Positivity is contagious.

That’s the philosophy St. Peter’s Lutheran School Principal Scott Schumacher takes with him to work every morning.

Even something as simple as a smile and a wave first thing in the morning can improve a student’s outlook on the rest of the school day, the principal contends.

Although simple in concept, Schumacher’s relational philosophy of education is earning him national recognition as the only 2015 National Distinguished Principal from a private Lutheran school.

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“It is so humbling,” Schumacher said. “It certainly is nice to be validated for all the hard work, but looking at the list of people who have won this award in the past, to think I’m in that category is just so humbling.”

The National Distinguished Principals program recognizes one public school principal from each state, as well as a handful of private school principals.

This year, 59 administrators were chosen for the award, with the nine private school principals ranging from Schumacher’s Lutheran school to Catholic and Jewish schools and others.

Of the 2,000 Lutheran school principals in the country, Schumacher was singled out as the best candidate to represent the denomination’s educational practices to the rest of the country.

“He’s just an outstanding leader,” said Jon Mielke, superintendent of Indiana Lutheran schools, who nominated Schumacher for the award. “He’s passionate about education, and he’s passionate about Christian education.”

F

ather’s influenceSchumacher cites his father — who was a Lutheran school principal for 40 years — as the inspiration for his own style of leadership, which focuses on building relationships above all else.“His influence on me was strong as a child, and probably even stronger as an adult,” Schumacher wrote in his official NDP application. “I always knew that he was a ‘people person,’ but when I became principal, I realized that his ability to connect with others was the most significant factor contributing to his success.”

Schumacher came to St. Peter’s 11 years ago after three years as a principal in Michigan.

“When St. Peter’s Columbus called me to talk about the possibility of coming down, it was like, ‘Whoa, yes,’” he said. “Once we came down here to visit, we were definitely hooked on Columbus.”

When he arrived, Schumacher said, his first order of business was to continue his father’s legacy and begin building relationships with students, especially the ones who were struggling academically. At that time, only one resource teacher was available part time to work with students who were falling behind their classmates, which meant the individual needs of those students were often overlooked.

Today, the school has four resource teachers who can mentor students one-on-one, thus leading to greater overall academic success.

When students succeed, Schumacher said, they gain confidence, which makes them more receptive to the lessons the school is trying to teach.

“It goes back to our mission: We want to equip children to be responsible adults who above all else love Jesus,” Schumacher said. “To have the opportunity to teach them about Jesus, we have to be able to meet their academic needs here at our school as well.”

Assisting teachers

From the perspective of the church, Schumacher’s philosophy of focusing on academic success to encourage a deeper relationship with God is working.Mike Hinckfoot, executive director of St. Peter’s ministries, said he has seen a growth in the spiritual maturity of the school’s students, a feat he credits to Schumacher’s warm personality and dedication to his students.“He loves to connect with people, and what’s unique about him is that he helps others connect when they’re in need,” Hinckfoot said. “He asks, ‘How can we help each other?’”

But for Schumacher, equipping students for success is only half the job. Children cannot succeed without teachers who are trained to lead them, which is why he has also focused his efforts on professional development initiatives for St. Peter’s employees.

“He’s very committed to helping teachers improve instruction,” Mielke said.

Nationwide, Mielke said, Lutheran schools have implemented professional growth initiatives that Schumacher has tailored specifically to St. Peter’s teachers. Those initiatives have led to higher student performance, which earned the school a national “Exemplary” accreditation in 2012, an honor only given to 35 Lutheran schools across the country so far.

“Again, if they weren’t high-performing kids, we wouldn’t be winning these kinds of awards,” Schumacher said. “It’s not just those really smart kids. It’s the kids who have some academic needs, and we work with them and we show their growth.”

Mod

eling faithBut beyond his ability to lead his school and build positive relationships with the people around him, those who work with Schumacher say his greatest connection is with the one thing the church holds above all else — his faith.The mission of St. Peter’s School — to teach children to love Jesus above all else — is something Schumacher meditates on daily.

He makes decisions only after considering if his choices will lead his students to a closer relationship with God, and he makes a conscious effort to model the life of patience, kindness and love toward all people that is advocated in the Bible.

Even when a child is in trouble, Schumacher said, his favorite thing to tell a student is that their actions are forgiven, both by the school and by God.

“To actually be able to say the words, ‘You’re forgiven’ … I don’t know if that’s something that happens in other schools or not. But when we say that here, it’s totally within our Christian context,” he said.

That dedication to the faith is what makes Schumacher stand out as a leader.

“If a Christian leader is not in the Word, they’ll have a difficult time leading,” Mielke said. “He portrays a deep love for Jesus, and that’s a blessing to me and a blessing to those around him.”

Schumacher’s labor for St. Peter’s for the past 11 years will be recognized during ceremonies Oct. 15 and 16 in Washington. He and his wife will travel to the capital together to meet with the other distinguished principals, tour the city, discuss professional growth and development concepts, and attend a black-tie ball, where the awards will be presented.

Schumacher bio

Scott Schumacher

Age: 44

Education: Bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Concordia University in Chicago; master’s in educational administration from Butler University in Indianapolis.

Career: After serving for nine years as a teacher and athletic director at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Seymour, Schumacher became a principal and teacher at Trinity Lutheran School in Reese, Michigan. Accepted principal position at St. Peter’s Lutheran School in Columbus in 2005. Has been involved in regional and national committees on development of curriculum and on accreditation teams.

Family: Wife, Anita; three children — Mackenzie, 23; Lauren, a junior at Columbus East; and Alex, an eighth-grader at St. Peter’s

About St. Peter's

Address: 719 Fifth St, Columbus

Enrollment: 412 students

Grades: Kindergarten to eighth grade

Phone: 812-372-5266

Website: stpeterscolumbus.org

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.