Shepherd’s Watch opens doors for students

Mattoon school enrollment stands at 17
Kevin Passon

The day after Labor Day was truly the first day of school at Shepherd’s Watch Christian Academy in Mattoon. The school opened its doors to 17 students from 4-year-old kindergarten through fourth grade for the very first time.

“The kids were very excited,” said administrator and teacher Gerry Schmidt. “It was a different atmosphere. There’s more one-on-one instruction, and that helped make things easier and more refreshing.”

Like any other first day – and the first week, for that matter – everyone had to settle in and find their comfort zone.

“Some students had been homeschooled before, and a structured day was challenging to some,” Schmidt sad. “You can’t just get up and go to the fridge for a snack while doing math.”

Shepherd’s Watch operates like any other school. Classes run from 8 a.m to 3 p.m., with lunch at 11:30 a.m. Students in 4K attend school all day Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while K-4 students attend all day every day.

Math, science, social studies and other basics are taught along with religion. Physical education and art are also part of the curriculum.

“We open the day with pledges to the American and Christian flags,” Schmidt said. “We also sing songs like ‘Yes, Jesus Loves Me.’”

The school is located in what used to be Mattoon Elementary School, first part of the Mattoon School District and then the Unified School District of Antigo. The building was shuttered several years ago. After a mix of negotiations and court battles, Shepherd’s Watch assumed ownership. Creating the school has taken two years.

Officials had hoped to have about 30 students enrolled this fall, but a few stumbling blocks cut that number almost in half.

“We’re not in the state voucher program,” Schmidt said. “We expect to be next year.”

The application to be part of the program has been filed with the state, and the next status update won’t happen until December.

Bussing issues also lowered enrollment.

“In March, we expected to have bussing from the Antigo School District, but some deadlines were not met, so we won’t see any bussing from there this year. Something similar happened in Bowler.”

The Antigo district would normally bus students to Shepherd’s Watch, because the school is within the district’s boundaries. Bowler would also provide transportation to the school, because Shepherd’s Watch is within the required 5 miles of the district’s boundaries, and there is not another Lutheran school in that district.

As for Wittenberg-Birnamwood, officials are still working on bussing details. SWCA is within 5 linear miles of the district’s boundaries but is 5.5 miles driving distance from the boundary.

The goal is to grow one grade level each year up until the eighth grade.

“Whatever we do, we want to do well,” said Wade Reimer, founder of Shepherd’s Watch and president of the SWCA School Board, earlier this year. “We don’t want to be too big out of the gate. We want to be very manageable and do it well.”

Schmidt, of Bonduel, has 40 years of experience as a teacher and administrator.

He has taught all grade levels, from kindergarten through high school, all at Lutheran Church Missouri Synod schools.

He started out teaching for five years in a school outside of Detroit, then at Zion Lutheran School in Wayside, on the southern tip of Brown County.

The last 20 years, he was at St. Paul Lutheran School in Bonduel, retiring as principal.

In Mattoon, Schmidt teaches the upper levels, with another teacher assigned to the 4K and kindergarten students. There are also several volunteer teacher aides who help out daily, and a volunteer secretary in the office.

“The community has really stepped forward to volunteer,” Schmidt said. “Grandparents, retired teachers are helping out.”

The school continues to accept new students.

“Our arms are always open to new students and families,” Schmidt said.

For information, call the school at 715-489-3638 or, or reach out to Schmidt at

Volunteers at the school are always welcome, Schmidt said. To help, call the school office at 715-489-3638, Schmidt at 715-509-0281, visit the website or visit the Facebook page.