By AT News Team, March 18, 2015:   Against trends of decline in Adventist schools in North America, the Pennsylvania Conference has announced plans to expand its staff using funds from closed schools and set goals to expand the number of Adventist schools in the state. A pilot project in Allentown will soon open the first mission school in decades, an elementary school designed primarily for children in the larger community, not from Adventist families.

Dr. Jeff Bovee, conference vice president for education, is assisting two churches which are working towards opening new schools in the near future, as well as the urban outreach in Allentown. The concept of a mission school, in which most if not all of the students are not from Adventist families, is well understood in many nations around the world where it is the staple of Adventist education. The Allentown project is one of the first such schools in the denomination’s North American Division.

The conference is expanding the staff in its education office by adding a third professional, an associate director specifically for “mission and growth.” This additional position will be funded in part from 20 percent of the funds remaining from the sale of the Richland Adventist School in a suburb north of Pittsburgh which was sold in 2013. Eighty percent of the funds had been divided among the congregations that financially supported the school during the last ten years.

Rick Bianco has been assigned this new role starting next summer. He grew up in western Pennsylvania and has been principal at Huntingdon Valley Christian Academy (HVCA) in the suburbs of Philadelphia for the last four years where he has taught for a total of 16 years. “He has been an excellent classroom teacher and has a proven track record in leading [the school] to more than double their enrollment,” said Pastor Ray Hartwell, conference president. Bianco also directed the conference’s summer camp ministry and was an enthusiastic participant in Pathfinder Club activities.

“His passion for Christian education and his desire to help our schools grow, not only in enrollment, but in direct partnership in the mission calling of local churches to reach families and communities for Christ, will bring a major strength to the efforts of our office of education to grow the educational ministry of our Conference,” stated Hartwell. He cited interdenominational research that reports four out of five adult Christians indicate they made a commitment to Christ between the ages of 4 and 14.

The conference executive committee has funded the new position for at least three years. The goals of the new role are (1) support the development of mission schools, (2) focus on growth, and (3) develop sustainable, measurable plans.

“I am looking forward to be working alongside Rick to create an educational system in the Pennsylvania Conference that is missionally focused in bringing students and families to the foot of the cross,” says Dr. Bovee. “And am excited about teaming up with pastors, churches, Pathfinders, Adventurers, Pennsylvania Youth Challenge, Cool Camp, Simplicity, and all ministries of the Conference, to create a unified focus on reaching out to the communities where we live to build His kingdom.”

“While I can’t help but feel incredibly emotional about leaving a school where I have dedicated over 16 years of my life,” Rick shares, “God has opened many doors in order for this to happen and I’m extremely excited about the opportunity to help grow Adventist education in the Pennsylvania Conference.”