Assessing Minnehaha’s five-year plan

Minnehaha president Donna Harris focuses on arts, academics, athletics and faith for the future

All leaders have a vision. Martin Luther King had “a dream that [his] four children [would] one day live in a nation where they [would] not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

The forefathers of our nation had a plan that enacted three basic rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

God has a plan to “prosper [us] and not to harm [us], to give [us] a hope and a future.”

And President Donna Harris has a strategic vision for Minnehaha Academy focusing on what she refers to as “the three A’s:” arts, academics and athletics.

“I want us to continue to strengthen those areas based on identified areas of growth,” said Harris. “Flexibility for students and perhaps opportunities that allow them to follow their God-given talents outside of the structure of a 8:30 to 2:55 day.”

Harris believes that there is no separate “A,” so to speak, for spiritual growth.

“I don’t want people to think that spiritual growth only happens in chapel or Bible class,” she said. “Those three A’s should be anchored by the faith component of our school and not have faith be a separate thing. I want to continue to strengthen that.  I want students that are mathematicians and those that enjoy physics to still understand that subject matter is integrated with truths of our faith and translates to their lives.”

Creating a vision goes beyond the president’s office. Five years ago, even before Harris became president of Minnehaha, a centennial long-range plan was enacted. This five-year plan was put together by a cross section of staff, faculty, administrators, parents, alumni and even students.

The process was quite simple; there were different committees made up of the aforementioned groups of people that were assigned to each of the ten priority areas, which are spiritual formation, parent community, internal communication, curriculum alignment, physical improvements, academy advancement, resource development, academy visibility, environmental leadership and diversity. These different committees worked behind closed doors to assess the school’s current state and brainstorm on how to meet the ten priority areas. Regardless of the hard work these committees had put into striving for the five-year plan, plans can never be truly perfect.

“Something we have to assess as a school is if we have followed through with every set of core values,” said Harris. “We would do that by looking at our mission and unpacking it. When we say high-quality education, integrating faith and learning, what does that mean? Well, we have to unpack it and ask ourselves what are the indicators? It’s the same with our core values. What are the signs that indicate that we are helping to discover and nurture each student’s gifts? We have to unpack that and say ‘where do we see it?’ ‘Where might there be gaps?’ ‘How can we fill the gaps?’ I think that every school, if they were honest, would say that it’s a journey and that we can never say we’re hitting 100 percent every single core value.”

Minnehaha Academy is an institution that has now been around for 100 years. Hopefully it’ll be around for a 100 more and in that case, they’d need another plan because the current one is nearing its end.

“This year we’re laying the framework for the next strategic plan that will be put into action in 2013-14,” Harris said. “This year we are beginning to gather the data on the academic program, opportunities for growth and financial footing. The board of education, faculty, staff and administrators are beginning to have some high level conversations to assess what is the current state of the school and what’s the vision of the future.”

Picture the pink bunny from Energizer with its slogan of  “keep on going.” Now adjust that illustration by replacing the pink bunny with Minnehaha Academy.

“I would say because it’s a journey and circumstances and resources change that steps in the action plan that support a strategy for a very good reason might be altered,” said Harris. “Again, it’s a journey and I think we can never say, ‘We have arrived.’”

Minnehaha is one institution, just as America is one country. Abraham Lincoln quoted the book of Mark in a nomination acceptance speech and said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” In this situation, Lincoln was referring to the Civil War, but it can apply just as much to Minnehaha.

“In order to keep the school’s progress, we have to agree as a unified body [which includes the board of education, faculty, staff, administration, parents and students] because we first have to say, ‘What’s our vision? What’s our mission? What are our core values? What are our beliefs?’” said Harris. “Everybody has to be on the same page.”

With that in mind, former president John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural speech “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” When Harris says “everybody on the same page,” she really does mean everybody. The whole student body. The teachers. The parents. Everybody needs to “know what they believe and why they believe it,” as Michael Horton writes, and how they can do something for this institution that Harris believes is “God’s institution.”

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