Staff


James Field, President: Since 1989, James Field has been president of the Minnesota Independent School Forum (MISF), an organization dedicated to enhancing and improving nonpublic education in Minnesota. Under his leadership, MISF has been recognized for its work in improving diversity in member schools by the President’s Initiative on Race, which honored MISF’s work on “Promising Practice” in 1998. He has spoken extensively within Minnesota on the topic of private K-12 education issues. Nationally, Jim represents Minnesota’s private education to CAPE, the Council for American Private Education in Washington, D.C., and sits on that Board of Trustees representing the State CAPE organizations.

Jim earned his bachelors and masters degrees from George Williams College in Chicago.  In Chicago, he worked with the YMCA as a street worker with delinquent youth. In 1969 he came to the Minneapolis “Y” where he directed the Detached Worker Program, a team of 13 young adults working with troubled youth.

Jim’s experience in education began as Associate Dean of Minneapolis Community College in the 1970’s where he developed “The College for Working Adults,” an innovative college degree program and started the school foundation. In 1985, he was named vice president of The HealthEast Foundation in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Mr. Field is coordinator of the Coalition for Kids, as well as a board member and trustee of Minnesota Minority Education Partnership. He is past chair of the Minnesota Nonpublic Education Council, which recommends policy and guidelines to the state on behalf of nonpublic schools. He has also served on the Chamber of Commerce Education Committee, the Mayor’s Education Committee, The Minnesota P-20 Partnership, and the Minnesota Education Stakeholders Group.

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Tim Benz, Associate President: Tim brings extensive development experience to MISF, having served in marketing and fundraising roles at the College of Saint Benedict, Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Cretin-Derham Hall, and the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls. He has also been active on the Advisory Council for the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic School in Minnetonka and on the Board of the Hopkins Early Learning Center. In addition to having two children currently enrolled in MISF member schools, he also attended private schools from kindergarten through grade 12. He has a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of St. Thomas and has held the Certified Fundraising Executive designation since 2005.

Tim will work with Jim Field to gain a broader understanding of MISF members’ opportunities and challenges. He will meet with MISF members, state policymakers, donors, and friends over the course of several months as he transitions into the position of President.

Among the organization’s priorities which Tim will lead are the creation of a three-year strategic plan, addressing development, marketing, and member retention and recruitment—all of which will help reinforce MISF’s position as the voice of private and independent education in Minnesota. He will also assist MISF in evaluating its programs and services to ensure MISF members are being provided with the most value for their membership.

Tim’s exemplary professional background and great passion for private and independent education make him the ideal person to lead MISF into the future.

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Brenda Kappel, Director of Membership and Networking: Brenda came to MISF from Children’s Hospital Foundation in 2006. She held various positions at Children’s Foundation where she assisted with planned giving, major gifts and tributes. She also served as interim database manager and directed the annual giving program. At MISF, Brenda currently manages membership recruitment and retention. She also works to strengthen the network of MISF schools by connecting them to each other and to the larger community of Minnesota's private and independent schools in order to help them enhance the quality education they already provide as individual schools. Additionally, Brenda is responsible for MISF publications, including the monthly E-News and Annual Report. Brenda has her Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing from the University of Northern Iowa. She has been in the development field for six years.

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Michelle Ponsolle, Director of Development and Programs: Michelle joined MISF in July 2010. She held various positions in retail management for 22 years where she was responsible for meeting sales goals, staffing, inventory and merchandising.   This included supervising up to 30 employees.

Her experience in Development began in 2004 as Director of Development at a combined private high school and grade school.  Her responsibilities there included director of annual giving program, supervisor of Development staff, grant writing, project manager and alumni director.  She was also responsible for overseeing the rental and upkeep of the Parish bowling lanes and the managing and upkeep of the Parish dining hall at the State Fair each summer.

At MISF, Michelle is responsible for advancement efforts.  She manages the annual campaign, has responsibility for grant writing, donor relations, developing programs and coordinating quarterly development director’s networking meetings.

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Michele Speranza, Executive Assistant and Office Manager: Michele came to MISF in July 2010 with over 14 years of Executive Assistant/Office Management experience. She provides administrative assistance to Jim Field, and take care of our daily office needs. Prior to joining MISF, she was Executive Assistant to the CEO and Office Manager for a telecommunications provider. Michele is a product of 16 years of private education! Michele earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from The College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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Debbie Kaliszewski, Business Manager: Debbie began her career at MISF in September of 2012. She handles all of the accounting functions and provides assistance with HR and insurance compliance. Before coming to MISF, Debbie worked as an accountant at a social service agency for nine years. Prior to that time, she was co-owner of a construction company.

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Margo Berg, STEM Program Manager: MISF hired Margo in April 2009 as an independent consultant to manage the STEM program. She has developed and directed educational programs for the K-12 education community for more than 20 years and has deep experience in programs that integrate technology with math, science and even performing arts curricula. She has developed programs for prominent national organizations including the National Science Foundation’s National Supercomputer Centers and NASA’s Office of High Performance Computing and Communications as well as statewide programs for SciMathMN and the Minnesota Department of Education. Margo has a Master's Degree in Human Development from Saint Mary's University of Minnesota; a Bachelor's Degree in English from Augustana College, Sioux Falls, SD; and a computer programming certificate from Brown Institute in Minneapolis.

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