OTTUMWA — Tracey Menninga knew that, for some, the knock against Ottumwa Christian School was always that it wasn’t an accredited school. That’s no longer the case, and she couldn’t be happier about it.
“It’s been about a three-year process,” she said.
The accreditation comes from Christian Schools International, which Menninga said is recognized by the state as an accrediting agency. The process meant a lot of communications back and forth with teachers and board members, as well as checking to see whether the programs offered at OCS were moving toward the standards CSI required.
Some programs just needed a couple tweaks here and there, she said. Others had to be created from scratch, though CSI does offer guidelines for those situations. Site visits and discussions by a panel from CSI with parents and teachers helped wrap up the effort to get the school’s formal credentials.
To Menninga, the biggest benefit is that the school can now point skeptics toward the accreditation. She defended the school’s programs, saying students always got a good education, but acknowledged the lack of accreditation troubled some families who considered the school as an alternative.
“For a lot of people in the Ottumwa area, it gives us validity,” she said.
There are some financial benefits as well. Some funds may become available for textbook reimbursement and for transportation. “We’re not talking a lot by any means, but it helps,” Menninga said.
The accreditation is in some ways a capstone on the school’s comeback from a devastating fire in August 2016 that left OCS without a building just weeks before classes were set to start, as well as an embezzlement case involving a former employee that came to light the same year. The fire was deemed arson.
A solution was found when the Ottumwa Community School District allowed OCS to lease the former Wildwood Elementary School. Students, teachers and families raced to renovate the building, and classes began only a week later than scheduled. OCS eventually purchased the building, which still serves as the school’s home.
Classes at OCS include students from kindergarten through high school, as well as preschool programs. The latter could be expanding, Menninga said, as the school considers addition of a part-time preschool program depending on the level of interest from families.
OCS is not the only area school accredited by CSI. The organization also lists Pella Christian School and Oskaloosa Christian School as accredited schools on its website.