The education leaders in the Atlantic Union Conference and the North American Division are concerned about declining enrollment in Seventh-day Adventist schools. Despite numerous brainstorming and marketing summits, enrollment continues to plummet.
Last January, the Atlantic Union Conference Office of Education was selected by the Center for Research in K-12 Education at La Sierra University to use the Agent-Based Stakeholders Modeling (ABSM) process to determine the current status of support for Adventist K-12 education in the Atlantic Union. The ABSM process was also used to identify strategies most likely to increase support, given the current environment in the Atlantic Union.
The ABSM’s approach is a strategy that provides valuable insights to inform decision-making processes. ABSM accomplishes these capabilities by using techniques that reliably demonstrate what stakeholders would do in a given situation. The particular approach that the La Sierra team used was developed by researchers at Claremont Graduate University. Their system draws upon leading-edge work in theories which seek to discover how stakeholders would respond to the issues at hand. Many government and non-governmental agencies in this country and around the world use this approach.
In the Atlantic Union, the ABSM process began by identifying Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) from within the Atlantic Union (union and conference administrators, educators, pastors, lay people, and parents). The SMEs were asked to provide detailed and specific data about the various stakeholder groups and coalitions who have an interest in K-12 Adventist education. This information was used to depict the current educational landscape of the Atlantic Union.
Following the data collection from the SMEs, the La Sierra team then used the data to determine the further reaction of stakeholders and others. This exercise enabled the Atlantic Union and La Sierra team to observe stakeholders as they interacted over a period of time and to look for strategic opportunities that would help achieve the desired goals.
In April, the team from La Sierra met with union, conference, and education administrations in Utica, New York, to discuss the findings, analysis, and predicted outcomes of our current situation and of the recommended courses of action. Based on the analysis of data from the first phase of ABSM, the strategies that are most likely to increase support for Adventist K-12 education among parents and students are:
- Enabling pastors and church leaders to interact directly with parents who are not currently sending their children to Adventist K-12 schools. The list of church leaders includes elders, deacons, education secretaries, Sabbath School leader, children’s ministries leaders, and youth leaders.
- Sharing with pastors and church leadership information regarding the purpose, benefits, and opportunities of Seventh-day Adventist K-12 education so they can inform parents and children.
- Consolidation of educational resources, including facilities and personnel, to facilitate better access, a stronger curriculum, and more effective resources. Initial resistance to this action among stakeholder groups eventually led to support.
At the meeting in Utica, Dedrick Blue, pastor of Ephesus church in New York, gave the devotion each morning. He reminded us that Solomon built a wealthy kingdom, but his son, Rehoboam, when surrounded by the enemy, gave away the temple treasures—he traded gold for brass. It took vision for Adventist pioneers to begin Adventist education. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
As church leaders and parents, God has called us to be guardians of His precious children. Today, when parents look for schools, they look for location rather than destination—heaven. No enemy can take anything from people committed to God. In this time of crisis we need to call upon the Lord. The gold shields are still in the temple; if we lose our schools, we lose our church. May God help us when it comes to our children—the most precious possession God entrusted to our care. We should not exchange gold for brass.
Astrid Thomassian is the Atlantic Union Conference education and children’s ministries director.