Who We Are

With deep expertise in developing high-quality schools, Great MN Schools unites committed funders and schools in the shared work of dramatically improving the opportunities available to Minneapolis kids. In partnership with MN Comeback, we will increase access to great schools and close the opportunity gap for 30,000 Minneapolis children.

Our guiding principles
Our investment approach brings a unique level of discipline, rigor and accountability to the market: 

  • Focus on school leaders—identify and invest in empowered school entrepreneurs 
  • Venture capital approach—extensive due diligence, with multi-year investments tied to milestones
  • Ongoing market cultivation—actively develop pipeline of future investments, alongside continual engagement and support of portfolio schools
  • Accountability—hold school leaders, and ourselves, accountable to results

Our Board of Directors:

Beth Finch

Beth Finch

Beth Finch

Beth Finch

Beth is the founder of CharterSource, a provider of board governance support services for Minnesota charter schools. Prior to launching CharterSource, she was the board chair of KIPP MN. She also is a founder of Lake Country Academy, a K-8 school based in Wisconsin, proven to consistently score in the top charter schools in the state. In addition to her work in education, she serves on the board of trustees at Mounds Park Academy in St. Paul and Wilderness Inquiry.

Her passion and the cornerstone of her work is to support schools and to close the achievement gap in Minnesota. She is a graduate of the College of St. Benedicts and resides in the east metro with her three children.

Alberto Monserrate

Treasurer

Alberto Monserrate

Alberto Monserrate

Treasurer

Alberto Monserrate

Alberto is co-founder and CEO of NewPublica, a public relations and strategic communications firm focusing on new audiences and new communications. Alberto is a leading authority on multicultural communications and marketing in Minnesota. As the CEO and co-founder of Latino Communications Network, now NewPublica, he produced the weekly Spanish newspaper La Prensa de Minnesota and the weekly Spanish publication Vida y Sabor. LCN also operated 24-hour Spanish radio stations 1400 and 1470 AM La Invasora, between 2005 and 2013.

Alberto is a seasoned expert on marketing to the Latino community and is a regular commentator in the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Minnesota Public Radio and other Minnesota business media. Alberto was elected to the Minneapolis School Board in 2010, serving as chair from 2012 to 2014. He is a former board chair of Hiawatha Academies and served on the founding boards of KIPP MN and Twin Cities Academy. He served on the board of the Minnesota Broadcasters Association and currently serves on the advisory editorial board of Minnesota Business Magazine. His professional work included roles in Radisson Hotels International, Ameriprise Financial, Wells Fargo Advisors, Latino Communications Network, Minnesota Senate and Minneapolis Public Schools.

Phil Soran

Phil Soran

Phil Soran

Phil Soran

Phil is a serial technology entrepreneur who was inducted into the 2016 Minnesota Business Hall of Fame. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including being recognized as the Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst and Young in 2008 and El Dorado Ventures in 2007 and being selected as one of 40 Minnesotans on the Move in 2009. Phil cofounded Flipgrid in 2015, and serves as the executive chairman. He was also the founder, president and CEO of Compellent Technologies, a company that was one of the fastest-growing storage companies in the world before acquisition by Dell for $960 Million dollars in 2011.

Previously, Phil served as chief executive officer and president of XIOtech Corp, a network storage vendor that he co-founded in his basement in 1995. XIOtech was purchased by Seagate in January of 2000 for $360M. Phil also held various management, sales, marketing, and technical positions at IBM for 10 years.

Phil serves on the board of Piper Jaffray, SPS Commerce, Help Systems, and also served on the board of directors of Stellent and Hutchinson Technologies prior to their acquisitions. He is currently a Trustee for the U of Minnesota Foundation.

Ben Whitney

Board Chair

Ben Whitney

Ben Whitney

Board Chair

Ben Whitney

Ben began his career as an attorney with the Popham, Haik law firm specializing in regulatory affairs. He spent over a decade in the venture capital field as general partner of the Gideon Hixon Fund which invested in early stage software, information services and medical technology companies in Minnesota and the Silicon Valley. He spent several years managing statewide political campaigns. In 2005, Ben was nominated by President George W. Bush as ambassador to the Kingdom of Norway where he served until 2009.

Since then he has dedicated himself to developing several nonprofit organizations with a strong focus on education reform. In 2013, Ben earned a master's in public policy management with a focus on education policy from Georgetown University. He has worked with Leadership for Equity in Education, EMPOWER, MN Comeback, school board races and many other education projects. He serves on the boards of The Minneapolis Foundation and EdAllies, and is vice chair of the Harvest Network of Schools.

Al Fan

Al Fan

Al Fan

Al Fan

Al is the executive director for MN Comeback, a broad coalition ensuring all children in Minneapolis enroll in rigorous and relevant schools that prepare them to thrive in college, career, and community. Previously, Al was the founding executive director for Charter School Partners and led the nonprofit organization for six years in its work to support the startup, growth and expansion of high-quality schools. In 2013, Al was named by the Walton Family Foundation as a national “Ed Reformers to Watch.”

Prior to this, he worked for 16 years at General Mills – in various marketing and sales positions in the areas of Brand Management, Category Management, Consumer Research and Strategic Planning. Prior to General Mills, Al was at Accenture and worked with numerous organizations in the areas of technology, systems development and strategic planning.

