees senior Joseph Mathias. “If there’s a way to fit Christ into it, it will happen,” he says. Wiechmann explains that each department has a philosophy statement that’s the basis of its teaching. Overall, there’s a conscious effort to create a cohesive viewpoint that teachers maintain across every class, which Weichmann says is different from many other private schools.
All staff members at West Lutheran are Lutherans. The system that trains them has been around since the 1800s, and is exclusive to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Anyone who wants to be a pastor, teacher or youth minister attends the same school, same doctrine classes, and goes through the same training to get into the system. This shared background leads to a common philosophy among all West Lutheran’s teachers, Wiechmann says.
This setup leads to a very stable school environment and many systems contact them to try and figure out a model that will emulate that stability, says Wiechmann. The staff has had the same core group for about the past 15 years, and now about half of them are at the end of their ministry and retiring.
One of those outgoing teachers is Sharon Gieseke, who taught math. She was one of the original staff members when West Lutheran opened its doors in the basement of Cross Lutheran in 1979. That year there were 12 students. “Being part of West Lutheran High School since the first day of classes has been a great privilege and blessing for me,” Gieseke says. “The school climate is one of a family working together with love and respect for each other. Our students are able to get involved in many activities, building their confidence, leadership skills, and close relationships with their peers and staff. It has been a great joy to serve as a teacher at West for the past 38 years.”
The younger staff coming in lately to replace the veterans has led to a transition time with lots of fresh faces. But the message and underlying ideas remain the same. This is maintained with chapel three times a week, and Bible study the other two days, with a focus on spiritual encouragement for students. Staff pray together when they meet to discuss the plan for the day.
Mathias attended public school until two years ago, and says there’s a distinct difference. “The moment I got here, it was so accepting and inviting and it was pretty strange to me,” he says, connecting this welcoming atmosphere to both the school’s small size and its philosophy. He notes that there aren’t really any cliques at West Lutheran—and everyone knows your name.
The small size of the school also allows students the chance to get involved in any combination of activities they like. Wiechmann says 90 percent of the student body is involved in some group. “We only want kids to be here if they’re going to participate,” he says. In the school of 140 students, more than 50 were involved in their production of Beauty and the Beast. Last year, Kappel played softball, ran cross country, was in the National Honor Society, and was a school ambassador. Mathias was a football manager, as well as participating in track and field, and drama.
Preus also appreciates the small school size which she says “has presented multiple leadership roles for all of our five children and opened doors of opportunity that may not have occurred at a bigger school setting.” That size has changed over the years, with a peak of 240 in 2004. The student body has shrunk since then, due to competition from other private schools, Wiechmann says. But the enrollment is projected to increase a bit over the next few years, based on the feeder schools’ numbers.
What does the future hold for West Lutheran High School? Wiechmann says they’re transitioning a study hall area into STEM room, so that will be the next big change. And if he could have his druthers, he’d like to see an auditorium added to the school, so they could put on plays without turning the gym into a theater for the run of the production.
Overall, Wiechmann is optimistic about the school’s current growth rate and says it can support a student body of 250 in its current space. To him, the school’s future looks bright. “If you’ve got faith, you can have joy in your heart,” he says.