It is an idea the high school has flirted with for decades: should Hillcrest Academy add a middle school? Parents have long wanted the Christian education the school offers to begin years …
It is an idea the high school has flirted with for decades: should Hillcrest Academy add a middle school? Parents have long wanted the Christian education the school offers to begin years earlier in their children’s lives, but the idea has always been discussed and then tabled. Not this time.
In December 2020, the idea grew more tenacious roots. Amidst the pandemic, it didn’t seem the right time to act, but school board members couldn’t shake off the idea either. Finally, this September, they decided to go forward and start a new chapter in the school’s long history.
Beth Swantz, ’81 alumna, long-time educator, and Hillcrest School Board president, said, “When we started exploring a bit more seriously last year, it felt like the time was right. We heard from parents, grandparents and community people with growing interest.”
Allison (Brenneman) Goertz, ’02 alumna, attorney, and board member who serves on the Middle School Committee, said “The Hillcrest Academy Operating Board recognizes that we are fortunate to have many good schooling options in this area, both private and public. We also have heard from many that there is a strong desire for an additional option to better fit their needs, such as small class sizes and a foundation in faith. It was really that drive from the community especially over the past few years that led the Board to decide that this is the right time to open a middle school.”
“We feel like we have something really good happening here right now,” Dwight Gingerich, Principal at Hillcrest, said. “Our staff is doing a great job. Families are liking what they’re experiencing and wanting it for their younger kids, and they’re wanting it sooner. Rebecca Beachy Miller, our enrollment director, has received some inquiries about it. We’re getting inquiries from the south, Washington; the north, Iowa City; and locally in the Kalona/Wellman area. So, it feels like it’s something we want to respond to.”
Adding middle school grades – sixth, seventh, and eighth -- to the school is not a minor undertaking. Having adequate space, staff, and transportation are all concerns, as are opportunities for the students to play sports and attend meaningful chapels. The Middle School Committee has formed three sub-committees to address these issues: academics and curriculum; logistics; and communications.
Fortunately for the school, it has classroom and campus space in abundance. In previous decades, the former Iowa Mennonite School educated 100-200 students each year. However, perhaps due to shrinking family sizes and other cultural and geographical shifts, today the school enrolls 61 students in grades 9-12.
The modern hallways lined with classrooms, open foyer with spacious offices, and 557-seat auditorium are ready to be fully occupied by students and staff once again. An apple orchard, chicken coop, and solar panels are ready learning opportunities just outside the doors.
The plan, according to Gingerich, is to start by enrolling a sixth-grade class for Fall Semester, 2023. That class will be the first class of 7th graders in Fall 2024, and the first class of 8th graders in Fall 2025. At that point, the slow rollout of the new middle school will be complete, and all three grades will be a permanent part of the school.
Gingerich expects the school will hire one new full-time teacher for the sixth grade for the 2023-2024 school year; additional staff will be hired as the seventh and eighth grades are added in future years.
The sixth graders will also study in their own wing, separate from the high school students. How much the middle school students will interact with the high school students is something yet to be determined, but Gingerich sees an opportunity for older students to mentor younger ones that he would like to explore.
However the details are worked out, those involved in the decision-making process are clear about their fundamental values and goals for the middle school.
There will be “a huge emphasis placed on nurturing and developing a sense of belonging,” Gingerich says. “We want to help them build a sense of community.”
Swantz hopes students “find a joy for learning and feel the love of Jesus made real.”
“We hope this middle school will provide a safe and caring space for learning where all students feel known and loved. We want to provide hands-on experiences where students are invested in learning and where learning expands beyond the classroom into our beautiful 40-acre campus,” says Goertz.
For more information on Hillcrest Academy’s middle school plans, visit
https://www.hillcrestravens.org/2022/09/09/middleschoolannouncement/ or email the staff at email@example.com with questions or to express interest in being part of the preparation process.