Case Study: Organizational Resilience at a Private High School - Minnehaha Academy's Journey

Post 5 - Culture of Caring

December 6, 2018

Author: Lynnda Nelson
President at ICOR


Last month’s blog explored the importance of understanding how an organization’s culture impacts its resilience.  This month’s post digs deeper into the topic of culture and its impact on an organization’s resilience specifically related to surviving a crisis – Minnehaha Academy’s Journey.

Culture serves four functions, including providing a sense of identity to members and promoting a sense of commitment.  Culture helps members of the organization attribute sense and meaning to organizational events.  Culture reinforces the values in the organization.  Culture serves as a control mechanism for shaping behavior.



Organizational resilience is increased and enhanced when there is an intentional effort to ensure a healthy culture throughout the organization. 

As documented in ISO 22316 Organizational Resilience Principles and Attributes and as illustrated in ICOR’s Organizational Resilience Model, there are several strategies that demonstrate this effort.

The focus of this blog is on the environment of Culture & Behaviors and the related strategies and behaviors.

Also called “attributes”, these 3 strategies when intentionally implemented, have been visible in more resilient organizations:


  • Healthy Culture: The existence of core values and behaviors that support the health and welfare of its members/employees, foster creativity and empower members/employees to communicate effectively.
  • Shares Information: Information and knowledge is shared to enable effective decision-making, learning from experience and from others is encouraged and valued, and is recognized as a critical resource of the organization.
  • Continually Improves: Performance is continually monitored and a culture of continual improvement is encouraged.


Strategy / Attribute 1: Core values and behaviors support the health and welfare of its members/employees

Minnehaha Academy’s Mission, Core Values, & Philosophy

As a private Christian school it is expected that its mission would reflect their religious commitment. But beyond its commitment to Christianity, Minnehaha Academy’s core values include Exceptional Academics, Cultivating Potential, and a Caring Community.

They also document a philosophy that includes the following direction to meet its mission:

  • How we view each person
  • How we view the purpose of education
  • How we view the content of education
  • How we relate to one another in community


Minnehaha Academy demonstrates its core value of being a “Caring Community” in many ways that were brought to light in how it managed its response and recovery after the August 2, 2017 explosion.

Student Podcasts Demonstrate a Culture That Supports the Health and Welfare of its Employees

In a previous post we shared the multiple communication systems Minnehaha has in place to communicate with their current families, potential families, as well as their past families, donors, and external stakeholders in addition to the teachers and staff members.

One of the forms of communication has been recognized nationally.  It is a series of podcasts conducted by student Emma Melling, entitled “August 2 Stories.”   As of today there are 11 stories.  They feature individuals who were onsite the day of the explosion. 

The stories provide healing in the telling and in the reading and demonstrate a culture of caring and how the Minnehaha mission, vision, and philosophy are implemented. Emma Melling's short episode with Laura DuBois was a winner in the New York Times first student podcast contest. 

It also won first place in the state awards (Minnesota High School Press Association), and it recently won first place in the nation for Digital Story of the Year in the Podcast division from the National Scholastic Press Association.  View her interview by the local television station KARE11.

Antler Yearbook – Recognition of Loss and Hope for the Future

The cover and front-matter of the 2018 Antler Yearbook was also devoted to the explosion.  The title of the yearbook, “and then life changed” demonstrated the importance of recognizing that life has changed but that the mission of the school would continue.

Antler Yearbook

The front-matter was organized by month and showed pictures of the day of the explosion along with anecdotes from those interviewed.  It also documented “how life changed” and how challenges were met along the way.  View Antler.

The yearbook showed respect for what was lost as well as the loss of lives, while also documenting the “road to recovery.”  And while looking at how life changed, it also highlighted “how Minnehaha has stayed the same.”  It shares “signs of hope,” “Hope for a New Location,” and how “TogetherWeRise.”

Supporting Families of Staff Members Who Were Killed and Injured

As noted in the first blog, two staff members died as a result of the explosion.  Another example of the culture of caring for its community that exists at Minnehaha was the way they opened the doors to their Lower & Middle School Campus four days and one week after the explosion for the memorial services of John Carlson and Ruth Berg

Not only did they provide the space in their building while in the middle of dealing with the disaster, they provided security, got the gym ready for overflow, had people volunteer to manage the AV, and one member of their leadership team, herself a victim of the explosion and a spokesperson volunteered to play the piano during the memorial service.

In November 2017, Minnehaha leadership and a volunteer who was a former teacher as well as a niece of John Carlson, coordinated the creation of a Book of Memories for the families of John and Ruth.  Students and staff shared their memories in these books and they were then provided to their families as a Christmas gift.

Coach at Minnehaha Academy Talks About Year of Challenge and Change

Bryan DuffeyMaintenance/custodian and assistant soccer coach Bryan Duffey lost a leg in the explosion at Minnehaha Academy.  He was injured when a portion of the school's upper campus collapsed.

First responders pulled Duffey from underneath debris and rushed him to the hospital, where doctors were forced to amputate his right leg.  After a year of healing, he has been welcomed back to Minnehaha to continue coaching.


What Makes a School?  Valuing Members of the Minnehaha Community

In a recent article in their newsletter, RedHawks Online, they asked, “What makes a school?  Is it the building or the students?  Is it about the teachers?  The answers to these questions are definitely “yes.” 

