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Towson school changes name to Concordia Preparatory

Savannah Seymour completed her sophomore year at Baltimore Lutheran School and entered her junior year at Concordia Preparatory School — without transferring schools.

She's not alone.

Seymour's move was the same for all returning students at the Towson school, located across the street from Loch Raven High, after it changed its name following a vote by its board of directors in July.

"No, I did not," Seymour said, when asked if she knew a change was afoot. "I heard about it from my aunt (Martha Bainbridge), who works at the school (as an art teacher).

Seymour's first reaction was understandable.

"I was shocked, yes," she said. "Initially, I was very uncomfortable with it. It's very hard for people who have known it (as Baltimore Lutheran School) for such a long time."

Baltimore Lutheran, which boasts 229 students in grades six to 12, was approaching its 49th birthday when the name was discarded in favor of Concordia Prep. The reasons behind the change were not taken lightly by board members or administrators.

An announcement letter addressed to "Dear supporters of Baltimore Lutheran School" signed by the headmaster, Alan Freeman, and the president of the board of directors, Paul Wockenfuss, stated that the "change reflects the school's outreach and mission to service to a diverse community of constituents and families."

While Baltimore Lutheran's enrollment only dipped slightly to 220 students, according to Tracy Gingher, the school's director of development and public relations, administrators were proactive in their response.

Downsizing or closing of local Lutheran elementary schools considered to be feeder schools to Baltimore Lutheran is a major factor officials have had to consider.

For instance, the elementary school at Immanuel Lutheran Church on Loch Raven Boulevard in Baltimore City, closed less than a decade ago. Others, such as Calvary Lutheran School in Hamilton and St. Paul's Lutheran School in Kingsville, have less students.

"Some of the schools have closed," Gingher said. "But the bigger issue is that they have a significantly reduced number of students (from which to draw)."

That was one of the issues that prompted the hiring of a marketing firm from Arizona to assess the school's standing in the community in 2008. Six years later, a local firm was brought in to draw its conclusion on the subject. Both times, the results where the same.

And those results buttressed anecdotal evidence from a wide range of sources, including focus groups and feedback from passers-by to the Baltimore Lutheran School booth at the annual Towsontown Spring Festival each May.

"At the Towsontown Festival, people asked us, 'Where are you located,?'" Freeman said. "People never knew we were here or who we were."

Administrators felt that something had to change in order for the school to better position itself in the marketplace.

After all, private schools, even religious ones, have to attract enough students to keep afloat financially.

Those that don't — Cardinal Gibbons School and Towson Catholic High School are two recent examples — fall by the wayside.

Choosing a new name was the next and most important step in what Freeman called "a process as we looked at our marketing."

The announcement letter said, "Concordia Preparatory School captured the school's history and foundation while providing direction for the future. The school takes its new name from the Lutheran Book of Concord [which contains the Lutheran confessions of faith]. Concordia, sometimes translated from the Latin as harmony, is a word that aptly fits the campus culture and community."

Considering that when the school's campus was purchased in 1951 and the road leading to it was named Concordia Drive, the name has been deemed a natural fit.

"From our perspective, it's a good match," Gingher said. 

According to Freeman, a critical component to the name change is that it reflects the realities of today's world in that, when the school opened in 1965, 95 percent of the student body had a Lutheran background. in comparison, 25 percent of current students are Lutheran.

"That's one of the challenges we were faced with — having students from various faith backgrounds," Freeman said. "Yes, we are still a faith-based school. We welcome all faiths."

Moreover, the geographical portion of the original name was also jettisoned because, as Freeman said, "We're not in Baltimore."

Even Seymour has now embraced the change.

"It makes sense," she said. "Our mission is still the same. The people are the same. Really, nothing has changed." 

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