Al currently serves on the Board of Trustees for The Minneapolis Foundation and on the leadership council for Generation Next. He has also served on the boards of the Cookie Cart in North Minneapolis, Social Venture Partners/MN, Hiawatha Leadership Academy and was the founding board chair for KIPP MN. He has volunteered with Best Prep, Junior Achievement and Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

Al has an undergraduate degree in industrial engineering and operations research from the University of California, Berkeley, and a masters of business administration from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

Alvin Abraham

Alvin Abraham

Alvin Abraham

Alvin Abraham

Alvin is the founding dean of the Dougherty Family College at the University of St. Thomas, which welcomed its inaugural class of students in 2017. Alvin started his career as an elementary educator with Teach For America and then continued teaching in Houston. A proven leader, Alvin quickly ascended into educational administration as an assistant principal then principal in Houston. He relocated to Minneapolis in 2012 to lead KIPP MN. Alvin holds a B.S. from Texas A&M University and a M.Ed. from the University of Houston. He is on the board of directors of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and serves on the national advisory board of Teach For America–The Collective.

Pat Ryan

Pat Ryan

Pat Ryan

Pat Ryan

Pat worked at Ryan companies for 35 years, including serving as it’s president and CEO for a decade. He now serves as the Chairman of the Board. Pat is also the board chair of the University of St. Thomas, past president of YPO and a current member of the World Presidents’ Organization (WPO).

His further work within the community includes serving as a board member of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, trustee and past president of Children’s Cancer Research Fund, past president of Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School and past board member of Catholic Charities. He is also a founder of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School—an inner-city college preparatory school for under-resourced children and is chair of the Spring Point Project, which is focused on ending a cure for diabetes.

Our Staff:

Morgan Brown

Director

Morgan Brown

Morgan Brown

Director

Morgan Brown

Morgan has 20 years of experience working on K-12 education reform, school choice, and family outreach at a variety of government agencies, and nonprofit and public policy organizations. Prior to joining Great MN Schools, he served as director of partner school relations at Charter School Partners, as an assistant commissioner and director of school choice and innovation at the Minnesota Department of Education, and as assistant deputy secretary for the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education. Morgan received his B.A. from Carleton College and was a policy fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute.

Sheilah Kavaney

Director

Sheilah Kavaney

Sheilah Kavaney

Director

Sheilah Kavaney

Sheilah has more than 20 years of experience in education. She began her career as a Teach For America corps member in Houston. After two years in the classroom, she co-founded YES (Youth Engaged in Service) Prep and led the school to Texas’ highest school rating, "exemplary status." In 2004, Sheilah built the Charter Management Organization structure allowing YES Prep, and subsequently KIPP Austin, both to grow in size and quality. Sheilah developed phasing to build efficient and effective CMO staffing, school growth and facility utilization. Sheilah has also built and managed financial models for strategic decision-making. As an early leader in CMO growth, YES Prep and KIPP Austin strategic plans, facilities development and staffing structures are now shared widely among successful charter school networks nationally. Sheilah holds an MBA from Boston University.

Jennifer Stern

CEO

Jennifer Stern

Jennifer Stern

CEO

Jennifer Stern

Jennifer has more than 20 years of experience leading innovative, transformational strategic initiatives, including over 10 years as a national education reform leader. She was the president of Spark Strategic Consulting, providing strategic support to a variety of national and local education organizations. Jennifer served as the executive director of Talent Management and Strategic Programs for Denver Public Schools, where she oversaw the district’s human capital strategies for teachers and principals, including strategies for recruitment, development, evaluation, and retention of high-performing educators.

Prior to DPS, Jennifer was Vice President at the Charter School Growth Fund, a national venture philanthropy organization designed to provide financial and strategic resources to replicate high-quality charter schools serving students from low-income households. Jennifer began her career in education reform at the New York City Department of Education, leading work for the CEO of Human Resources on business transformation and the customer experience. Prior to entering the world of education reform, Jennifer spent several years at American Express, where she worked in Strategic Venture Capital before leading marketing teams in loyalty and acquisition marketing. She began her career at Bain & Company, a top strategy consulting firm.

Jennifer earned a bachelor’s degree in economics, magna cum laude, from Pomona College and a master’s degree in business administration from the Harvard Business School.

Rosie Lais

Senior Manager of Projects and Analytics

Rosie Lais

Rosie Lais

Senior Manager of Projects and Analytics

Rosie Lais

An alumnus of Minneapolis schools, Rosie spent the first years of her career working in post-secondary education in the international development space. She was an education volunteer in the Peace Corps in Panama (2013-2015), where she served as the national coordinator of the Leadership Development for Global Education program. Rosie holds a master’s in public affairs from Princeton University.

Melissa Long

Director

Melissa Long

Melissa Long

Director

Melissa Long

Melissa has more than 15 years of experience working toward quality education for all kids as a teacher, instructional coach, school administrator and within education nonprofit organizations. After five years of teaching, Melissa became a founding leader at DC Prep Edgewood Elementary School (a National Blue Ribbon school) where she served as the instructional coach and the assistant principal for five years. Melissa also worked as a director of school support and as the managing director of partnership design at the Achievement Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring that every child has access to an excellent education.

Melissa earned bachelor's degrees in psychology and environmental science at Williams College, and a master's degree in teaching from Johns Hopkins University.


Our sister organization: Minnesota Comeback

A community of great schools depends on just that—a community. That’s why we partner with MN Comeback, a broad coalition of families, funders, educators and advocates working to ensure all students attend schools that work.

While we invest in and partner with schools demonstrating success or are well-positioned to do so, MN Comeback complements our work by addressing the most challenging ecosystem conditions that schools face: increasing the number of extraordinary leaders and teachers working in schools, supporting family advocacy for more great schools, advocating for supportive public policy, and helping schools access quality facilities.

The work includes publishing Minneapolis School Finder, helping families make empowered, informed decisions when selecting a school. The MN Comeback-led resource houses information on what schools across Minneapolis have to offer academically and culturally.

Learn more about our collective work in our joint 2018 annual report.