A Journey to Excellence
More than 6,500 educators congregate in Nashville for the 2006 NAD Teachers’ Convention.
BY SANDRA BLACKMER, news editor of Adventist Review
quipping Seventh-day Adventist educators professionally and spiritually to make a significant impact on the students in their classrooms was the thrust behind the 2006 North American Division K-12 Teachers’ Convention, held August 6-9 in the Gaylord Opryland Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Some 6,500 teachers, principals, and other educators stretched the seams of the huge facility during the four-day event, while attending motivational general sessions and their choice of more than 370 professional-growth workshops.
|OVERFLOW CROWD: More than 6,500 educators packed the auditorium in the Gaylord Opryland Convention Center. Erma Lee, an associate director of the NAD Education Department (on screen), was recognized for her years of service by NAD vice president for education Gerald Kowvalski. Lee retires Oct. 1. [Photo: L. Litten]
“We want the teachers to receive large doses of inspiration, information, and imagination during their time here,” Gerald Kowvalski, vice president for education of the North American Division, told the Adventist Review
. “We want them to learn and grow so they will be able to more greatly influence the young minds in their care, not only intellectually but also spiritually and in character development.”
He added, “It’s all about our theme—Journey to Excellence—a journey that is professional, spiritual, and personal. One that is significant to our church’s education system.”
Jack Klenk, director of the Office of Non-public Education for the U. S. Department of Education and who was present at the conference, expressed support for Adventist teachers: “Yours is a noble calling, an extraordinary calling,” he told them. “In private education you make great sacrifices. But your schools have the freedom to teach morals and values, and not just academics. . . . I want you to know that our office stands with you on that. . . . [and] that many children and families will be blessed because of the work you are doing.”
General sessions featured keynote speakers such as Andrews University professor emeritus George Knight, General Conference vice president Ella Simmons, Disney’s 2000 Teacher of the Year recipient Ron Clark, and Brewer Technologies president Tony Brewer. Henry Wright, senior pastor of the Community Praise church in Alexandria, Virginia, spoke each morning for the devotional meetings. Don Schneider, NAD president, led out in a commitment service held the last morning of the conference.
Christian comedian and former Gaither Vocal Band baritone Mark Lowry also participated in the program. Musical presentations included gospel singer Steve Darmody as well as musical groups Faith First; the Brothers of Nashville; Loma Linda Academy Choir; and FRED, an award-winning barbershop quartet.
“All the speakers have been excellent, and the convention has been very well planned,” said Minerva Gordon, a teacher at San Gabriel Academy in the Southern California Conference. “But George Knight is one of my favorite speakers, so I thought his message was especially inspirational.”
|GENERAL SESSION SPEAKER: George Knight [Photo: S, Blackmer]
Planned and organized by the North American Division Education Department, with assistance from union education directors throughout the division, the teachers’ convention was no small feat.
“We start planning for this event years in advance, and it’s really gratifying when you finally see it all coming together,” said Larry Blackmer, an NAD Education Department associate. “What made it easier this time was technology. With the help of Matthew McVane, a designer in Washington State, we developed a preregistration setup that allowed us to enter information just once regarding breakout sessions, exhibitors, and educators who planned to attend, which was then used throughout the whole process—from the preparation of the bulletin to the printing of name tags. It made everything much easier.”
And working with a competent and accommodating staff at the Gaylord Opryland Convention Center also played well for a successful convention, Blackmer added.
Tom Monroe, convention services manager for the facility, said that the Adventist group was larger than the norm, but that he was pleased at how well the event progressed. “We checked in a full house—almost 2,500 rooms—in about a four- or five-hour time period. We’re also serving an average of 4,000 to 5,000 meals each mealtime. So there are lots and lots of details. But the NAD people have just made it so smooth, and it really shows here.”
He added, “People tend to get impatient when they’re traveling, but everybody, and I mean everybody I’ve met with this group, has been so nice.”
This year’s convention was a first for Linda Shaver, certification registrar for the North Pacific Union. “I’m just amazed at this opportunity for all these educators to come together and meet old friends and attend excellent meetings and seminars,” she said. “It gives teachers who are burned out a chance to rejuvenate.”
“Teachers appreciate the opportunity to attend the convention not only because of the professional experience and connecting with colleagues, but also meeting former students here who are now teachers,” explained Patti Revolinski, associate director of education for the North Pacific Union. “That is so rewarding.
|AWARD WINNER: David Vixie, an eighth-grade teacher at Paradise Adventist Academy in Paradise, California, and recipient of the Disney 2005 Teacher of the Year Award, speaks to the teachers. [Photo: S. Blackmer]
“The challenge here is finding the breakout sessions, where they’re being held,” she added. “But that just means a little extra footwork, and for some of us it’s good to be out there walking.”
Keynote speaker George Knight emphasized in his opening night address the connection between Adventist education and end-time prophecies. Reviewing the increasing number of Adventist schools from two in 1880 to 2,178 worldwide in 1930 and 6,846 today, Knight attributed the educational growth to the “explosive fuel of the apocalyptic vision.”
“Seventh-day Adventism has never seen itself as just another denomination, but rather, from its inception, as a mission to the world,” he said. “Adventist parents were willing to sacrifice to establish an education system that would make a difference in the world. . . . The primary function of Adventist Christian education is to lead young people into a transforming, saving relationship with Jesus Christ. I think we need to take that very seriously. . . . The health of Adventism is in a large degree in the hands of Adventist education.”
In her Monday afternoon keynote address, Ella Simmons alluded to the controversial issue of teaching evolution as well as creationism in the Adventist classroom.
“We need the Scriptures in our school,” she said. “Yes, we need everything else. I was not one to skip the pages of evolution, but I didn’t teach evolution over creationism. . . . Whatever your personal view, probably it should remain personal if it is not what the church allows within the broad range. There are times when intellectuals can get together and [discuss] all they want about the origins of the earth. I really do think that’s healthy. But I just don’t think it’s healthy for immature minds to be present when that is happening.”
Simmons later added, “Some among us . . . portray Ellen White as someone who devalues intellectualism, as someone who is soft on education. That portrayal is far from accurate. In fact, Ellen White’s view of education is far broader in content. She says ‘God would not have us in any sense behind in educational work.’ We are always supposed to be out front. . . . We should be superior to any and every type of education in this world.”
|EXHIBITOR: Holbrook Seventh-day Adventist Indian School, a K-12 boarding school in northeast Arizona, was one of the 250 exhibitors at the convention. [Photo: S. Blackmer]
Along with the general meetings and workshops, teachers cited interaction with one another as ranking high in importance.
“Not only are the meetings important and fun, but the path to the meetings is also fun because of all the people you meet—old friends,” said Alan Hurlbert, vice president for education of the North Pacific Union. “Networking is one of the benefits—the professional experience of being with people who are doing the same thing that you are. All the good tips don’t take place just in the form of breakout sessions. Teachers and administrators talking shop are just as important to the growth of teachers as the provincial meetings.”
Lowell Litten, principal of Eastern Shore Junior Academy in the Chesapeake Conference, agreed. “Connecting with old friends and other Adventist educators, knowing that others are struggling with the same things as you are—that’s a great benefit of these meetings,” he said. “It reminds us that we’re an Adventist community—that’s who we are.”