Rebuilding Your School Post-Pandemic

Feb 22, 2024

By Bishop Michael Rinehart

The pandemic was hard on families, businesses, and the economy. Churches and their schools were no exception. Many of our schools had to shut down completely for a time due to COVID spreading through the school during the height of the pandemic. When things settled down, many schools found themselves with fewer teachers and fewer students.

Now that the smoke has cleared, how do our schools get back on their feet? Before we go there: Why do Lutheran churches have schools?

Why Lutheran schools?

The Lutheran church began in a university setting. Education has always been a high value in the Lutheran community. Lutheran schools can provide high-quality instruction and grace-filled care that creates a nurturing Christian community for learning and faith. Children and youth in Lutheran schools receive more faith formation than those who may attend Sunday school or confirmation for only an hour a week. Read more about why churches have schools.

Today, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) operates 1,573 early childhood programs, 296 elementary schools, and 14 high schools that serve 145,000 young people with over 17,000 staff members. The Evangelical Lutheran Education Association (ELEA) offers savings on insurance plans, complimentary resources, and discounts on other essential resources for $395/year.

The Gulf Coast Synod has 21 schools and early childhood centers. There are also a number of other schools in our synod that for one reason or another are not registered as ELCA schools, such as the music school at First Lutheran in Galveston.

Gulf Coast Synod Schools

13 are registered members of the ELEA and 10 are not.

  • Children of Joy!, Spirit of Joy, The Woodlands
  • Chrysalis Preschool, A Grace Place for Children, Messiah, Cypress
  • Christ Lutheran Day School, Christ Lutheran Church, Brenham
  • The Learning Center, Living Word, Katy
  • Concordia Lutheran School, Good Shepherd, Marrero
  • Holy Comforter Lutheran Church School, Holy Comforter, Kingwood
  • Zion Lutheran Preschool, Zion, Houston
  • Faith Lutheran Day School, Faith, Bellaire
  • Kids of the Kingdom Preschool, Lord of Life, The Woodlands
  • Christ the King Lutheran Preschool, Christ the King, Kenner
  • Kinsmen Children’s Academy, Kinsmen, Houston
  • Grace Infant and Daycare, Grace, New Orleans
  • St. Paul Early Learning Center, St. Paul, Baton Rouge
  • Gethsemane PreSchool, Gethsemane, Chalmette
  • Holy Cross Early Learning Center, Holy Cross, Houston
  • ABC Learning Center (Advent’s Beloved Children), Advent, Houston
  • St. Paul Lutheran Creative Child Center, St. Paul, Columbus
  • Pinnacle Christian Preschool, Good Shepherd, Bridge City
  • Grace Kids Preschool & Daycare, Grace, Conroe
  • Faith Lutheran Church Early Learning Center, Faith, Dickinson
  • Christus Victor Children’s School, Christus Victor, League City

So back to the question…

How do you rebuild your school after the pandemic? I interviewed a few school directors to hear how things are going. There are many different kinds of schools. Some have after-care and pre-care. Some do not. Some meet every day. Some do not. The schools with whom I spoke were all preschools. Take what is useful here and leave the rest.

Christ Lutheran Day School in Brenham – Director Ginny Gaskamp

Christ Lutheran School has a phenomenal building, separate from the rest of the church building that houses the worship space, offices, classrooms, and fellowship hall. I spoke with director Ginny Gaskamp. Last year, Pastor Mark Groves passed away unexpectedly, so there has been some grief in the community.

“We stayed open as much as possible,” Ginny said. “There were those times when we had enough illnesses that we were instructed by licensing to close. Whatever the health department and licensing dictated, we followed it to a tee. We had times when the whole school was closed, and we had times where it was a particular classroom or age group.

“We closed in March 2020 like everyone but then opened back up pretty quickly. When we opened, we had drop-off at the door. No one came inside but the staff and the children. We took temperatures at the door. Now we have returned to having the parents come inside. We like the parents to see what’s going on, so they get familiar with the staff and the school.

“We were at capacity before the pandemic. 125 at the preschool building and 24 in our after-school program that’s held in the church building. We never dropped below the 125. We didn’t lose anyone…” Ginny commented that they have the advantage of being in a small town. The need for preschool is great. This helps.

“We did have some parents that were upset with us when we had the closings. We just reminded them that we were following licensing. We would not put our program in jeopardy with the state. We had a very supportive board at that time that really helped us with the decisions concerning the closing. We had been beaten up pretty severely by parents who were upset with us for closing or distancing. One board member (also a church member) and Pastor Mark showed up and took over the office phones.” Ginny said this was a godsend. Fielding the calls was time-consuming and frustrating.

Christ’s preschool has a waiting list of about 32 children. Their hours are 7:15 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. “We say learning happens all day, every day,” Ginny said. “Morning time between snack and lunch is our most focused, core learning time. We don’t do a morning tardy. We use the Creative Curriculum by Teaching Strategies but are considering other options. It’s not as user-friendly as we might like.

