Mark Mitchell ’86: Striving to Ensure Economic Diversity in Independent Schools

This post is an excerpt from Making a Difference in Education, a story featured in the Fall 2014 issue of Among Friends magazine. 


Mark Mitchell ’86

  • B.S. Northwestern University
  • School Committee Member, Moorestown Friends School, 2005-2014
  • Vice President of School and Student Services, National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), Washington, D.C.

How did you become interested in K-12 education?

I built my financial aid expertise in higher education, at Northwestern University and Lake Forest College. I brought those skills to the K-12 world when I wanted to move back East. At that time, I applied to be the new Director of Financial Aid Services for NAIS, which I thought presented a perfect opportunity to combine my professional skills with my personal history as a Camden Scholar and financial aid recipient at MFS. I couldn’t imagine a better way for me to help independent schools keep the doors of access and opportunity open to all kids.

What are you most passionate about in your line of work?

At NAIS, I see it as a blessing that I am able to make information and inspiration available to private school leaders. These leaders want their schools to make a difference in the lives of kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to attend them. I’m passionate about challenging schools to affirm the value of economic diversity in their school communities, keeping themselves accessible to families whose children only lack the financial resources to achieve their greatest potential. I’m passionate about ensuring that every child who shows promise to succeed has the chance to do so.

How would you describe your position, and what do you do on a daily basis?

I manage a team that ensures that school leaders and financial aid practitioners have what they need to make the best decisions possible about funding and awarding financial aid dollars. On a daily basis, this takes the form of helping to design formulae and software for evaluating financial aid eligibility; delivering presentations to school administrators on making sound financial aid decisions; helping parents and students navigate the financial aid process; and writing articles on best practices and industry trends.

Our team’s motto is “Making Dollars Make Sense,” and that’s what we try to help schools and families do through the financial aid process.

How would you say your experience at MFS influenced your professional life and interests?

Without MFS, I wouldn’t be doing what I do today. In the workshops and talks I give to school leaders, I emphasize that it is a pleasure and a joy for me to help them do for students and families what MFS did for me and mine. Based on my personal experiences at MFS, I know firsthand the transformative power and value of access to high-quality education. Helping schools make that transformation happen for others keeps my work authentic, true, and rewarding. Moorestown Friends also taught me that there is “that of God” in everyone. This belief has undoubtedly influenced my professional life and interests. I strive to honor the Light in others by providing opportunities for people to grow and learn how to be better, whether it’s a financial aid director seeking new skills or a parent seeking the right school for her child.

Which faculty members had the most impact on your life?

I’d say that three people really stand out: English Teacher Louise Morgan (Geary) taught me how to think for myself and express my thoughts. Research, writing, and speaking are core components of my work, and every time I am complimented on doing those things well, I am grateful for her influence and guidance. The skills I learned in English class constantly help me find my voice on issues that matter to me, and help me to be open to shaping and reshaping my viewpoint on things — engaging in meaningful, respectful dialogue that ultimately leads to improvement.

My chemistry teacher, Steve Edgerton, gave me the best summer job I’ve ever had as a counselor at Camp Dark Waters. That experience encouraged me to try new things every day, to be myself in bold but humble ways, and to seek out the joyful spark in everyday things and everyday people.

Finally, Math Teacher Steve Bartholomew taught me that what’s really most vital in friendships is the degree to which you can be available to others who need a boost, a helping hand, a sounding board, or just an ear to listen to troubles. He taught me to be sincere.

If you could share one insight about financial aid with others, what would it be?

In the words of President Obama, “there has never been anything false about hope.” Hope is what the promise of financial aid brings to schools and families: the hope for making a difference in the life of a child who needs it. The hope for making sure that the school can meet its mission to find, support, and nurture the best and the brightest, no matter the economic circumstances. The hope for pushing society further along the path of equity and justice. Private schools can make all of that happen, but it takes commitment, planning, and sacrifice on the parts of so many (students, parents, administrators, trustees, donors, and others) to make it work the way that it should.

 

Read More Interviews: Alumni in Education