Thoughts about Closing the Our Saviour Lutheran Church Circle School after Nearly 50 Years

August 31, 2020

Croton’s Circle School, a non-denominational nursery school, was founded as a program of Our Saviour Lutheran Church nearly 50 years ago. It was called Circle School because the church is located on Gotwald Circle, named after the Rev. Frederick Gotwald, the church’s influential pastor from 1949-1969. The church’s Circle School has long been a valued part of the Croton community. It is with great regret that we announce the closing of the school for the 2020-21 school year.

Throughout the years, the school has touched the lives of hundreds of children, many of whom are now adults with fond memories of the school. Church members have been fond of the relationship between the school and the church and proud of the contribution this program had on students’ lives and the larger community.

Like many things in the world, changes occur and the needs of the community change. What was effective in the 1980s or earlier may no longer work in 2020. We began to notice these changes with the Circle School in the last number of years. The cost of teaching staff, supplies, and utilities have all increased, while enrollment and the amount the school could reasonably charge in tuition have not kept pace. The school has been running at a deficit in recent years, making it difficult to operate the school as it once was.

There have also been outside changes. While there was once a demand for a 3 hour nursery school, there now seems to be greater demand for a full-time program which the church cannot host due to building constraints. Other schools nearby have begun opening full-time programs, which may be meeting the needs of the community more effectively. These changes have raised concerns about the need to run the school as it once was.

Covid-19 arrived in March of this year and the school had to close. The church council voted to continue paying the teachers and aides through the end of Spring 2020 at a substantial loss, even prior to the announcement of the CARES Act. While a Federal Paycheck Protection Program loan helped mitigate some of these costs, the school once again operated at a financial loss.

A task force was formed to explore reopening the school for the 2020-2021 year. Three plans were proposed, all far from ideal. Problems with these plans included difficulty meeting all coronavirus safety recommendations in our facilities, tuition increases that would make enrollment unaffordable for many current or prospective students, and large financial losses due to the need to reduce enrollment for coronavirus safety. At best, we might have been able to operate the school for one more year under the former model.

In the end, the church council decided that none of these plans would have served the families who have used the school, showed proper care and consideration for the teachers and staff, or proved fiscally responsible. Instead, we chose to close the school and use any remaining funds to cover the costs associated with closure.

All of these items have helped us realize what was once a successful model, no longer worked in 2020. It has led to mourning and sadness within the church leadership. Closing the school for the year was not an easy decision. We considered a variety of possibilities, but none would bring the school back to what it once was.

At Our Saviour, we are unsure about the prospects for resuming a school program. We are also aware that some of the former teachers may have begun a campaign to reopen a school program at another location. Please know that while we have heard that they may be using the Circle School name and the reputation the school has built through the years, they are no longer associated with the church. Any fundraising effort being done to “Save the Circle School” is not endorsed by Our Saviour, and will not bring the former Circle School back. Any funds given to the project are not being given to what used to be known as the Circle School, but to a new group. The Our Saviour Circle School is also not associated with the current Circle School Facebook page or Circle School website.

This is a sad time for our members and for the larger community. We are prayerful that a new offering can emerge, as Our Saviour has been focused on serving and working with the community since the church was founded more than 80 years ago. We continue to host programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, to serve as a polling station, to work with the Croton Caring Committee, to hold our annual Christmas Fair, and to support a wide variety of community activities. We are considering what to do with the space formerly occupied by the Circle School. No matter what decisions we make, the intent of the church will continue to be to serve Croton and the people of Croton. We are grateful that the Circle School has provided so much benefit to the Croton community over its 48-year history, and thank the families and staff members who shared in that effort.