“We did use our childcare relief fund grants. We got the max amount, maybe $147,000 five times. And that’s not PPP. We have a five-year forecast for the school, keeping in mind the grant money, which we didn’t spend right away. We are trying to pay our staff well without bilking the parents. We are not the most expensive game in town, nor the least expensive. We have plans for an infant center, but we have put it on pause due to the soaring prices of materials.

“We don’t experience the struggle between school and church that some places do. Pastor and I wrangled a bit now and then. We have a weekly meeting between the director, church staff, and council president to touch base. It is focused on how we connect the church and the school better. It’s a very purposeful effort. It takes 90 minutes a week – a commitment – but it’s worth it.”


Director Michelle McGuire

ids of the Kingdom at Lord of Life in The Woodlands – Director Michelle Maguire

Michelle McGuire has been at Kids of the Kingdom for 21 years and the director for the last 13 years. I asked her how things were going.

“Fantastic. We have a happy staff, engaged families, and full enrollment (licensed for 120).” They have a waiting list for the two year olds and for the PreK classes.

Unlike some preschools, Kids of the Kingdom doesn’t meet full time. They offer 2-, 3-, or 4-day per week class options depending on age. They meet from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. with no pre-care or after-care.

Their focus is kindergarten readiness. I asked why she thought things were going so well. “Word has gotten out in our community, you should go to KOK. Kids receive loving care at a home away from home. We do very little paid advertising in the community. Most new families that find their way to KOK have come from recommendations of happy families that have experienced the quality program we offer. Word of mouth is our most and best form of advertising.”

They use the Get Set For School curriculum, which started as a Handwriting Without Tears curriculum. Now it has language,literacy, numbers, and math components. It uses manipulatives (toy-based), puppetry, and song, and is more interactive.

“I think we’re so successful because of my staff. They are very supportive of one another. Passionate educators devoted to making learning fun. It’s a good work culture.” Michelle started as a teacher, then, in time, got her director certification. She worked as an assistant director before becoming director.

Michelle started as a teacher, then, in time, got director certification. She worked as an assistant director, then as director.

KOK has 23 staff members. 11 classes with two teachers in each class. They also have a separate music teacher and science teacher as well as a floater. They are literature/theme based, meaning each week everything they do from books they read, crafts, songs, and all activities are based off of the theme, for example transportation week, bug week, space week, etc.

“We shut down in March when the pandemic hit. We followed what Conroe ISD did. We broke for spring break and didn’t come back. Closed through the rest of that school year.” During the pandemic, Michelle said, once a week, teachers, children, and the director had a 30-minute Zoom to stay connected. Two-year-olds on a Zoom call! It was fun.

“We came back in August, but parents were not allowed in the building. Teachers were masking. We used a car line. No visitors.” In time they did away with the car line. “I’m not a fan of car line. It feels too impersonal. I want the parents in our building, experiencing preschool, seeing the teachers daily. I know every single student by name. My teachers know the kids too, even those not in their class.”

Michelle says the church has been fantastic. The school is a ministry of the church. They do not pay rent. The preschool does tithe to LOL varying amounts at the end of every school year. “We pay our own cleaning, telephone, and other operating expenses. The church covers insurance and utilities. We maintain the playground. ” Happy families keeps us rocking and rolling. And that ties back to excellent, qualified staff.

Kids of the Kingdom Staff

Zion Lutheran Preschool in the Heights – Director Jennifer Garcia

Like most, Jennifer was a teacher before she became a director. She started with Montessori training. “I had just adopted my boys and had taken a leave from work at another preschool. I decided it’s time to go back. Another director told me that Zion was looking. The school has a good reputation in the community.” Jennifer was hired by the Preschool Board when Pastor Tracey Breashears Schultz was serving as pastor at Zion.

“We currently have about 90 kids. We are very fortunate. We are licensed for 120. Part of our charm is we keep it small.

“It’s super important to me that our staff are happy. In early childhood it’s easy for staff to burn out. We have a 3-day program, which mitigates against burnout. The long weekend means they come back refreshed. We start morning drop-off with a carpool line at 8:30. School is 9-3. We do extended care until 5:00. We had extended care in the morning pre-pandemic, but we dropped it.

“We give a monthly donation to the church to offset utility and maintenance costs. As time went on, we had more to give, so we did.”

Jennifer says they got through the pandemic, shakily. “We were very fortunate. Some of the charm of Zion is the community – the neighborhood. We have a lot of legacy families. Many had the ability to work from home, so their needs are flexible.

“We were closed March through October. When we opened, the teachers wore masks, we sanitized, etc. We took advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program, and the child relief fund, so we continued to pay teachers through the pandemic and gave more. We started a scholarship fund. We have 8 kiddos on full scholarship.

“We are very competitive on our rates. We are probably the least expensive program in the area. We do a fundraiser every year, with an auction and a silent auction. It brings in $60,000-70,000 a year, which helps us keep tuition low.”

They have a waitlist of two years! “…[There is] no advertising, just word of mouth. We get a lot of phone calls. There’s a waitlist form on the website. I ask that they take the tour and pay a $100 fee to get on the waitlist.” This ensures that those who put their name on the list are serious. It saves them time when a position opens up. “ When I started 10 years ago, we had a waitlist of 250 in the binder, but when we had an opening, many of those in the binder were unreachable.”

