Quincy Conference designed 'to help teachers improve what they were doing'

Michael Kipley
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Oct. 3, 2018 10:25 am Updated: Oct. 3, 2018 10:47 am

QUINCY -- Ardath Potts still remembers being in the room when George Meyer was on the phone with education reformer and consultant Mario Fantini.

"All of a sudden he looks at me, and his eyes got real big. ‘He said yes,'" Potts said. "That was an exciting moment. This was a nationally known person."

Securing Fantini as a featured speaker back in 1972 was key to the first Quincy Conference, where the goals -- to benefit area educators and to help the community -- were similar to the ones for this year's version kicking off Thursday.

"(The conference) was to help teachers improve what they were doing, to offer a day when they could look at the different workshops that they thought might help them" Potts said. "As a retired teacher, I think teachers need all the help they can get."

But the idea for the conference "came about by accident," said Meyer, director of the first Quincy Conference.

Quincy Public Schools had sent people to a conference on new teaching techniques, and they were reporting on what they'd learned at a committee meeting. When the question came up about how to spread the word, the suggestion was made to hold a conference for the district's teachers.

"The idea grew," said Meyer, who was finishing up his doctorate degree and returning from sabbatical.

Not yet assigned to a position for the next school year, Meyer was asked to research speakers for the conference, funded through the regional superintendent's office in Adams County and the Quincy school district.

"It started small, mostly just Adams County teachers and groups. The parochial schools were involved, too," Meyer said. "It just grew. We started getting celebrities, who would come to an education conference a lot cheaper than other things. John Wooden, coach at UCLA, was here. Art Linkletter was here. We got those kind of people, plus top educators in the country, to come here."

It was a neat experience "to get to meet all these people, to talk to them and learn from them. It was just enjoyable," Meyer said.

At its peak, the two-day conference drew almost 4,000 people.

"It ended up being great for the school district. It was a moneymaker. New techniques were brought out for us to consider," said Meyer, who retired in 1997 as Quincy's superintendent. "It was a great thing for the community. People stayed in hotels, ate at restaurants."

Potts, district teacher Larry Million and Shirley Speckhart, wife of a teacher who acted as conference secretary, all were involved in the first event.

"After that, directors were picked. They were volunteers; they didn't get extra pay back then," Meyer said. "Nancy Venegoni, director of reading for the district, for years was director of the conference. She was kind of like the cog that kept it together for several years."

By 2003, Venegoni told the School Board that the faculty, staff and administrators needed to spend time focusing on districtwide issues rather than on planning the October conference, which would take a one-year hiatus.

Plans initially called for the conference to resume in 2004, but it didn't return until 2016.

Educators missed the enthusiasm and morale-building provided by the conference -- and "seeing the best people in the nation presenting on educational topics," said Meyer, who was happy to see the event resume.