CEDAR FALLS -- Students will be seeing some new faces at Valley Lutheran High School Monday, and not because enrollment is suddenly growing.

School officials are bringing in some new teachers after virtually every staff member resigned amid ongoing financial difficulties. Four of the school's five teachers have handed in their resignations.

"We got their letters of resignation the week before the break, and so at that point we began to search for replacement teachers," said Rev. Roger Twito, school board chairman.

Valley's math teacher, who also served as its academic consultant, and the principal had already announced they were leaving. The math teacher says he was fired and the principal resigned.

Seven teachers and a guidance counselor have been found to replace those who resigned. "Some will be doing it gratis and some will be compensated," said Twito.

"I've got all the subjects covered except for art and French. Lord willing, by January third we'll have all the courses covered and be ready to go."

Not all of the teachers are certified, but each is "adequately qualified" in their subject.

"Some are retired, some are working other jobs and are able to help us out," said Twito. "It's kind of a whole variety of people. But every single one of them are going to be Christian, competent and caring."

Parents of several returning students expressed confidence that Valley's educational quality will not decline, in part because the new teachers had the passion to volunteer for the jobs.

Larry Moen of Cedar Falls has a son, Tanner, in 10th grade at Valley, and his daughter was one of the teachers who resigned. Those working at the school are "doing it because of their love for Jesus and because of their belief in the school," he said. "Because of that, I believe the school is going to be stronger and better than it was before."

Enrollment has lagged far behind projections since Valley opened in fall 2003, and construction of a $4.23 million school at Greenhill Road and Rownd Street has made finances very tight. The association operating the school began falling behind on salaries this year, having raised only about $2 million in donations.

Twito cited the stress of waiting for paychecks and "threats of layoffs" as possible reasons teachers resigned. The teachers didn't return calls for comment or couldn't be reached by the Courier.

Former Principal Buzz Tewes believes some of the stress was caused by board decisions.

"It becomes a problem, too, when you see that sometimes … you put some of your material things ahead of your employees," he said, noting building loans were getting paid. "That creates stress, too."

Twito said progress has been made toward covering teacher salaries, which will soon be paid in full. "I'm really confident that in the first part of January we'll be able to pay the teachers the salaries we owe them."

Contributions exceeding $50,000 last month are making that possible. "Our average is usually somewhere around $15,000 or $25,000, so that was really a shot in the arm for the association," he said.

Until the semester ends in three weeks, Twito will serve as the school's on-site administrator. After that, a replacement principal and math teacher will have to be found.

"As far as I know, the rest have agreed to stay through the end of the school year," said Twito. "And then we'd have to renegotiate for 2005-2006."

Most of Valley's 13 students are returning Monday.

"I think the plan for most of them is that they are going to be there for the next three weeks and then see what kind of staff the Lord has put together for the rest of the year," he said. "But I believe they are going to be pleasantly surprised with what the Lord has raised up for us."

Glenda Harriman's daughter, Melea, is a freshman, but she has already committed to finishing high school at Valley.

"Melea's going to be there until the end," said Harriman. "If she's the only student at Valley, she'll be the only student at Valley."

Val Swinton of Clarksville is taking a wait-and-see approach for his daughter, Laura, a junior. She will continue attending Valley as the family prayerfully considers where to send her next semester.

"Her experience has been very positive right up until the end of last semester," he said. "With all the uncertainty and everything, it's rattled her and all the students, I think. This being very small school, there's a bond between the students and the teachers."

Andrew Wind can be contacted at (319) 291-1507 or andrew.wind@wcfcourier.com.

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