Over the past few weeks, Dave Gartner and the staff at St. John Lutheran School in Redwood Falls have been putting the finishing touches on their preparations for the upcoming school year.

For the 170 enrolled students in the preschool through eighth-grade program, school begins Aug. 28. For those students and their families, the new year brings different faces to the parochial school, as three new teachers will greet them on the first day. 

They include Todd Brassow, who will teach seventh and eighth grade and will serve as the athletic director, Kelly Mellgren, who will teach fifth grade, and Paul Kelm, who will teach Grade 4.

Gartner, who serves as principal for the school, said a teaching position was added this year, which brings the total teaching staff to 14, along with five paraprofessionals who work in either full-time or part-time capacities during the school day.

“The new teachers have jumped right in and gotten involved,” said Gartner, adding he is confident the school year will move forward without skipping a beat. “The rest of the faculty has been working hard to get everyone on the same page and to maintain the culture of the school that we have created here.”

Teachers in the WELS synod school system may be assigned or the congregation that supports the school may call them to come and teach. At St. John school, the majority of those educators come from Martin Luther College (MLC) in New Ulm.

“I would say 95 percent of our teachers come from MLC,” said Gartner, adding teachers from the WELS affiliated college are sent to schools throughout the United States with some even accepting positions internationally.

When a teacher is assigned to a school, they are required to remain there for three years before they can accept a call to another school. However, there are exceptions to that rule, such as if that teacher would get married and their spouse has a teaching position elsewhere.

As is the case in education as a whole, there is a teacher shortage that exists today, said Gartner.

Gartner, who started teaching in Redwood Falls in 1992, said there are ebbs and flows in education, as some years there are fewer teachers and in others there are more teachers than there are positions. Now just happens to be one of those times when the pool is smaller.

Gartner admitted there has been some turnover in recent years at St. John but added those changes have been due to extenuating circumstances, and in each case when a new teacher comes in they have done a great job. Gartner said the teachers from MLC come out very well prepared to do their job.

“I have heard from a lot of public schools who are impressed with the student teachers they get from MLC,” said Gartner. “These teachers come out ahead of the curve. They are ready to teach.”

No, said Gartner, there is no tenure at St. John.

As the new year begins, Gartner again emphasized his confidence in the new teachers combined with the current staff – believing they are going to offer a top-notch program for the students enrolled at St. John this year.

The school continues to move forward with technology upgrades, as it works toward a one device to one student ratio. This year Gartner will not be in the classroom with the exception of teaching Catechism to the fifth and sixth graders as he moves into a full-time administrative role.

However, he added, there will still be times for him to work with students one on one. After 34 years involved in educating area students St. John School in Redwood Falls still maintains its main focus on providing a solid fundamental education to students that includes providing a faith-based program that helps those students as they grow in their relationship with God.

“We are here to help students learn to love the Lord and learn that he loves them,” said Gartner.

A registration event is being held Monday, Aug. 21 at the school from 6-8 p.m. Families are encouraged to attend, and those who want to learn more are welcome.

To find out more visit the school’s Web site at sjschool.org.