Puyallup School and Church Are Ignited and United

July 01, 2005 | Lori Cockerham

Nelson Crane Elementary (Puyallup, Wash.) had a deficit of over $100,000 four years ago. Today its goal is to return their yearly stipend back to their home church, thanks to compassionate and committed members who thought outside the box, stepped out in faith and turned things around for God’s glory.

Not wanting to close their 42-year-old school, board members brainstormed how to make the school more marketable and create a user-friendly, one-stop school meeting parents' needs.

Before- and after-school care was examined. So sure that the idea would work, school board member Lane Bibb personally underwrote the program, which is housed in the same room that serves as the cafeteria. The program currently holds its own, and many students are enrolled because of the convenience it provides to parents.

Bibb also proposed a preschool program with five different schedules from part-time to full-time so parents could hand pick what would work best for them.

"[Bibb] is the guy that has the match and lights the fire," said Debbie Paulsen, para-educator (teacher's aide). "All of the staff members are the pieces of wood." The preschool took a leap of faith, but today it is thriving and feeds the school's enrollment.

Children need good nutrition, but so often parents are just too busy to focus on healthy lunches. The board decided to provide the students with a hot lunch each day. Their kitchen did not meet health codes, but God blessed with a one-time gift from a private donor to partially remodel the old kitchen and bring it up to code. Appliances were purchased that could be easily relocated to a possible future site.

Working parents have the challenge each summer of finding care for their young children. They want to have them in a safe environment with plenty of enrichment and fun, so an all-day summer program, Camp Safari, was created for kids 3–11.

With a two-day notice, children can participate by the day, week, month or entire summer. Camp Safari includes breakfast, snacks, science and cooking projects, and a daily adventure in the community. Parents enrolling a child for a full five weeks or more in Camp Safari earn "scholar dollars" to help cover their September tuition.

For their trips, campers wear T-shirts advertising the school. On one day trip, Camp Safari children and staff had such a positive impact on one observing mom that she enrolled her two children for the next school year. That more than covered the cost for the T-shirts. Last year, six campers became new Nelson Crane students.

In addition to the needs of the parents, the board looked at ways to operate the school more cost efficiently. They hired a company called SMART to handle tuition accounts payable and receivable. The company allows families to have tuition automatically withdrawn from their bank accounts or to use a coupon book to save a percentage of their tuition. Families are billed on a 12-month cycle, and there is no registration fee for returning students. The program offers the school third-party assistance with tuition payments, which has decreased the minimal bad debt.

Nelson Crane acquired 18 truckloads of equipment and furniture after Bibb made a one-time application to get on the public school system's bid grant list for school surpluses.

Budgeting and deciding to hire new staff months prior to registration can be stressful because of uncertainty. Nelson Crane now offers financial incentives for early registration, starting in March. These early numbers make budgeting more accurate and allow teachers to get early textbook order discounts.

Paulsen shares that the school uses several avenues for advertising, but the most effective are relationships with families and large vinyl banners advertising the school and Camp Safari. The banners, which are displayed for open house in March and again in August, are easily viewed from the school's heavily traveled road. Inquiring parents receive a packet that includes a conference video, Safe and Sound, which explains why Adventists believe the way they do and that the school is not there to convert the children but to lift Jesus up to them.

Team players that mesh together are essential for a healthy school. "The school is thriving because the church took ownership of their school and are doing an excellent job of supporting it," Bibb said.

Kieth Noll, Puyallup Church senior pastor, actively supports the school by attending all school functions and providing Bible study and baptismal classes. Steve Yamamoto has invested five years into leading the school board. He expects excellence at all levels and has been a true leader. Paulsen’s passion and unwavering dedication to the school have been a true inspiration. Her extreme generosity with her time has been a real blessing.

This school that, a few years back, was struggling financially, is now planning for a new school facility and has already raised part of the funding for it.