 But a school is not only those things.  What about the unheralded, underhyped people who make a bit, if quietly essential, impact on our community?

“Evelia Barrera – Making Our School Home” introduced building maintenance staff member Evelia Barrera who has worked at Minnehaha for 15 years while also holding two other jobs and going to school.  Her son is also a student at the school.

This article provided insight to the importance of the building maintenance staff and also publically showed Ms. Barrera that she is a valued member of the Minnehaha community.

Support for Health and Welfare

Minnehaha Academy provides generous sick and vacation time to its staff members.  This allows people to get paid when they or a family member is sick or need time for renewal.  As this was a practice in place prior to the explosion it continued after the explosion.

Those who were injured and out of work due to the explosion received worker’s comp benefits as well.  In the initial weeks after the explosion, employees knew they could take whatever time they needed within reason and no one abused that.

The school also brought in support for employees who wanted it, including emotional and spiritual counseling on site.  They scheduled gathering times with the body of employees who could attend just to be together (ie: prayer time at 10:20 on Wednesdays for a few weeks).  There was a counselor who met with interested employees right at the workplace for several months to simply process what they had gone through with their co-workers. 

Comfort dogs

They immediately brought in comfort dogs for several weeks along with the counselors.  Minnehaha Academy received comfort from friends of the school and people/businesses who never knew our school from all over the city who brought food to the school for many days.

In addition, employees who were not in the explosion really stepped up and took on more things they had never done before to assist those who were trying to heal from being in the explosion.

Replacement of Property and Teaching Materials

One of the challenges with the explosion and the destruction to the classrooms was a loss of personal property in addition to teaching materials.  The school coordinated submission of personal property lost to be handled via one person at MA who then worked with the insurance company to negotiate refunds for their personal property lost in the explosion. 

For some this was incidental, for some others, it ended up being over $1000.  Ex: an employee had brought in an expensive guitar for another employee who agreed to re-string it.  It obviously was not work-related but they negotiated to get full replacement cost for it.  This might have been harder to do as an individual.

Recognition of Commitment

Later in the fall, the Board asked that all those whose workload had considerably increased for many weeks be recognized with a one-time payment as a token of appreciation and recognition of teachers having to re-create all their curriculum and create new classrooms from scratch.  

Other employees were recognized for spending hundreds of hours simply ordering everything new -from furniture and classroom desks to the minutia of basic office supplies that simply didn’t exist any longer.  There were also challenges with finding places for all those who had lost their place to work and staff members stepped up to figure how to provide workspace for everyone displaced. 

In addition, a generous donor enabled us to give everyone a gift card just before Christmas.   

Strategy 2: Sharing of Knowledge & Information

The Sr. Team knew right away that they had lost a lot in terms of knowledge and available resources and that they were suddenly being task to “fix” a huge endeavor when none of them had every done such a massive “do-over” before.   

“To help meet this challenge we developed a survey where all constituencies (employees, parents, supporters, etc.) were sent the survey asking them to check areas of expertise or willingness to work on certain projects, etc.  This was used numerous times to start various teams to manage specific projects. 

We were lucky to have several constituents who stepped up to play a project mgr. role, utilize their expertise in legal, real estate, construction, city requirements skills, etc.  Sr. leadership agrees that if we had tried to do everything ourselves and not bring in and welcome people with various expertise, that we would have failed and never been able to pull off getting back into the school as soon as we are.  We have continued to refer to this survey of talent throughout the past year.”

Values Learning Over Blame

Learning over blameAnother attribute of more resilient organizations is a culture that values learning over blame.

“Minnehaha has a culture where we try to build on people’s strengths and find ways to assist in resolving or overcoming weaknesses.  This did not change after the explosion.  We have always tried to value people’s strengths more than pointing out their weaknesses.  Not that we don’t seek excellence in our work, but we know that everyone is human and will accommodate such mistakes as appropriate.

There were instances where someone made a mistake he or she wouldn’t have made before and tolerance was offered.  There were also people who “seemed” to be fine, but the outside doesn’t necessarily show what the inside is. 

We were and continue to be very generous and patient in giving time off, longer deadlines, and reducing workload by simply not doing a project this past year that normally is done every year, for example.”


Strategy 3: Demonstrates / Seeks Continual Improvement  

More resilient organizations seek continual improvement.  One way to demonstrate continual improvement is via statistics.  Minnehaha leadership reported the following:

  • Employee turnover is not significant enough to measure. Our retention rate exceeds most companies or schools.  We regularly recognize people who serve 20, 25, 30 and even 40 years of service.
  • That being said, we do encourage all leaders to work with their employees to set goals and development opportunities on an annual basis and then they are measured on those goals for the year.
  • Teachers especially are encouraged to continually enhance their curriculum and are given time and money to take needed professional development to continue to excel in their field.
  • The value of Excellence within our core values and mission is not merely a word, but rather something every employee tries to continually work on and there are dollars and time available for employees to seek out training and development that will enable them to continue to improve.
  • Our graduation rate is 100% as is the rate for those accepted to colleges & universities with rare exception every year.


Organizations where the management deals with its culture, either systematically and purposefully or at least intuitively, are more successful in their business activity.   An organization’s culture is one of the major factors in achieving competitiveness and competitive advantage.

The January blog will share information on the loss of facility – the school building – and the past 18 months of searching for a new building and the rebuilding project.