Home: Ken and Audrey at their Tolland home in Wagga. The couple are now dual citizens in Australia and America after becoming Australian citizens in 1996.“My story is very typical of many educators, I didn’t start out to be a teacher, I thought I was going to be a minister to the Lutheran Church,” Dr Ken Albinger said.
After studying for four years to become a minister he realised he was meant to be a teacher and transferred.
In what ended up being 51 years in the Lutheran school system, his presence certainly would have been missed if he had gone down the path of being a minister.
During his career he has held some of the highest positions within Lutheran schools, completed a masters degree and doctorate, changed the way Lutheran teachers were trained and has a very positive view on what education can be in the future.
He didn’t jump into the high positions, he started where most do, as a teacher and moved to working as principal before moving into the administration side of the schooling system.
A fiercely humble man, you wouldn’t know about any of those achievements unless you ask.
“What does one actually achieve? Essentially you try to be a faithful steward of whatever responsibility you’re given,” Dr Albinger said.
Speaking with a slight accent and sitting comfortably in his Tolland home, Dr Albinger and his wife Audrey love their home in Wagga but it is a long way from where they first met.
The couple are originally from America, and first met when they were both studying to become teachers at Concordia Teachers College in Nebraska.
Audrey finished her study six months before Dr Albinger and was sent to California to teach.
“I went in for an interview and they asked where I wanted to go and I said California. They asked why and I said because I am engaged to a lady who is teaching in California and they said ‘well son, in the church the women follow the men, the men don’t follow the women, so they assigned me to Philadelphia,” he said.
The couple were married the following July in 1964 with their first daughter, Dawn, born the following year.
A few years later, they had their second daughter, Danielle, before moving to Iowa, Audrey’s home town where they had their third child, a boy, Chad. Their fourth child, Nathan, was born in South Australia in Loxton.
A shortage of teachers in Australia saw the Lutheran schools reaching out to America to fill the void.
Dr Albinger wrote to the Lutheran Church of Australia for more information on the positions.
Instead of more information, he was offered a position at the Loxton Lutheran Parish School as principal.
Adventure: The passport photo that started his journey to Australia in 1973.
They packed what belongings they could fit into seven 44 gallon drums which included linen, clothes and books. These drums were loaded onto a ship and transported to Australia.
The young family left for Australia during a blizzard in Iowa and landed in Australia a week later, welcomed to Adelaide with a dust storm.
In 1973, long haul flights didn’t exist and their trip consisted of a series of short hauls from Iowa to California to Hawaii, Noumea, Sydney, Melbourne and finally Adelaide.
At that stage, their three children were aged seven, four and two.
“After 35 or 40 hours travel we arrived with some very tired children,” Dr Albinger said.
“It was 104 degrees (Fahrenheit, 40 degrees C). When we stepped onto the tarmac it was semi-fluid because it was so hot.
“The people from Loxton had met us and one of them was going to drive us back so we hopped in his white Kingswood and were driven the three and a half hours to Loxton.
“By the time we got there we were exhausted to put it mildly.”
Family: Ken and Audrey with their three children Dawn, Danielle and Chad before they left the states for Australia. Their youngest son, Nathan, was born in Loxton, Australia. The young family left Iowa in a blizzard and were welcomed to Adelide by a dust storm.
During his five years at Loxton the school increased from 89 students to 210.
At the completion of this job, the family was planning on going back to the US but decided to stay as teachers and principals were still needed in Australia.
After accepting a role at Grace Lutheran Primary School in Redcliffe, Queensland, the family relocated again.
Although he believed he was taking up the role as principal, upon arrival he was told the school was starting a high school.
For two years he developed the high school which started with just 16 enrolments. Today the school has 1653 students.
Leader: Ken (centre) with staff at Grace Lutheran Primary School. He worked as principal at the school for three years, two of which were spent developing the school’s high school.
Starting the high school was quite stressful and saw Dr Albinger have a serious accident on the playground damaging his left knee.
“I went into the hospital to get it fixed and they said it was cartilage. So I went to sleep thinking it was cartilage and woke up in plaster from my groin to by big toe,” he said.
It was discovered he had damaged the cruciate ligament and did a knee reconstruction.
“That was fine except I got golden staph, and I almost died before they found out what I had,” he said.
