As his family prepared to move to a new neighborhood, Sioux Falls Lutheran School (SFLS) second-grader Noah Wood asked his mother a question: “Can I still go to a school where we can talk about Jesus?”
Melinda Wood shares that story in regard to what’s special about this bursting-at-the-seams South Dakota school now preparing for its own move – to a new location that can offer more families quality Christian education. SFLS also has plans to develop a mission plant for a new church.
As a mother, Melinda appreciates the strong academics in a family environment that SFLS provides Noah, now in sixth grade, and his younger siblings. As a Christian, she’s thankful more children and families in her community will have the opportunity, in Noah’s words, to “talk about Jesus.”
“It’s an investment in our children’s future,” Melinda said in support for the bigger school, which construction is almost complete with the help of Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) investors.
Quality academics, Christian care
In the mid-1970s, the in-home preschool that Sandy Tams started for her son and neighborhood children caught the attention of Lutheran churches in Sioux Falls. In 1977, SFLS opened at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church with 35 youngsters in a preschool and Tams as director.
Some 40 years later, SFLS has grown to more than 300 students in preschool through eighth grade – including preschoolers who are Tams’ grandchildren. In 2017, it was named a “School of Distinction” by the National Lutheran Schools Accreditation Commission; for the past 12 years, the preschool program has been hailed a “Local Best” and, in June, was named Sioux Falls’ number one preschool by “The Local Best,” an online guide to Sioux Falls.
While Sioux Falls public schools are also considered very good, SFLS families include those who drive as much as 30 miles so their children can have quality academics in a Christian setting.
Back when she was researching schools, what Melinda Wood heard about SFLS was what she wanted for her children. “A family feeling, where teachers care about their students; where they have devotions and pray,” said Melinda, both a school parent and the school’s Spanish teacher.
Families with no church home
Landlocked in its current site, SFLS is moving to one of Sioux Falls’ fastest-growing areas in the city’s southwest section. It’s also a community where 62 percent of the residents claim no church affiliation, says Scott Peters, chairman of the SFLS school board.
“We hope we can use the school and the mission plant to serve the Gospel – so people who have never heard before about Christ’s salvation will hear,” said Peters, whose three daughters are SFLS alumni.
The new facility doubles the capacity of the preschool, which now serves 162 children. Also sure to strengthen the school’s outreach is the new chapel/performing arts center, the focal point for many school activities and the new mission plant.
Families attend the school’s weekly chapel services, including those with no church home. Especially popular is the monthly “chat and chapel,” when parents are invited to visit their student’s classroom and the chapel service featuring that class.
Plans are in the works for the LCMS South Dakota District to call a missionary-at-large to serve as the school’s chaplain and to begin the new church plant – a ministry opportunity South Dakota District President Rev. Scott Sailer calls both exciting and unique.
Like SFLS, Sailer says district leaders believe a Lutheran school is for both LCMS members and the community.
“Sioux Falls Lutheran’s preschool is known throughout the city as one of the finest and has long drawn unchurched families. We want all to feel at home,” Sailer said of SFLS, a ministry of an association of five LCMS congregations: Our Redeemer, Faith, Memorial, Lord of Life and Resurrection.
Extend our mission
In a time when survival can be challenging for a faith-based school, support from LCMS members and beyond is crucial for SFLS, scheduled to open in its new location in early 2020.
Supporters include Sanford Health, which donated 30 acres for the new facility and a matching gift up to $5 million – a “huge blessing that moved us forward in a way that many families never thought possible,” said Megan Baedke, SFLS admissions and communications director.
Another blessing: SFLS’s partnership with Lutheran Church Extension Fund. When the new school was a vision, LCEF provided assistance with strategic planning and a feasibility study. Now LCEF is providing loan support, made possible by investors.
“We surveyed the commercial lending landscape in the Sioux Falls region. LCEF allows us to extend our mission in ways that would not have been allowed otherwise,” Peters said. The $8.7 million LCEF loan includes a “bridge loan” of $3.8 million, to cover fundraising campaign pledges as they accrue, and a $4.9 million construction/permanent loan.
“SFLS is also grateful for an LCEF SMART Loan, which will help fund playground equipment,” Peters said.
“We’ve witnessed, firsthand, God’s promise ‘. . . to do immeasurably more . . .’ than we ever imagined,” Peters said, referencing Eph. 3:20.
“Starting with local support and pledges that far exceeded our expectations, followed by the land donation and matching gift, we’ve witnessed, and continue to see, these words fulfilled in immeasurable and unimaginable ways.”
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