Lutheran education returns to Gary, Indiana
On August 16th, Ascension Lutheran Christian School opened their doors to students for the school’s inaugural day. The new school, located at 1150 W. 49th Ave. in Gary, serves children K–2nd grade with plans to expand grade levels in the future. They held an opening service in the sanctuary, installing staff members Dr. Sue Zientara, principal; Hollye Blossom, first and second grade teacher; Marissa Mongold, kindergarten teacher; and Benita Nicks, office administrator.
Several years ago, the Indiana District LCMS saw a need for a school in Gary and set out to rally support for Ascension. The school is located at Our Savior Lutheran Church, which was home to the former Gary Lutheran School. The school is operated by LUMIN (Lutheran Urban Mission Initiative) and The Lutheran School Corporation of Indiana is the fiscal agent for the school.
Special guest speakers for the opening service included Rev. Delwyn Campbell, Strategic Mission Developer for Gary; Rev. John Albers, President of the Lutheran School Corporation of Indiana; Dr. Jon Mielke, Executive Counselor for Christian Education; and Richard Laabs, President of LUMIN Schools. Other guests included Rev. Rick Boshoven, Pastoral Advisor to Ascension and a member of the board of directors and Maria Wartgow, Director of Human Resources for LUMIN.
The school initially planned to open during the 2016–17 school year, but postponed to reorient their focus, bolster their enrollment, and implement a more robust community outreach.
“It’s a school for the entire Gary community,” says Rev. John Albers, President of the Lutheran School Corporation of Indiana. “Its mission is to lift up the city and the people of Gary.”
With the help of Rev. Delwyn Campbell, Strategic Mission Developer for Gary, whose presence has “energized the school” according to Albers, Ascension is now more prepared to serve the community this school year.
Before opening their doors, staff members, including Principal Sue Zientara, traveled to Milwaukee for two days of professional development with LUMIN Schools. LUMIN, a recognized expert in operating successful urban schools, operates six schools in urban neighborhoods, all in southeast Wisconsin.
The building has undergone a number of improvements, but the need for funds is ongoing in order to complete upgrades and to add classrooms for new grades next year. In addition, they have raised approximately half the funds for their first year of operations, but need to raise support for the other half of the operating budget.
“Because we’re serving in an under-resourced community, the families we serve are not able to pay significant tuition,” Rev. Albers adds. “Long-term funding will rely heavily on the Indiana Choice Scholarship, but there will always be a gap.”
The school is hoping to enroll 30 students this year in kindergarten through second grade. Because late enrollment is common in Gary, the school is moving forward in faith, making plans for future grades and building on the strong educational foundation that the LCMS schools are known for.
“This first year is going to be a work in progress. But we’ve made our plans and we’re going out in faith,” Albers adds. “We need Christ-centered, high-quality education as a means to share the Gospel. The LCMS does this well. Because of that, let’s reach a city that desperately needs that good news!”