National ed summit produces plethora of opinions, ideas, hopes

National ed summit produces plethora of opinions, ideas, hopes

North American Division President Dan Jackson was one of the featured speakers at the Thursday morning session.
North American Division President Dan Jackson was one of the featured speakers at the Thursday morning session.

Click here to see photos from this event.

October 22, 2010
By Darla Martin Tucker

Seventh-day Adventist education faces declining enrollment, school closures and falling finances, but within such hardships reside great opportunity, according to Shane Anderson, Thursday’s keynote speaker for a ground-breaking education summit held by La Sierra University’s School of Education. “This may be God’s way to invite us to make some changes,” he told an audience of educators that filled Hole Memorial Auditorium to capacity.

Anderson, a pastor, author and motivational speaker, addressed nearly 300 teachers, principals, pastors and other interested parties who converged on La Sierra University’s campus Wednesday for the kickoff of the first-ever National Summit on Adventist Education. Titled “The Crossroads of Peril and Promise,” the event, held Oct. 20-23, pulled together some of Adventism’s high profile educational speakers and leaders in a four-day event intended to implement change for a stymied school system.

The summit is co-sponsored by the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and La Sierra University.

Anderson challenged educators and church leaders to recover a passion for the “unique mission and message of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, …that we believe Jesus is coming sooner rather than later,” he said. “If we lose the apocalyptic message of the Seventh-day Adventist Church we have lost our reason for being,“ he said. The system needs teachers and staff who are “strongly Adventist personally,” he stated, adding that there is only one way to achieve such passion: “…be with Jesus. Start and end the day with Jesus. It does something to you. You hear the voice of the Holy Spirit,” Anderson said.

The Adventist education system is also in dire need of strong leadership, he said, and its dearth of such leaders reflects an endemic lack of leadership in society as a whole. “We have confused management with leadership. Leadership deals with implementing appropriate change. Management focuses on keeping equilibrium. …We’re craving leadership right now,” Anderson said.

In particular, the education system needs “strong, qualified leadership from pastors because they are the gatekeepers of Adventist education,” Anderson said. He called for marketing leaders to reach out to pastors in their efforts. “…Pastors determine by and large who gets into the Adventist education castle.”

Elder Dan Jackson, president of the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists prefaced Anderson’s talk with a short presentation and welcome for the audience. He described his own passion for Adventist education rooted in eight years studying in the Adventist system. Difficulties with alcohol during his teen years prompted his family to move to an area where he could receive Christian Seventh-day Adventist schooling.

“I have a deep love for Seventh-day Adventist education,” Jackson said. “It wasn’t so much the reading, writing and arithmetic that touched my life as it was the caring attitude of the people.”

“The need for Seventh-day Adventist education in the North American Division has never been greater,” Jackson continued. The division is committed to “reaching out to institutions of higher learning,” he said “…We are open to thinking that may not agree. We need to find the very best way possible to cooperate with each other [and deliver] the best education in the world.”

The four-day summit includes several plenary sessions, panel discussions and breakout groups. The breakouts covered such topics as ‘Identity and Mission,’ ‘Marketing and Enrollment’ and ‘Membership Involvement.’

The challenge of marketing

During Thursday’s panel discussion on marketing and enrollment issues, Victor Brown, dean for enrollment management at Kettering College and La Sierra’s School of Business Dean John Thomas bandied about differing opinions and fielded questions from frustrated educators. Audience members expressed their angst over lack of resources, sluggish recruitment, school closures and challenges of drawing students from an increasingly divided church membership.

Brown listed several key issues currently facing the Adventist education including demographics, competition with other schools, a tuition-driven system faced with rising costs and the concept of an exclusive versus an open church.

Stephan Gray, vice principal at two-year-old North Dallas Academy said he routinely tailors his recruiting talks to potential students to match the level of conservatism or liberalism he perceives in his audiences, a growing rift he has observed between exclusive and more open groups.

