After more than 18 years at the North Pacific Union and 45 years in Adventist education service, Dennis L. Plubell is bidding adieu. He will retire at the approaching North Pacific Union constituency session on Aug. 7, 2022.
In the whole of his 45 years of service, he has served in three schools, three conferences, three unions and at the North American Division.
The son of an Adventist educator, Plubell was certain he was going to pursue a different career and path of service.
“But God has ways and means to guide your path,” shared Plubell. “I have seen God’s leading in the rear-view mirror enough to know that the unknown road ahead is going to fine if He is with me in the journey.”
Lifetime of Service
Outside a year of student missionary teaching in 1974, Plubell started his Adventist education journey in 1977 at Central California Conference at Sierra View Junior Academy in Exeter, California. There he served as a junior high school science and mathematics teacher until 1980. From there he moved to Lodi Academy in Lodi, California, where he served as a science teacher, vice principal and registrar for six years. He continued his service in Northern California Conference as the Rio Lindo Academy teacher and then principal from 1986–1994. He then made the move to Canada where he served at British Columbia Conference as superintendent of schools for three years. In August 1997, Plubell joined the North Pacific Union education team for his first stint.
At the NPUC, he served as the associate director for secondary education and accreditation under Alan “Lanny” Hurlbert, then education department head. Plubell continued in this role at the union for 10 years before taking a call to serve at the North American Division. At the division, he served in the same role as associate director for secondary education for six and a half years.
In 2014, with the retirement of Lanny Hurlbert, Plubell was invited to come back to the NPUC for a second time to serve as vice president for education. He has continued in this role for the last eight and a half years.
In this role, the education office of the union has expanded to include full-time early childhood education, special projects and a new teacher coaching position.
With the transformation of technology, digital textbooks and teaching resources have continued to grow and expand. As well as a dramatic shift to remote online learning. Partnerships with the conference and division have continued to improve administrative records and reports for students, schools and educator certification.
More recently, the adoption of new standards-based learning has been a large pursuit that will greatly improve student learning.
“I am quite pleased that the NPUC is viewed across the NAD as leading in this initiative thanks to the diligent work of our office of education team,” shared Plubell.
With his two terms of service at the union, Plubell pointed out that the NPUC office has been in three different locations — Portland, Oregon, Vancouver and now Ridgefield, Washington.
A Spirit of Leadership
In reflecting on his years of service, he knows that God has led him each step of the way, preparing him for the next journey and leadership role.
He also acknowledged that his service has been greatly informed by mentors and counselors who shared sage advice and entrusted him with responsibilities that stretched his capacity and improved his skills.
“Meeting that trust with persistent hard work and much prayer yielded some success,” said Plubell. “More importantly it equipped me to remain fully engaged for the whole of my career in the ministry of Adventist education.”
A strong advocate of teamwork and equipping others, he learned the value of sound management and connecting with fellow educators.
“Together there is more that encourages, equips and empowers. Together makes the effort to educate more joyful.” He continued, “All this has been about improving Adventist educator’s service to students and families and about sharing the good news of Jesus’ love and redemption.”
When asked about his major accomplishments, Plubell shared two that stand out.
He had the privilege of being a writer and chairperson on the Journey to Excellence initiative (often abbreviated J2E). The J2E is a wealth of information and resources that encourages and equips Adventist educators to continuously improve their ministry. It advocates for innovation and professional development that will result in exemplary and vibrant Adventist schools that effectively minister to Christ’s youth.
The second was working on two generations of accreditation instruments. Accreditation is an important part of Adventist education as it ensures Adventist education is accountable to on-going improvement processes and the best practices in pedagogy and administration.
Over his career, he has participated in and chaired more than 100 campus accreditation visits.
Plubell has seen the transformation of technology throughout his career and its impact on education. Early on in his education service, the personal computer was newly introduced. He eventually adopted and spearheaded computer-based grade reporting and the moving of student academic records and reports to computer systems. Things have only transformed from there, with online education classes becoming a reality as well, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ever the consummate leader, he has always strived to be a collaborative partner in ministry, seeking to accomplish the many urgent and important tasks together.
He has endeavored to keep the focus on ministry and the student’s spiritual and educational growth.
“We are not just a schooling option for families,” he said. “We are a ministry with an Adventist worldview and redemptive message vital for these times.”
The Road Ahead
While acknowledging all the successes, Plubell recognizes that more remains to be done to support teachers in the challenging post-pandemic world.
He pointed out the availability of teachers has not been so profoundly low in his 45 years of education service.
“Energy and enthusiasm for the teaching profession are significantly low. This seems to be the result of unprecedented stress from the pandemic, and pervasive tension in church and cultural expectations.”
The church needs to continue to champion the improvement of effective professional growth for educator’s on-going journey to excellence.
“It may seem like a daunting challenge, but God is able beyond what we can imagine to grow the ministry of Adventist education to bring another student and family to the kingdom.”
The Next Chapter
Plubell will continue his heart of ministry and service as he moves on to the next chapter of his life. He plans to stay in the Portland area, caring for his 93-year-old mother who remains in her own home. He also plans to enjoy the beauty of the Pacific Northwest with his wife, Barbara, on excursions. He fully expects to keep busy, even in retirement, with various church and community service volunteering.
“Because education is prevalent and accessible in our land, we too readily forget that Adventist education is much more than a knowledge factory. Educating head, heart and hand have always, and must continue to be, our 'why!' We must balance between 'industry' standards and best practices without losing our clear purpose for Adventist education is an essential ministry. We must make central the redemptive reason for Adventist education. Bring students to encounter Jesus and experience excellence in learning are both essential. A journey to the kingdom must be a journey to excellence. God’s best opportunity to impact students and families is when we feel incapable and unworthy. Until He comes there will be faithful educators sharing something better than this world has to offer.”