One day after their school and lives were devastated by a deadly gas explosion, Minnehaha Academy leaders met Thursday to talk about how to move forward.
Despite the many uncertainties they faced, one thing was clear: The school’s extended community is now looking toward one leader — Donna Harris.
“Great leaders rise to occasions, and she is someone that I am confident in,” said Mark Stromberg, superintendent of the Northwest Conference, which the academy is part of.
Harris sent a letter to Minnehaha Academy parents Thursday afternoon thanking them for their support and prayers.
“My prayer is that we will lock hands and hearts and do the hard work of rebuilding together,” she wrote. “Please continue to pray for God’s discernment as we navigate these uncharted waters.”
On Wednesday morning, Harris was in her office when she got a knock on her door and was told to leave immediately. Before she could step out the door, the explosion knocked her off her feet. All of the windows were blown out from her office.
“It was horrific and loud,” she said.
She lost her shoes and was walking on glass when a first responder picked her up and carried her to safety. She suffered minor injuries, including a sprained ankle.
During meetings Thursday, Harris described her role as that of a shepherd who seeks to guide staff members toward making the best decisions for students.
But nothing, she said, could have prepared her for this moment.
“I have surrounded myself with a phenomenal leadership team,” she said. “You can’t control what a day may hold.”
On Wednesday night, Harris spoke and sang at a vigil to honor the two people killed and offer comfort to the grieving. “We’re going to get through it,” she said from a wheelchair. “We trust God. He is going to do phenomenal work.”
Confidence ran strong Thursday that Harris will be able to lead the academy back from tragedy.
“What was evident to me is the way she leans on her spiritual life,” said the Rev. Matt Kennedy of Bethlehem Covenant Church, who offered a prayer at the vigil. “I’m confident in Donna, and have a lot of confidence in the board of trustees for the school.
Before arriving at Minnehaha Academy in 2009, Harris served as associate superintendent for Valley Christian Schools in San Jose, Calif. Her former colleagues were shocked to learn Thursday about what happened the day before, but relieved and grateful that Harris made it out.
Valley Christian Schools Superintendent Clifford Daugherty, who worked with Harris at the district, said he is praying for her. “If anyone can build with the community, look to God and have some good come out of this, that will occur under Donna Harris’ leadership,” he said. “She is the right leader to take on such a task.”