Leadership in difficult times: Donna Harris on rebuilding a school; navigating through pandemic

A Black woman poses for a photo
Minnehaha Academy president Donna Harris poses for a photo in the student commons inside Minnehaha Academy’s Upper Campus in Minneapolis on Wednesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

A little under 15 years ago, Donna Harris made history when she was hired to be the president of Minnehaha Academy — a private, pre-K-12 Christian school in Minneapolis.

Harris became the first woman and the first person of color to lead the school in its 100-year-plus history, but her path to lead the Christian academy wasn’t something she planned. 

Before, Harris was working as an assistant superintendent in northern California, also with Christian roots, until she started to receive a number of recruitment messages from Minnehaha Academy.

The phone calls were often brushed off, until she decided to visit the Minnesota school and she saw what it was all about. The academy left an impression on her and she says she could not get the academy out of her mind.

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Harris has said that she answered “a calling” to lead the academy. 

In 2017 one of the most traumatic chapters unfolded in the school's history. A massive explosion killed two beloved staffers and leveled the middle section of the academy's high school.

MPR News host Angela Davis talks to Donna Harris about her leadership at Minnehaha Academy and guiding the school through some of its challenging moments — rebuilding from the 2017 explosion and the COVID-19 pandemic. 


  • Donna Harris is the president of Minnehaha Academy. She holds a doctorate in education.  

two woman sitting in a studio
MPR News host Angela Davis and Donna Harris, the president of Minnehaha Academy.
Danelle Cloutier | MPR News

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Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.