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Articles > Community Comment > Community Comment: Q&A with Tim Benz, President of Minnesota Independent School Forum (MISF)

Community Comment: Q&A with Tim Benz, President of Minnesota Independent School Forum (MISF)

Perspectives on the post-pandemic advancement & development landscape

ToucanTech's Community Comment series provides a view of how community management is evolving, from a range of experts around the world.


The past year


How has your community responded to the challenges caused by the global pandemic?

Private and Independent Schools have shined. They responded by creating innovative ways to manage through this challenging time. Safety and health processes were put into place that allowed most schools to deliver in-person learning during the 2020-2021 school year. The sector was most challenged by changing guidance and support provided by local, state and federal authorities. MISF stepped forward as the main conduit to the MN Department of Education and MN Department of Health to interpret and communicate guidance and disseminate information. Without our trusted voice, school leaders would have been left to interpret the guidance on their own. 


Have you seen community members band together online, for support or other purposes?

Connection to school leaders has been critical throughout the last year. Many of the schools are very small with a single school leader. They do not have the time or resources to follow and interpret the changing dynamics. Leaders need a strong network for support, connection, and affirmation. We have been able to facilitate this in a very efficient manner. The private and independent school sector has come together even stronger. 


The here and now


What is the atmosphere like at the moment within your network? 

Educators and school leaders are an optimistic group, so they are looking forward to a “normal” year. There is still a great deal of uncertainty should external forces create greater uncertainty. 


Are you aware of any communities that are thriving, and whose fundraising efforts have been facilitated by an increase in online engagement? 

For the first time in decades, Minnesota saw modest growth in private school enrollment this year as uncertain schedules and mask mandates had families looking for alternatives to public schools during the coronavirus pandemic. Homeschool enrollment exploded, with an increase of nearly 50%. Schools also utilized virtual modes to deliver fundraising events, and many exceeded their event fund goals. 


In the future


Do you think that working patterns could change permanently, and could this be challenging from a community management perspective?

It has become clear that learning virtually has a place in schools, but the pandemic showed, unmistakably, that most students learn best in person - in a three-dimensional world, led by a teacher, surrounded by classmates and activities.  Private and Independent schools were able to put systems in place that allowed them to keep staff and students safe.  We saw enrollment increase as more families valued in-person learning. Schools have learned that remote learning is a supplement, not a substitute, for in-school instruction. 


Are you expecting to celebrate more online or digital solutions in your everyday life?

MISF is always looking for new ways to engage member schools but have realized the importance of providing consistent, trusted information in a concise format. The professional development training that MISF has provided for school leaders, administrators and educators has been delivered remotely, resulting in increased membership participation. 


What kind of message would you like to send to your peers and professional network in the coming months? 

During this challenging time, the private and independent school community has been strengthened, students’ parents have a new understanding of and appreciation for their children as learners, and many students have gained invaluable lessons about themselves and the knack and commitment of working through adversity

MISF would like to applaud and commend the leaders, educators, staff, and students at private and independent schools across Minnesota. The grace, strength and patience shown throughout this challenging year have been remarkable.  

MISF will continue to stand at the center of a vast ecosystem to advocate for and offer support, guidance, connection, and collaboration. Our mission is to strengthen the ecosystem by assembling valuable resources, interpret technical guidance, and relay trusted, timely, critical information so leaders and educators are equipped to fulfill their own unique missions. 

ToucanTech is an all-in-one community software, combining data management, member engagement, and public or private online platforms. Connect your network and consolidate administration using a customisable and easy-to-use solution, built for community managers. 

Get in touch to find out more.

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