This report was prepared by David Hallock on the occasion of
First Methodist School's 20th anniversary.
FMS came into being in large part because of the attraction of a large, handsome education building, which was built by the church in the late 1960's that was larger than the church could use.
In the 1950's FMC found itself squeezed into an inadequate facility on South Broadway with a membership of nearly 1000 and bursting at the seams. The founding of Asbury Church relieved a good bit of the pressure but the remaining congregation desired and eventually built an education building designed for the congregation size of 1000-plus as the first step in a master plan, which originally envisioned a new sanctuary and chapel on the site. The building was occupied in 1969 and sparsely filled.
By the spring of 1973, Betty Bergdoll obtained a vision of using the nursery wing of the new building for an enriched program of child care. She set about obtaining support from the Pastor and church members, learning about the legal requirements, recruiting staff, and obtaining approval from the Administrative Board.
The first staff member recruited was Mary Bear, to be the cook and day care director. To provide skilled educational leadership, Betty felt it necessary to have a trained teacher lead the staff and Harriet Hallock and Elsa Huff recruited Jackie Stoltz to take this position. Jackie, Marty, and Kay Whitney were the first full-time staff, along with many volunteers and part-time helpers.
In the fall of 1973, the school opened as the Child Enrichment Center with four classes covering infants to five years.
The arrangement with the church was that the church would invest no money in the program, the school could use the facility without cost, but would reimburse the church for any expenses. Initially, the staff was all volunteers with the income going to equipment and supplies. When revenues permitted, salaries were paid and new activities were added. The spirit of giving and putting children first was born with the school.
One other characteristic of the school, which was established at the beginning, is of a faculty rich in talent and with a strong commitment to Christ. Selection of staff has always been a priority with the school.
The first four years the school stabilized and grew full. Many changes were made. Infant care was discontinued and the three, four, and five-year programs expanded.
In 1977 Jackie agreed to start a first grade in response to repeated requests from parents who had become so attached to the school. The school grew by adding one grade per year, until five grades existed, providing a full elementary school program. In 1982, the part-time nursery and two-year-old programs were discontinued as part of the continuing effort to focus the program. For the years 1983 through 1992, the school added a sixth grade, when public schools used a kindergarten through sixth elementary model.
Always a factor in the growth of the school, was that it be funded out of current income. At no time, was any money borrowed or given by the church or any member (except for modest individual donations). On the other hand, many parents gave freely of their time and in-kind service to help the school grow and prosper.
To support the expanded program, Music for all classes was added in 1976 and, for grades only, Physical Education class was added in 1978 and Art was added in 1989.
Throughout its history, the school has faced challenges. One common factor by the school leadership in meeting all of these, has been the determination that the solutions focus on what is best for the children and their parents. From each and every challenge, the school has emerged stronger and more effective in its ministry.
An on-going challenge, as the church approved the phased growth of the school, was devising a formula for sharing costs and responsibilities with the church for the building, which we share. What began as "pay any increases" was simplified in 1979 to a 50/50 split of utilities, janitorial and maintenance. In 1981, the Trustees and Pastor Woerner undertook a careful review of the relationship, and costs were weighted with the school paying over 50% based on its use of the building, which by then exceeded that of the church.
The formulas were revised up again in 1990, and included an added rent charge so that the school now pays approximately 90% of the operating cost of the building.
Probably the greatest single challenge to the school came with the 1983 recession. Loss of students caused a major operating loss and taught us how fine the line is between plus cash and minus. In response to this, a thorough review of every phase of the program was undertaken by the staff and the Board of Directors and the following changes were put in place during the 1985-86 school year:
1. The name was changed to First Methodist School to more accurately describe our program.
2. The loose association of parents was formalized and the parents were permitted to begin fund-raising activities with the promise that all money raised would be held separate to pay for projects approved by the parents.
3. Three members were added to the Board of Directors of the school with the condition that they be parents of children in the program and no requirement that they be church members. Previously, all Board members except staff representatives had been members of the church.
4. The day care program received new emphasis.
5. The Principal's Page and the annual survey of parent attitudes began.
6. And not least important, closer attention was paid to budget, financial controls, and reporting.
With these changes, the school experienced a new resurgence and has now grown to be stronger than ever.
By 1989, the newly invigorated program had us looking for space for the enhanced program. We discovered that the second floor of the old education building was again empty after being occupied as offices by the JASP and UCCC programs. (The church had not used this space after 1969). The school remodeled this space to include a classroom, store rooms, a resource library, typing lab, computer lab, and an art room for the new art program. In 1992, the classroom, two storerooms, and the resource library were turned over to the church Sunday School program, which desired to have space for their exclusive use and also have the small children right next to the Sanctuary.
The development of First Methodist School is a continuing thing. Change, improvement, and challenges will, no doubt, always be with us. The school began with a desire to use available facilities to serve the Lord. The initial plan looked sufficient, but far more important has been a willingness to follow the Lord's direction as new possibilities appeared before us. No one could have imagined in 1973 the program that now exists!
We can note several accomplishments:
1. After 20 years, we are held in high esteem by the community and parents.
2. This is a happy place for a child to go to school.
3. We are financially stable and we enjoy tremendous employee loyalty.
4. We have touched the lives of over 1000 young people, giving them a quality education, special enhancement experiences too numerous to mention--all grounded in a visible Christian environment where they can truly know they are loved and are part of a loving community.
5. We are still ready to go where the Lord leads us.