St. Thomas has had a long relationship with Hiawatha Academies in Minneapolis. Sean Elder ’11 M.B.A., continues that tradition as chief operating officer of the maturing, rapidly growing organization. Elder joined Hiawatha Academies during a time of transition: The organization plans to add four schools to its initial elementary school by 2020. The first middle school, Adelante College Prep, opened this year, and another elementary school, a second middle school and a high school will be added.

Elder was a perfect fit for Hiawatha Academies. “I was interested in applying business skills to social-impact organizations. The crisis of the achievement gap needs leaders to solve it,” he said. He was attracted to Hiawatha Academies’ proven results.

As COO, Elder has three main responsibilities. First, he manages ongoing daily operations that support the schools’ academic teams. He describes this aspect of his job as “I’ll do that” – he will do whatever needs to be done to allow teachers to focus on instruction and principals to be able to spend 80 percent of their time in the classroom, observing and developing teachers. Second, he is in charge of the organization’s strategy. His first major assignment as COO was leading the board through the six-month planning process that led to the current plans for Hiawatha Academies’ growth. And third, Elder handles external relations, including fundraising – no small task, since the network of schools needs $10.7 million to meet its goals for growth.

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