St. Paul’s Lutheran School renews accreditation, celebrates 65 years

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Tricia Drake walks her second graders through a science lesson. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – St. Paul’s Lutheran School, a private Pre-K through sixth grade institution located in downtown Cullman, is celebrating its 65th year of continuous service to the community by announcing its successful re-accreditation through AdvancED and National Lutheran School Accreditation. The school is the academic home to 110 current students.

In a letter to The Tribune, Principal Annette Creest explained that the school has actually been around much longer.

“St. Paul’s School was originally established in the late 1800s. In 1916 the school closed due to financial issues. The school was re-opened in 1954 and has remained a part of Cullman’s educational facilities since then. When the school was originally established the educational opportunities were limited.  We have two school systems in Cullman County. St. Paul’s is located in the middle of the city school system. The county school system has 29 separate campuses throughout Cullman County. The school systems in Cullman County are all very good schools. But St. Paul’s school can offer an educational program that provides students with a grounded background in the word of God. A school theme is selected each year by the pastor. This theme is reflected in the daily assembly, chapel services, the classrooms and is a part of the National Lutheran Schools Week activities. 

“St. Paul’s has experienced changes throughout the years.  Changes have occurred with the number of students that are enrolled on a regular basis, the teachers that are employed and the growth in the community. Our school has been able to maintain an enrollment of 108-115 students for the past three years. This change has been a positive occurrence for our school.  Just a few years ago, the enrollment had decreased to about 53 students. The greatest challenge that St. Paul’s faces is that we are in close proximity to two other private schools and a public school is just across the street. A unique feature of St. Paul’s is that we are the oldest private school in Cullman. The excellent reputation for the school has prevailed for many years. Our students come from various locations throughout Cullman County. We have some students that travel 30-45 minutes each day to get to our school. Their dedication to the school is based on the education and loving atmosphere that is provided for their child.”

Teacher certification required

Though most private schools are not legally required to have formally degreed and certified teachers, St. Paul’s maintains that such standards are required for the quality of education it wishes to offer.

Creest explained, “The teachers at St. Paul’s are all certified. We have one teacher with a Lutheran teacher endorsement. The principal and one teacher hold an education specialist degree. We have one teacher with a master’s degree in two areas. We have seven teachers that have B.S. degrees. We also have a part-time school aide that holds an education specialist degree. The group of teachers at St. Paul’s has a wide variety of degrees.”

While the school and its parent church have an obvious denominational identity, and special tuition consideration is given to families who are members of the congregation, the student body represents a cross-section of the community. Only 10 of the 110 current students are from Lutheran families. 

When downtown Cullman was devastated by the 2011 tornadoes, St. Paul’s saw that community come together to help with the recovery.

Creest explained, “St. Paul’s School also suffered damage and loss of buildings. The community support from everyone was an amazing outpouring of assistance and compassion for those that suffered loss. St. Paul’s Church and School worked together to get everything back together as quickly as possible for our students. The collaboration helped our students be able to return to school when the devastation no longer prevented people doing their daily activities.”

In its executive report, St. Paul’s boasted of several recent achievements in classroom technology, instruction and security, including:

  • One-to-one technology initiative to sixth-grade students
    • More personalized learning experience for the students using Chromebooks
    • More technology-rich environment for grades three, four and five with the use of Chromebooks
    • Teachers collaborate to work out a schedule that meets the instructional needs for the lessons/skills they are teaching.
  • Having available more data with the earlier grades to help determine instructional strategies
    • STAR reading and math scores to help evaluate the ability level on an individualized basis
    • Moby Max to help identify the learning gaps of struggling students at all grade levels
  • ACT Aspire test now computer-based for grades three through six
    • Use of the technology to allow students to take the tests protects instructional time.  
    • A paper-pencil test was a long task for every child to be tested for 10 to 12 days.
    • Time spent testing students has been cut in half and gets scores back faster.
  • Creation of outdoor classroom setting
    • Students have created two raised beds in the courtyard area behind the church kitchen.
    • Students planted and care for the strawberry plants.
    • Students planted flower bulbs that bloomed this past spring.
  • Electronic lock system on the entrance doors in the church foyer

During a Tribune visit to St. Paul’s this week, Creest shared some other fun things that are happening around the campus, including:

  • Creation of a multi-sensory reading room with mural-covered walls and floors strewn with chairs, cushions and pool inflatables to offer students an occasional change of pace from their regular classrooms. Said Creest, “We all know that if we enjoy it, we tend to do it more often, so we’re hoping that they will read more often for pleasure.”
  • Classroom setups that challenge traditional norms. Creest said, “We have a couple of teachers that are doing the flexible seating in their classrooms, so if you go in their classrooms, you’re not going to see just rows and rows of desks. You’re going to see a variety of seating: some may be on the floor, some may be on a rocking stool, some might be on a giant exercise ball. It gives our students that have ADHD and other disorders an opportunity to move about and not be confined to that one little space all day long.”
  • Class bunnies! The first- and second-grade classes enjoy the company of Pip and Hazel, lop-eared rabbits who are litter box trained and, on occasion, have the run of their respective rooms. Creest shared, “They’re very amazing, because it seems like they almost know who needs extra attention, and they hop right over into that space. We have pictures of students reading to them, and they’re right up in their lap, just looking at the book like they’re totally and completely understanding what they’re doing!”

