"We need a church school." Three to four years after the start of the Seventh-day Adventist church in New Zealand, this was an often repeated statement in church boards and at camp meetings. An experienced teacher himself and someone who personally used scripture in the classroom, Joseph Hare and his family from Kaeo provided a strong voice on this need. In the South Island John and Caroline Paap from Kaikoura also spoke out for the need of church schools.
Ellen White, who was an early church leader in America, was a strong advocate for each church congregation operating a school for its children. In fact about the time that the cry came from early pioneers of the church in New Zealand, Ellen White was in Australia and New Zealand and supported the vision. It was here that she wrote almost half of her counsel on Education. Her book Education, published in 1913, is still considered the blueprint identifying the principals and nature of true Godly education. Seventh-day Adventist education “… means more than a preparation for the life that now is. It has to do with the whole being, and with the whole period of existence possible to man. It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come.”  It was and still is this vision that inspires and continues to drive Seventh-day Adventist education.
In 1899 a resolution was passed by the New Zealand Conference, the national administration body of the church, to establish church schools. It was two years before this action was to become a reality.
Mr W J Smith, an accomplished state school teacher, after becoming a Seventh-day Adventist not only joined the call to start a church school but became the first teacher. In 1901 the school in Christchurch opened with 8 students. During 1901 while the Christchurch school was in operation, the Ponsonby Church Board in Auckland voted to employ Miss Edith Ward, a qualified teacher, for a school in the back room of the church commencing in 1902. She was to be paid 20 schillings a week. Parents were to pay fees of a schilling per week with discount for those with more than one child. Both of these schools closed within a short time as a result of insufficient funding.
Lack of planning and in particular attention to the cost of operating schools meant that the enthusiastic action to open schools soon led to their closure. From 1901 to 1906 six schools opened and closed in very short succession. The start stop nature of Adventist schools is reflected well in the school in Wellington. Opening and closing in 1904, reopening and closing in 1905, the school then operated from 1921 to 1927. It was re-established in 1943 and operated until 1955. In 1984 the school was opened again and still operates today.
The closures led some parents to talk of homeschooling. However, the general belief of church members was that a school should be opened alongside every church. While there is a strong belief that parents are the first and most influential teachers, it is also believed that church schools which hold God at the center of the curriculum working alongside parents provides a strong nexus for spiritual development.
The lack of success in setting up permanent schools led L.A Hoopes President of the Union Conference, the regional administrator for the church, to suggest that the church should extend its existing schools to higher grades and learning rather than open new schools. Within 12 months a 67ha property near Cambridge had been purchased and a boarding school was to be built. Pukekura School opened with
60 but by 1911 this had halved. Many students could not pay the fees but took advantage of the work programme offered. The school struggled so a decision was made to open a smaller operation in a position that was more central to both the North and South Islands. The school transferred to a 12 ha site at Longburn. It was called Oroua Missionary College. Over the years the name has changed to Longburn Missionary College and more recently Longburn Adventist College which has now operated for over 100 years its current site. From a school of a maximum of 24 students and 3 teachers today it is a school of close to 300 from Years 7 to 13.
The history of Adventist Education in New Zealand testifies to the importance of courageous leadership.
A Second and Third Wave
During the time of the establishment of Pukekura and Longburn no further schools were opened. The second wave of schools occurred from 1915 to 1924. All of these schools had closed by 1931.
From 1934 to 1945 a further 12 schools were opened with six of these continuing. Over the next few decades Adventist education which had been focused primarily in the main centers of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch now spread to most of the major towns and cities in New Zealand. In this time schools opened in Gisborne, Wanganui, Timaru, Dunedin as well as a school in Avondale in Auckland. A further wave of school opened in the late 1960’s early 1970’s including Whangarei, North Shore and Tauranga. The majority of Adventist schools were initially established in rooms in a local church. As the schools out grew the church facility, the church began to establish purpose built schools on land which was close to or in the country. This was seen as advantageous to have children closer to nature where children could readily learn from God's great lesson book. Even today Hamilton, New Plymouth and Tauranga schools sit in semi-rural settings. Sadly urbanization has and is swallowing up these environments.
As the schools grew in both size and number, the church realized the need to further consolidate its school operations. The corporate church via the New Zealand Conferences as well as the local church communities developed a partnership for this purpose. Education offerings were instituted nationwide and this provided funds to operate the schools. Churches that operated schools also contributed locally raised funds to help finance the schools, while parents paid fees. This three way partnership supported the growing permanence of schools as they spread throughout the country. While at times operating a large system was a struggle the church now ran a successful system of nearly 20 schools over an extended period of time.
The system also recognized as it grew the need for professional oversight of the schools. Mr Doug Oemcke was appointed to the role of Education Director. The importance of this role in maintaining a systemic oversight to the Adventist Schools has been important in the ability of the church to operate effective and professional schools in an increasingly complex and mandated environment.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church and school system were in no way divorced from the population trends and financial crises which over the decades impacted on New Zealand society. Demographic changes and a growing national population drift to larger urban areas saw the church choose to close several schools in the 1980's and 1990's as student numbers declined and caused financial hardship to smaller churches supporting them. The financial crisis in the late 1980’s had a decided impact on the church and schools began to struggle to operate as parents increasingly found private school tuition fees beyond their means. This made it harder for the church at large to provide for operation. Churches were struggling to support the operation and as a result schools were facing closure from declining rolls and lack of funding across the system.
The church administration investigated the implications of Integration under the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975. After due consideration the church membership at specially convened meetings made the decision to integrate. Since 1993 Seventh-day Adventist Schools have operated as State Integrated schools. This has seen a growth and expansion as families see accessible and affordable, high quality Christian Education.
Education continues to be core business for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This is reflected in the education ministry emphasis which is part of the North New Zealand Conference strategic plan for 2014 to 2016.
Currently there are 16 Seventh-day Adventist schools in NZ with a total enrolment of over 1600 students. Many of the students are from a diversity of Christian churches. Many of the principals relate on a regular basis with other Christian school principals as well as state school colleagues. The Adventist schools are a vital and well respected part of the modern Christian school movement in New Zealand.
 White, E.G. Education, Pacific Press