Sitting at her desk in her office, the new director of Zion Lutheran School in Seymour has the perfect view from her window.
Whenever students walk through the hallways from one area of the school to the other, she can look up and see their smiling faces and wave.
That’s the best part of her day, Christina Heiss said.
Coming from Centerview, Missouri, Heiss recently accepted Zion’s call to serve as director, which is similar to principal, and plans to grow the school’s early childhood education services for students and their families.
She was installed during an Aug. 28 worship service at Zion Lutheran Church.
Zion Lutheran School offers preschool classes for 2-year-olds through 4-year-olds, full-day kindergarten and extend care services.
The school also is organizing a new MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) program, Heiss said. MOPS is an organization that provides a social group for moms to receive advice from each other, develop leadership, engage in honest conversations about issues important to moms and participate in creative activities together.
Zion will be providing childcare during MOPS meetings and events, Heiss said.
Enrollment at Zion, which currently is at 140 students, is open to all children in the community regardless of church membership.
Preschool classes began the new school year last week, while kindergarten classes started earlier in August.
“There is still room in our preschool and kindergarten programs, but our extend care is full,” Heiss said.
Zion also participates in the state-funded On My Way Pre-K pilot program for 4-year-olds to provide quality options for early childhood education for low-income families.
“We have seven students we’re serving through that,” she said.
Heiss replaced Roy Stuckwisch, who retired last summer after eight years of service as director of Zion.
Originally from Concordia, Missouri, she had been the lead teacher and director at Christ Lutheran Pre-Kindergarten in Platte Woods, Missouri, for the past five years.
Before that, she was a teacher at Immanuel-Zion Lutheran School in Missouri for nearly six years.
She received her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and teaching in 1989 from the University of Central Missouri, her Lutheran teacher’s certification in 2006 from Concordia University in Seward, Nebraska, and her master of education degree in elementary and middle school administration in 2009 from Concordia.
She knew she wanted to go into the education field after getting the opportunity to be a cadet teacher when she was still in high school, she said.
In the late 1980s, early childhood education was the up-and-coming trend, so that’s why she chose to study it, she said.
The call to Zion came at the right time in her life, she said, as her youngest daughter, Caroline, 18, graduated from high school last May and went off to study graphic design at the Kansas City Art Institute and her husband, Chuck, had just retired as sheriff of their county after 17½ years. He is now Seymour’s new animal control officer, a job he thoroughly enjoys, Heiss said.
The couple’s oldest daughter, Cassidy, 21, is studying criminal justice at the University of Central Missouri.
But the real reason Heiss accepted the call to Seymour was spiritual.
“The Lord will lead you where he needs you,” she said.
So far, she has enjoyed meeting new students and their families, and the transition has gone smoothly, she said.
“Missouri and Indiana are a lot alike,” she said. “So there hasn’t been a huge culture shock.”
The biggest difference is there’s not as much diversity in Seymour, she added.
As the new director, Heiss said she wants the school to do more outreach in the community and plans to grow the On My Way Pre-K program to serve more students.
She said the reason Zion Lutheran School is successful is because it’s affordable and gives working families a flexible option for their young children to receive a quality Christian education.
Heiss said one of her goals is to add technology in the classrooms to give children early access to computers and the learning tools they will use later on in school.
“We’ve ordered some Kindle Fire tablets, and we’re wanting to purchase some interactive whiteboards,” she said. “We’re working on funding for that.”
With the school having all women employees, Heiss said she also wants to offer leadership and professional development opportunities, especially in technology, for her staff.
“I did a research project on women and leadership in the parochial schools, and that was a major part of it, being engaged with technology and being a leader,” she said.
Her philosophy when it comes to technology is simple.
“It’s just like driving a car,” she said. “You don’t have to know how it works. You just have to know how to turn it on.”
Her experience and knowledge isn’t limited to Christian education. She also spent time working in the business world as a manager for Pizza Hut.
Working for Pizza Hut gave her a lot of experience managing people and budgets.
“That’s been very beneficial,” she said.
Making her home in Seymour, Heiss said there’s really no place like it.
“The number of Lutherans here is amazing,” she said. “That part is nice. We feel very comfortable here.”
She also said she was surprised by how friendly people in the community are.
“Everyone is just so friendly,” she said. “Even perfect strangers are super friendly. I thought Missouri was the friendliest place in the world. It’s not.”