Training strong school leaders

“I know I’ve only been a principal for two months, but it’s a neat job that I wouldn’t trade for anything,” says Bill Fuerstenau, principal at Bethany Lutheran School, Hustisford, Wis.

Fuerstenau originally wasn’t planning on being a principal—or even a teacher. But as a sophomore at UW-Eau Claire, he still didn’t know what he should major in. After attending a recruitment Sunday that shared more about the mission of Martin Luther College (MLC), both he and his now wife decided to go to New Ulm, Minn., to train as called workers.

“I got this feeling that I’d like to be a principal—not in charge of a faculty but working with them and helping other teachers by making their job easier,” he says.

After his graduation in 2011, he was assigned as a teacher at St. John, Montello, Wis. One of the school board members saw his potential and recommended him for the Leadership Candidate Training program, a one-year program that helps prepare teachers to be principals or early childhood directors.

The Commission on Lutheran Schools started this program to address the need for additional principals and early childhood directors. The goal is to identify teachers already serving in WELS schools who have leadership gifts and provide training and mentoring to prepare them for leadership roles.

With many current principals reaching retirement age and the increase in early childhood ministries, the need for these leaders is great. Twenty-five new WELS principals and ten new early childhood directors were needed in each of the last two school years. While some of these positions were filled temporarily by pastors and interim teachers, 14 men were assigned directly from MLC as principals and 10 women as early childhood directors. “The goal is to have principals and directors who first have been able to become strong teachers before asking them to serve in leadership roles,” says Jim Rademan, director of Lutheran Schools. “That’s what would be best for the growth of those teachers and, most important, for the children entrusted in their care.”

While Lutheran Schools does provide training and mentoring for those assigned to leadership roles directly after graduation, it is working to find and train experienced teachers in the field to serve in these roles instead. That’s where the Leadership Candidate Training program and graduate coursework comes in.

Fuerstenau was one of eight men and seven women who participated in the program during 2015–16. These teachers attended several leadership conferences and seminars and were assigned a project during that year. They also were matched up with an experienced principal or early childhood director to mentor them.

“To hear all the things they do to be effective leaders was a really awesome experience,” Fuerstenau says about the conferences he attended. “And then bringing it all home and having one-on-one time with my mentor . . . has been really invaluable in preparing me to be a principal.”

Fuerstenau received his call to be principal and fifth through eighth grade teacher at Bethany about two-thirds of the way through the program. He’s excited about his new administrative responsibilities, which include working on the curriculum, the budget, faculty development and communication, and school accreditation.

He’s also happy that his school board recognizes that he needs time for these new duties. “They set up a part-time teacher to teach half days so that I can focus on accreditation,” he says. Bethany is going to help him finance his continuing education as well, which includes enrolling in Martin Luther College’s master’s program.

Even though the program is developing new leaders, Rademan says that principal and early childhood director vacancies will continue in upcoming years. He also says that there are shortages of teachers who speak Spanish and who are prepared to serve in urban areas. “These are three key areas where we really need to pray for additional people who are willing to serve and be trained.”

Learn about the Principal Training Program, another way Lutheran Schools is training future school leaders, in this month’s edition of WELS Connection.


Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.


Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.


Volume 103, Number 10
Issue: October 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

Print Friendly, PDF & Email