New, private Christian school aims to start classes in Tama Co. in 2025

Tama Toledo Christian School helmed by board president Rep. Dean Fisher

The former Tama Catholic Church located at 600 Oswego Street in Tama pictured on Wednesday, Jan. 10. The building owned by Plum Family Buildings LLC is currently being considered as one possible location for the new, non-denominational, private Christian school Tama Toledo Christian School. PHOTO BY MICHAEL D. DAVIS

TAMA COUNTY – Following the passage of the Students First Act which was signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds in late January last year, a group of Tama County residents began working to expand the educational options available to students in grades K-8 by founding a private, accredited Christian school in the Tama-Toledo area.

Led by rural Montour resident Dean Fisher – a Republican member of the Iowa House representing District 53 which includes all of Poweshiek Co. and most of Tama Co. excluding the northeast corner – the group filed the non-profit Tama Toledo Christian School with the Iowa Sec. of State’s Office in mid-May last year and has been busy ever since drumming up support, both financial and otherwise, for the new school.

“Tama Toledo Christian School intends to be independent of any specific denominational ties, focusing on Christ centered and Bible centered faith and teachings,” Fisher told Tama-Grundy Publishing in a recent email. “We have reached out to many of the churches in the Tama-Toledo area and have received support in various ways. One local church has allowed us to hold board meetings at the church for several months now, other churches have offered space, and some are considering financial support. Many individuals have provided financial support as well.”

Currently, Tama County is home to several public school districts including the South Tama County Community School District which has an elementary, middle, and high school in Tama-Toledo; the North Tama County Community School District which has a PK-12 campus in Traer; the Union Community School District which has both an elementary and a middle school in Dysart (the high school is in Black Hawk County); the GMG Community School District which has a junior high/high school in Garwin (the elementary is in Marshall County); and the Gladbrook-Reinbeck Community School District which no longer has any buildings in Tama County but operates a public preschool in Gladbrook.

Tama County is also home to the Meskwaki Settlement School, a PK-12 tribally controlled school operated through a Bureau of Indian Education grant.

There are no private Christian schools in Tama County at present.

Last summer, the Iowa Dept. of Education released preliminary data on the number of students who had applied for the $7,635 educational savings account (ESA) vouchers under the new Students First Act. At the time, only six such vouchers had been approved for students in Tama County.

For every ESA voucher granted this school year, the state in turn grants $1,205 to the public school district where the student resides.

In an op-ed published this week in the Tama-Toledo News Chronicle, Rep. Fisher wrote that the lack of private schools in Tama County was one of the driving forces behind the new private school startup.

“Christian schools nation-wide are seeing a tremendous increase in families seeking to take advantage of a Christian education for their children. Last spring, Marshalltown Christian School had a doubling of interest in enrollment and are now considering a building expansion due to full capacity limitations. Central Iowa Christian School in Grinnell saw a significant increase as well. With the demands increasing in nearby towns, why not start a Christian grade school in the Tama-Toledo area?” he wrote. “Other than homeschooling, there are no other non-public educational options for our area for parents to take advantage of the ESA opportunities.”

School still ‘in early stages’ of planning

At present, the new Tama Toledo Christian School is still in the very early stages, although Fisher indicated in his op-ed the school’s board of directors intends to begin classes in August of 2025.

The non-profit school’s board currently numbers six including Rep. Fisher. The board also includes Fisher’s wife Vicki Fisher, Elaine Gibson – retired South Tama County Elementary ELL teacher, Linda Rosenberger – retired former executive director of Tama Co. Public Health, Megan Rosenberger – current Elementary Title I teacher at South Tama County schools, and Marja Leena Turner – a former teacher at Marshalltown Christian School.

All six are residents of Tama County.

A primary task of the board in recent months has been to find a location for the new school.

One such location currently under consideration is the empty building located at 600 Oswego Street in Tama which is described on the Tama Co. Assessor’s website as the “former Tama Catholic Church.” The building is currently owned by Plum Family Buildings LLC.

“Efforts to secure a building are ongoing,” Fisher wrote in his email. “Our goal from the start has been to house the school within the city limits of Tama or Toledo, being the population center of the area. We are open to both leased space, or purchased space, depending on suitability and cost of course. The vacant church building at 600 Oswego is being seriously considered as our site, but we have not signed a lease yet.”

Funding the new school startup has been another task for the board to tackle. Fisher said the school needs at least $100,000 to begin.

“Our funding falls into two categories, startup expenses to get us to the first day of school in 2025, and operating expenses from the first day on. Our start-up expenses are expected to be slightly over $100,000. These funds will come from fundraising events, donations by community members and churches, corporations that wish to support the effort, and grants from organizations that wish to support Christian School startups like ours.

“Once we start classes the ESA funding will pay the bulk of our operating expenses, and we will also continue to fundraise from the community to enhance our funding.”

Fisher also said the board is working to obtain accreditation through the Iowa Association of Christian Schools (IACS) via the accreditation agency Christian Schools International which is based in Michigan.

Tama Toledo Christian School’s filing agent with the Iowa Secretary of State is listed as Iowa Agents, LLC of Des Moines which itself is registered to an individual named Andrew B. Karas.

Karas currently sits on the Two Rivers Classical Academy (TRCA) Board of Directors – a K-12 private Christian school with a homeschool element located in the greater Des Moines area.

When asked to comment on the effect a private school such as Tama Toledo Christian School could have on enrollment at area public schools in Tama County – several of which have experienced significant drops in enrollment as agriculture continues to consolidate – Fisher told the newspaper that regardless of the role he is working in, whether that be the president of the new school’s board of directors or that of a sitting Iowa legislator, his concerns lie with parents first and foremost.

“My concern will always be with providing parents with options for their child’s education that can best suit their needs. I see the value in and support all forms of education, whether it is a public school, charter school, private school, faith based school, home school, or an on-line school,” he said.

Fisher and his board of directors are hardly alone in their work to bring a new private Christian school to the state of Iowa. The Iowa Association of Christian Schools in its December newsletter – which Fisher shared with the newspaper – reported it is working with 13 new school startups as part of the initial accreditation process.

In order to accept ESA funding under Iowa’s Students First Act, schools must be accredited; however unlike public schools, there is no state or local oversight as to how the voucher money is spent by the school.

Fisher closed out his op-ed about the new Tama Toledo Christian School with both a call for donations and for general support, writing, “This is an exciting endeavor, but it will not happen without a great deal of support from our churches and the community. We will need your help in making this school become a beacon of light in our community.”

To stay updated on the Tama Toledo Christian School’s development, email TTChristianSchool@gmail.com.

To donate to the school, contact treasurer Vicki Fisher using the same email address or call 515-770-6182.