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Alumni Convene Think Tank on Adventist Education

By Celeste Ryan Blyden
Photos by Al Peasley

“This gathering is not about pining, throwing stones, or remembering yesteryear,” announced Gordon Bietz. “It’s about finding solutions.”

Bietz, president of Southern Adventist University (Tenn.), was speaking to nearly 200 educators, administrators, parents and alumni of Seventh-day Adventist schools who gathered on a recent Sabbath afternoon to talk about Adventist education and how to move it forward.

They were brought together at the invitation of the board of the Alumni Awards Foundation (AAF), a nonprofit group that in 15 years has awarded 79 teachers and 14 academies with $1.4 million. “Our goal has always been to support excellence and growth, but we felt we weren’t making as much of a difference as we wanted to and we weren’t connecting estranged Adventists,” said Bob Summerour, co-chairman of the AAF Board. In an effort to address “critical concerns facing Adventist K-12 schools,” they decided to organize regional Renaissance Adventist Education summits. Previous summits were held in Riverside, Calif.; Collegedale, Tenn.; and Orlando, Fla., and board member George Harding, MD, says the goal is to convene a national conference. “We wondered what was the attitude toward Adventist education across our country,” he told attendees of the Washington, D.C., event. “We felt that if we could get the concerns and ideas of a broad spectrum, we could address opportunities and see our education [system] move forward.”

Many attendees, most of whom attended or graduated from an Adventist school, came for the same reason Summerour did—they want to save Adventist education. “I believe that the very fabric of our tight-knit Adventist community is held together by our experience in Adventist education,” he said. “This is why we cannot afford to let the inertia of declining enrollment or limited financial resources define our future.”

Larry Blackmer, director of education for the North American Division, agreed. “We have a lot of fine schools taught by dedicated teachers, but we need to find out how to best deliver Adventist education because our kids deserve the best, best, best!” he said before opening the meeting with prayer.

In the dozen or so breakout groups that followed Blackmer’s remarks and Bietz’s keynote, attendees proposed practical solutions for doing just that. From consolidating schools and restructuring the entire system to raising academic standards and accountability, the suggestions flowed freely.

In the end, attendees like Alayne Thorpe, Craig Ziesmer, and Lois Peters were glad they came.

“I met people who want Adventist education to work, have ideas to help make it work, and are willing to participate in making those ideas reality,” said Thorpe, vice president of education for Griggs University/Griggs International Academy, the homeschooling arm of the Adventist Church.

“These meetings are vital to awaken members and encourage dialogue among all levels of church structure and membership, so together we can fulfill our God-given mission with our schools,” added Ziesmer, principal of Blue Mountain Academy in Hamburg, Pa.

Peters, a member of Emmanual-Brinklow church in Ashton, Md., appreciated the opportunity to hear from so many people who care about Adventist education. “If they follow through on the suggestions, we can create effective change,” she concluded.