“They had to cut a hole in the plaster and when they did it just ballooned.”
Arthritis followed and eventually he got the knee replaced.
“It was very stressful and I felt that I needed to move on and was offered a position at a small school in the Barossa valley,” Dr Albinger said.
“As it turns out, that small school had just been given 27 acres and they were going to build a new school.”
When he started, the school had about 80 students and five years later there were around 200 in a new campus.
“It was like Loxton all over again, it was a good time, I was really enjoying my work and I told the family we’ll stay here for a while, it’s a lovely place to live,” Dr Albinger said.
Due to the massive growth in all Lutheran schools across the country, Queensland and South Australia both appointed directors for Lutheran schools.
The first person they appointed was a businessman – not an educator. It was quickly evident that an educator was needed in the position.
Dr Albinger was recruited back to Queensland in 1986 to take up the position as the second director for Lutheran Schools in Queensland which he stayed in until 1999.
Although in the position he was working upwards of 90 hours a week travelling around to schools which were expanding rapidly he undertook his masters degrees in curriculum studies (how curriculum is developed and delivered in schools).
“It must have been a bad year, I ended up taking out all the prizes for top scholarship in the master program,” Dr Albinger said.
He was offered scholarships to work on his doctorate and he decided to look at the Lutheran school system.
“I had noticed that a number of principals lost their jobs when their boards didn’t like what they were doing or there was some kind of stress,” he said.
“They would make what I considered crazy decisions and they end up losing their work and I couldn’t understand why. I thought it needed research.”
After 13 years in the position of director, Dr Albinger decided it was time to step down and let someone else take over the role.
This gave him the opportunity to work on his doctorate and develop his teacher education program, getting teachers ready to work in Lutheran schools. The program stemmed from the study he completed in his Master’s Degree.
Educated: Dr Albinger’s Degrees, Masters and Doctorate hanging proudly on his office wall. He completed his doctorate in 2005 at 65 years of age.
He started as head teacher in Adelaide and eventually the program spread to Queensland where he found a lecturer.
But in 2002 that lecturer left partway through the year, leaving the program in Queensland without a staff member and nobody to go there.
His passion for the program he developed was obvious when he moved back to Queensland to keep it going.
“Essentially my understanding of my work is as a servant, I’m in service to the church and however my gifts and abilities can be used that’s what I want to do,” he said.
In 2008 the church requested he retire but he wasn’t ready to stop working so sought out a new position, this time in Canada.
At the end of October the same year they packed up their lives and headed to Edmonton Alberta and back to being a principal.
“Unfortunately the school wasn’t in good financial situation – we couldn’t keep it going,” Dr Albinger said.
At the end of the school year (June) in 2012 the school was closed.
Despite being 72 he still felt he could be service to Lutheran schools and got in touch with the National Director for Lutheran Schools, Stephen Rudolph.
Mr Rudolph was the founding principal of Lutheran School Wagga and convinced Dr Albinger to take on the role of principal.
Dr Ken Albinger took over the job as principal of Lutheran School Wagga in 2012 after working around Australia, America and in Canada.
“My job as I saw it was to breathe some fresh life into the program at the school,” Dr Albinger said.
“Change can be dangerous, it’s a two-edged sword.
“In any situation if you’re an agent of change there is always a price. Not everyone has been happy with the changes that had been made at the school, generally we have prospered but enrollments have generally remained the same.”
Unlike the 80s Lutheran schools now have to fight for their share of the market but Dr Albinger believes the Lutheran philosophy will continue to attract parents.
“What makes Lutheran schools special in my opinion is their commitment to the understanding that every person, every single person, is created by God for a purpose,” he said.
“A school’s job is to help the families of their students uncover the students’ gifts and abilities and develop them for a purpose.
“That purpose, obviously, is to make a contribution to the world.
“It is an overriding understanding of that that says if everyone is important, everyone’s gifts are important then everybody is worthy of our attention care and concern.”
Although he is now retired from Lutheran School Wagga due to age and health considerations, he hasn’t finished serving Lutheran schools.
He plans to continue his mentor work with young principals and work with others as well as writing a book.
Using his experience within the Lutheran schooling system, his book will develop a philosophy for Lutheran schooling which will be appropriate for the church in an era where not all staff are from the Lutheran tradition.
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