In the book Education, Ellen White tells us, “’Something better’ is the watchword of education, the law of all true living” (p. 296). This goal guides the ministry of the Pacific Union Conference Office of Education as we provide leadership to the K-12 schools and early childhood education centers operated by the various conferences. The following elements are some of the ways we seek to impart “something better” to our precious students.
Ongoing professional learning for teachers
The Office of Education provides several professional learning opportunities for teachers. Each fall, a workshop is held specifically for teachers in the small schools (one, two, or three teachers). Secondary teachers meet by subject area on a six-year rotation. In the past five years, an additional secondary teacher rotation connects teachers in academies with the teachers at Pacific Union College and La Sierra University. In alternating years, a workshop is held for the directors of early childhood centers throughout the Pacific Union.
Strengthening the expertise of educational leaders
Research indicates that the principal is the individual who has the most significant impact on student achievement. We are committed to training our school leaders and potential school leaders. During the past five years, we have seen many principals complete either a master’s degree or Education Specialist degree from La Sierra University. The Office of Education continues to participate financially with individuals seeking graduate degrees in administration.
Twice each year, the Office of Education facilitates an education council for all principals and conference education personnel, as well as representatives from Pacific Union College and La Sierra University. The primary purpose of these meetings is to provide professional development and training for our school leaders. Professional speakers are engaged to make presentations of general interest, and breakout sessions are provided. Topics have included serving students with special learning needs, addressing mental health issues for students and teachers, and marketing Adventist Education.
Intentional opportunities are provided for principals to share with their colleagues about successful ideas. In addition, professional books are provided to principals, and they are encouraged to continue learning.
Early childhood education
In addition to the 113 elementary and secondary schools in the Pacific Union, the Office of Education coordinates approximately 25 early childhood centers. The North American Division continues to address the development of a faith-based curriculum for the whole child. As the curriculum is released, the Pacific Union Conference Office provides training to the teachers.
A significant development in the early childhood centers has been the implementation of an accreditation process. The Adventist Accrediting Association provides the centers with the opportunity to complete a self-study and participate in a peer-review process that analyzes whether the center meets and maintains defined standards. Currently, one of the early childhood centers, Mauna Loa Preschool, has become accredited. It is anticipated that more centers will begin the process very soon.
We believe that every student in a Seventh-day Adventist school must have the opportunity to learn. However, all students do not learn in the same way, nor do they learn within the same time frames. The Office of Education continues to provide training for teachers to individualize the education experience. The North American Division has developed standards for each subject and grade level; building on these standards, teachers are working together at their local schools to customize the measures of proficiency to ensure that students achieve at their optimum level.
Measures of Academic Progress (MAP)
After decades of utilizing the same standardized testing program, the North American Division shifted to a computer-based test that can provide immediate feedback to the student and the teacher. In addition, testing three times during the school year instead of just once allows the teacher and student to collaborate on the most effective learning program for each student. The Office of Education provides training to all teachers in the administration of MAP and the application of the reports provided for each student.
As students prepare to be citizens of this world, it is essential to provide them with the necessary skills. In the 21st century, students must understand STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). One of the ways many schools choose to provide this experience is through robotics. They can participate with other schools in robotics challenge activities. The Office of Education has provided matching grants to more than 40 schools to implement a robotics program.
Student leadership conferences
Student leaders from junior and senior academies in the Pacific Union participate in a leadership conference held each fall at Leoni Meadows Camp. The weekend includes spiritual messages, leadership training, and the opportunity to network with students from other schools. The approximately 200 student attendees exchange ideas for school activities and have the chance to connect with student missionaries serving around the world.
Teacher education scholarships
The national teacher shortage continues to be significant. Therefore, each year we grant teacher education scholarships to five graduating high school students who aspire to prepare for service as a teacher in Adventist Education. We celebrate with the three new teachers in our system and look forward to welcoming the 18 scholarship recipients who are still in their teacher education program.
The Office of Education was significantly involved with coordinating a cohesive school system during the many months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the school operation requirements varied widely from state to state and county to county, the Pacific Union Conference Office of Education served to provide as much consistent information as could be gleaned. The Office of Education also coordinated with several entities to facilitate donations of personal protective equipment to our schools.
More importantly, we partnered with the North American Division and Versacare Foundation to ensure that all students in the Pacific Union had access to a digital device when face-to-face learning was not an option. As challenging as this time was, the teachers across our union demonstrated significant resilience, ongoing excellence in education, and a desire to collaborate with their colleagues.
Nothing brings greater joy than when a young person chooses to follow Jesus. Teachers work closely with parents and pastors to provide students with opportunities to accept Jesus as their Savior and make a commitment to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We celebrate with the angels in heaven as we prepare students to be citizens of the world to come.
Berit von Pohle is the director of education for the Pacific Union Conference.
Believing in the education of all students in Seventh-day Adventist schools, we exist to inspire the continual improvement of students and educators to become “something better” (Education, p. 296).
We inspire a climate of improvement by:
• enhancing the effectiveness of teachers,
• strengthening the expertise of educational leaders,
• coordinating a cohesive school system.
And… we cooperate in preparing citizens for this world and the world to come.