Another frustrated school leader expressed her concerns: “I need resources. Tuition is not working for me,” she said. She asked what the system is doing to help market her school.

To deal with these issues, educators must find ways in which their educational institutions are unique among schools, to essentially find their “purple cow” and market that uniqueness to specific groups—a difficult challenge in the risk-averse nonprofit world, Thomas said. “When we have concerns like this we need to challenge simplistic arguments,” such as the notion that a school needs to promote itself only to pastors, he said. He stressed the importance of social networking over conventional and costly advertising as a key marketing tool and suggested the use of certain software and technology that can pinpoint potential customers. “When you’re talking about marketing, everything matters. Every relationship matters,” he said.

Brown and Thomas cited the challenge of marketing to North America’s aging population and smaller potential customer pool compared to other countries with much larger populations of younger people.

During a Friday plenary session Richard Osborn, vice president and director of office management for Western Association of Schools and Colleges talked about a three-horizon model of system assessment and diagnosis. Schools at Horizon 1 are focused on maintaining the status quo. Those at the Horizon 2 level are sustaining but anticipating changing values, he said. Those at Horizon 3 are creating ideas, “sometimes on the fringe,” but that contain the seeds of change. “They are the product of radical visualization,” and represent transformational innovation, Osborn said.

He talked about several colleges and universities he has visited as a member of WASC that are maintaining their core values while implementing a vision of innovative ideas that meet the needs of specific groups. Those schools include the Western State University College of Law in Fullerton that aims to produce public defenders, community lawyers and judges, and the Claremont School of Theology, affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The theology school is working with Jewish, Methodist and Muslim religious leaders to establish a religious training center for Imams. The school aims to train religious leaders in a variety of traditions.

A new school system?

That’s exactly the proposal brought forward by Bob Summerour, co-chair of the Alumni Awards Foundation. The organization is proposing a separately-funded and operated network of schools and is aiming to choose five schools to start with, with classes beginning in 2013. The goal is to “create a new model to grow into,” he told a crowded luncheon audience, “…and become, in our view, the best private education system in the country.” The foundation plans to publish criteria for schools to be accepted in the new network. “We will look at where you are in the vision process,” he said.

Tim Kubrock, principal of Monterey Bay Academy asked whether such a system might result in additional closures of Adventist schools not in the network. Summerour responded that the foundation is not in favor of any school closures. The organization is committed to securing financial capital and using it wisely. He added the foundation also does not envision severing relationships with conferences.

Several attendees commented on ideas they gleaned from the summit and expressed their hopes going forward.

“I’m very enlightened by the many ideas,” said Gray of North Dallas Academy following Osborn’s talk. “I want change so badly but I’m often not equipped to facilitate it.” He hopes the summit will produce measureable change, not more “sitting around the campfire.” The Alumni Awards Foundation’s notion of implementing a separate Adventist school network spoke to him, Gray said.

“We need to take these ideas and do something with them. And if that happens, the conference will be a success,” said Pretoria St. Juste, adjunct professor of curriculum and instruction at Andrews University. “Are we willing now to act outside the box?” Such change can start at the department level, she said.

“I hope and wish some of these ideas will be implemented so the k-12 program can actually achieve and be successful. I hope it won’t be just a summit but a catalyst for change,” said Yuritzy Villaseñor, principal of West Valley Christian School. Ideas that resonated included improving education through virtual learning and other technology, she said. “But Christ-centeredness is fundamental,” Villaseñor said.

Paul S. Damazi, retired from 60 years in the Adventist education system said he was most impressed by the outreach efforts at Monterey Bay Academy. Through the school’s use of a part-time Bible worker dedicated to reaching out to students with Bible studies, 69 students were baptized last year. “We’re here for one thing—to prepare our students for this earth and eternity,” he said.


PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University
Riverside, California
951.785.2460 (voice)


  • Last update on  October 29, 2010