Zion has 18 total staff members, 14 regular teachers, 2 subs and a director. “We are so blessed. Many of our teachers have been here 10+ years. Our toddler teacher has been here 40 years. Many of our teachers are family. My mother teaches here. We pay better than average.”

Chrysalis, at Messiah Lutheran Church in Cypress, Texas – Candice Atkins

Chrysalis is the Messiah’s school in Cypress. I visited with Director Candice Atkins briefly last week while visiting the church. The school is doing well and has a waiting list of two kids. They believe there are others out there and so are about to open another two-year-old classroom, which they believe will fill to 12 kids pretty quickly.

When I asked why the school had been growing, one of the things she mentioned was their social media work. They are all over Facebook. Parents sign a form that indicates whether they are comfortable with their kids being in photos. They only use photos of those who say, “yes.” This has generated a lot of interest in the school.

Chrysalis offers programs for infants through age 12 years. All staff hold current First Aid and CPR certificates. They are open Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. All of our staff are experienced in working with young children and have participated in early childhood developmental practices.

Pastor Janelle Hooper

Finally, I contacted Pastor Janelle Hooper to get some help. Pastor Janelle Hooper, who lives in our synod, in Richmond, Texas, serves as Director of Children’s Ministries for the ELCA, and also as Director of Faith Formation at New Hope Lutheran Church in Missouri City, Texas. She had some good wisdom for us.

  1. Become a member of the ELEA community. There are a LOT of free articles and school resources on the website, like this one on Early Childhood Education Models: What’s Working and What’s Not?. Some resources have a charge for non-members, but are free to members; for example, a research-based manual on church and school relationships, that helps congregations and schools understand the school as a ministry of the congregation. It turns out that what churched and unchurched families want for their kids are quite similar. The ELEA community has webinars and an annual conference where they talk about these issues. To become a member, go to and click the “Explore Membership” link on the top. The cost is $395/year.
  2. Get a mentor. Everyone needs a coach. Even Tiger Woods needs a coach. You need a coach because you cannot watch yourself swing. Cory Newman, the ELEA Executive Director will help you find a mentor, or you can pay for coaching with Cory herself.
  3. Check out this survey that Barna did for the ELEA. There is a lot of information here that can help you understand the community and what they are looking for in a school.

Last but not least, here are some things to think about:

  • Lead with your strengths. Why should people come to your school? Brainstorm your strengths and assets with your staff. Why would people want to bring their kids to your school?
    • You are faith-based. This is important to a lot of people. It is not always the number one thing they are looking for, but it is high up there. Do you have a themed Bible verse for your school? A clear faith-based mission? Do you have weekly chapel? What Bible stories will kids learn? Kids in preschool all week learn more Bible stories and songs than kids who participate in Sunday school one hour per week. The ELEA employed Barna to do a survey that showed 99% of respondents didn’t know who the ELCA was. Most people who don’t go to church know someone who is. We need to share with families our Christian faith, in a Lutheran key.
    • Are you education-based? Are you about more than babysitting and daycare? Do you have a curriculum? If so, what awesome things can parents anticipate their kids learn each year? Studies show that students who go to preschool are more prepared for kindergarten. Preschool teaches social and cognitive skills that help children adapt and thrive.
    • What is your mission? Is it clear? Is it on your website? Is it in your parent handbook? Here is an example from Concordia Lutheran School at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Marrero: Louisiana:

  • What are your awesome strengths?
    • Safe, caring, Christian school.
    • Friendly, well-trained staff.
    • Affordable. Don’t be the cheapest game in town, but don’t be the most expensive either. Quality at affordable prices.
    • Teachers genuinely care. If this is true, tell stories. Give examples.
    • What other assets do you have? Awesome facility? Convenient location? Hot lunch program? Any recognitions or awards? Quality curriculum? Certified teachers? Whatever you’ve got, let people know. Then communicate, communicate, communicate. If you’re not sick of communicating, you’re probably not communicating enough.
    • Other cool stuff about your school?
  • Your current parents are your best evangelists. Offer an “Invite a Friend” deal, like one free month if you invite a friend who signed up and mentions you on their application.
  • Be sure to offer the deal directly to newcomers whether referred or not: 2 free months when you sign up.
  • How will you communicate these newcomer incentives? Do you have a sign on the front lawn? If so, change it periodically every few months.
  • Remind parents with emails and notes home once a month.
  • Set a new registration goal with your staff and brainstorm how to achieve it.
  • Do a parent Survey Monkey asking them to respond to basic questions about their satisfaction at the school. Act on what you learn. The facts are your friends. The truth will set you free.
  • It’s the little things. Have coffee available in the lobby during the winter. Offer a continental breakfast from time to time.
  • Be sure to greet everyone as they come through the door every time.
  • Social media campaign. Push out helpful articles. Become the thought leader in parenting. Articles only from the reputable sources, like: