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St. Paul Park private school to close

St. Andrew's Evangelical Lutheran Church at 1000 Portland Ave., St. Paul Park, opened St. Andrew's Lutheran School in 1957 but the school will close in June due to low enrollment.

When St. Andrew's Evangelical Lutheran Church opened a school for grades K-6 in 1957, there were many children in St. Paul Park, Newport and Cottage Grove whose parents wanted them to have religious education included in their daily lessons.

In the late '90s, there were more than 100 students, according to the Rev. Martin Schwartz, church and school pastor.

But the demographics of the area are changing, he said in an interview last week. With low enrollment, the school will close at the end of the school year in June.

There are 24 students with 17 students in grades K-6 and seven students in the preschool program taught by Julie Tjernagel. Preschool will continue to be offered at the church.

Principal Eric Oakland, who teaches grades 4-6, will look for another church school position by networking with the Wisconsin Evangelical synod in Chicago.

Joan Tjernagel's position as primary-grade teacher will also end, Schwartz said.

Since the school opened, about 75 percent of the students' parents were members of the congregation, he said.

The number of kids is dwindling, according to Schwartz.

Foreclosures and the economy have played a role in declining enrollment with some people moving from the area to take new jobs.

There were years when there were more than 15 baptisms a year and some years with no funerals, he said. Now, there are three to five funerals a year.

Despite the school closing, the students "will continue to be fed spiritually," Schwartz said, through Sunday school, vacation Bible school and two years of confirmation.

Parents are seeking a variety of alternatives, he said, including enrolling in Crown of Life Lutheran School in West St. Paul and St. John's Lutheran School in St. Paul as well as public school.

If the children are enrolled in another Wisconsin synod school, the congregation will continue to support them with tuition assistance.

"It's a difficult time for the kids and the congregation," Schwartz said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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