Christian school is small but dedicated, ambitious

Mirror staff

Call it the little school that could –– and is.

Since it started four years ago, Des Moines Creek School has made a name for itself as a private Christian school where enrollment grows despite the bad economy.

Founded and directed by a couple whose children were among the first students, the tiny school attracts a patchwork group of middle-class families with a curriculum that school officials describe as “classical Christian liberal arts.” The mission, as posted on the school’s Web site, includes “to provide a learning community where children are nurtured to grow toward their God-given potential” and to “serve and lead in a manner which honors God.”

The school, which leases portable classroom buildings at Des Moines Cornerstone Christian Center but is non-denominational, is a member of the Association of Christian Schools International and approved by the state Board of Education.

John and Nancy Savage are the head and administrator, respectively, of the school that began the current academic year Sept. 17 with 16 pupils in kindergarten through fourth grade. Over the next 10 months:

• The Savages will grant scholarships to students whose parents stretch their own dollars “because they believe in the school.“

• Nancy, who calls herself “a yet-to-be-paid” administrator, will log 50 to 60-hour weeks working with the school’s three teachers and students’ parents.

• And John, a consultant whose clients are schools and other non-profit organizations across the country, will travel an average of 14 days a month but call in from the road to check on school business.

The school opened in 2000 with five students. The Savages said it has grown steadily in the midst of a tough economy. Standard monthly tuition is $395 for grades one through four and $250 for all-day kindergarten (8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.).

Keeping tuition affordable to working families is a challenge, John Savage said.

“We’ve had months where we had to decide whether to pay our teachers or our mortgage,” he said. “We’ve had some donor support. It takes time to build a dream.”

Teachers meet state standards and attend seminars and university classes for professional development.

The curriculum they teach was discovered by Savage at Bear Creek School in Mill Creek, one of the schools he worked with in 1995. He said he “was impressed with the children –– not only how they were learning to think, but also how they respected each other and their teachers.”

“In my work as an executive coach,” he said, “I try to help leaders gain a better sense of who they are and where they are going. At (Des Moines Creek), we try to instill that same sense of personal vision and direction, and hope that the children will contribute to their communities by being mature, well-grounded individuals who give back to others.”

School officials noted that on recent national SAT exams, many Des Moines Creek students have tested out at an eighth-grade reading level, well beyond the average for kindergarten through fourth grade.

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