About St. Paul’s Lutheran School

Mission statement: “St. Paul’s Lutheran school provides a Christ-centered, scripture-based education to equip students with the tools they need for academic, personal and social achievement.”

Vision statement: “It is the intent of St. Paul’s Lutheran School to offer a personalized educational experience that is academically excellent and theologically sound, guiding each child to a closer relationship with Christ while providing the best educational preparation possible.”

Values statement: “St. Paul’s Lutheran School extends the ministry of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all we say and do while providing an academically excellent education.

“Since the time of Martin Luther, the Lutheran Church has sought universal education: to teach all people to read and write so that they could read God’s Word for themselves, for only then can we become the disciples God calls us to be. St. Paul’s Lutheran School continues that vital ministry of teaching children to read, hear and apply God’s Word to their own lives, that they may become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

“As an important ministry of the congregation, this school helps fulfill the congregation’s purpose as stated in its Constitution: ‘The purpose of this congregation shall be to seek the honor and glory of God, to carry out His will, to manifest the unity of our faith in Jesus Christ as God and Savior, to spread the kingdom of God by fostering Christian fellowship and love, by the preaching of the Word of God, by the administration of the Sacraments, by the religious instruction of all its members, according to the confessional standards of the evangelical Lutheran Church.’

  • To seek the honor and glory of God: Children experience an educational environment where their faith in Jesus Christ permeates all they say and do.
  • To carry out God’s will: God has graced parents with the joy and responsibility of training children in the way of the Lord, to teach them to become responsible and productive citizens of society and faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. St. Paul’s Lutheran School aids parents in accomplishing that responsibility. Teachers educate students in academic skills; they help students discover the gifts, talents, and aptitudes that God has given them; they encourage students to show Christ like compassion and love for all people; and they demonstrate lives of service to Christ and others. This demonstration is encouraged within the school, in the community and the world.
  • To manifest the unity of our faith in Jesus Christ as God and Savior: The Law and the Gospel pervade all school relationships so that each person knows he or she is a redeemed sinner and a unique and beloved child of God, a part of the one Body of Christ.
  • To spread the kingdom of God by fostering Christian fellowship and love: Students, families, and staff accept one another as fellow members of the body of Christ. They support and encourage each other, witness to one another, work together to maintain a classroom atmosphere of love and joy, and play together. Each person knows that he or she is a unique, valued, loved, accepted, respected part of the school community, and an important part of the larger congregational community and of the body of Christ.
  • To spread the kingdom of God by the preaching of the Word of God: Through their Christian lives, students, families, and staff bear testimony to each other and to their community. Children of unchurched families hear the Good News of Jesus’s love and share it with their families and friends.
  • To spread the kingdom of God by the administration of the Sacraments: Children are a creation of God; therefore, children belong first of all to God and are to be highly valued as children of God. Only as people find their proper relationship with God can they develop their full potential. Therefore, students study Christian doctrine as Lutherans understand it so that unchurched children who come to faith may choose to receive the Sacrament of Baptism and become members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church at an appropriate time, should they so desire.
  • To spread the kingdom of God by religious instruction of all its members according to the confessional standards of the evangelical Lutheran Church: Teachers instruct students in God’s Word — the demands of God’s law and the comfort of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ — and guide them in developing their prayer lives, so that the Holy Spirit can work faith in students’ hearts.
  • To provide and instruct our students in an educational environment that is safe and free from transgender/homosexual expressions. Our school is founded on the sexual orientation standards set forth in the Holy Scriptures and upheld by the Lutheran Church.  

Even as it strives to fulfill the congregation’s purpose, the school seeks to maintain and improve its academic excellence while maintaining its Christian distinctiveness. Using their God given abilities, teachers strive for academic excellence by using effective materials and teaching methods, and constantly evaluating materials and methods to find the most effective means of teaching. Students learn to develop and use their own God-given abilities so that they are prepared for further schooling and adult life. By any measurable standard, St. Paul’s Lutheran School prepares its students to match or exceed the academic preparation of schools in the surrounding community so that students may achieve their full potential.”

For more on St. Paul’s Lutheran School, visit www.stpaulscullman.com

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A multi-sensory reading room offers students a change of pace from their regular classrooms. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

First-grade teacher Emy Hogland with class bunny, Pip (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune) 
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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com