- Associated Press - Saturday, March 22, 2014

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - Don’t mess with his calendar.

Tom Jarvis is about 10 weeks into his job as the principal of the newly merged Central High School and his color-coded calendar has become his most prized possession.

“Orange is the committee meetings, green are the things I have scheduled here (at the Anthony Administration Building),” he told The Star Press (https://tspne.ws/OpzheN ), pointing to the now brightly-striped blocks that make up the month of March. “Purple is for specific events at Central, like games. Yellow is my own personal appointments.”

He paused. “You won’t see many of those on here.”

That’s because his new job is time consuming, to put it mildly. He’s averaging about three hours of sleep a night, often waking up with another idea that has to get into that calendar or onto one of his many to-do lists right away.

It makes sense, though. This is, after all, a big job. The merger of Southside and Central high schools can only happen once. The district, Jarvis said, only has one shot to get it right.

Not an enviable position to be in, for sure. And even Jarvis would tell you he’s not 100 percent confident he’s the best man for the job.

“I don’t know if I am the right person for the job,” he said, leaning forward in his office chair. “But I am definitely the most passionate. I care so much about the students, the community that has been a part of my life for more than 40 years now. That passion just drives me every day.

“I think that is probably the biggest key to this, having that passion and a reason to do what you do. I hope that shows.”

Jarvis has been with the school district for 27 years - as an assistant principal, athletic director and principal.

He was athletic director at Central when he was tapped to take the top spot in 2011 after Christopher Smith was reassigned, a move that came after criticism of Central’s handling of a sexual assault the previous year.

Jarvis hit the ground running, implementing a new tardy policy that would later serve as a model at all of the district’s secondary schools. His was also the first secondary school to use the data-driven 8-Step Process for student academic improvement.

MCS Supt. Tim Heller has said, more than once, that Jarvis was instrumental in leading Central “from the lowest grade as it relates to assessment, to the highest grade in just a three-year period,” from an F to an A, where Central remains.

Last November, the school board approved the merger of the two high schools. In December, it was announced that Jarvis would lead the transition. In January, he officially started that job, moving temporarily to the Anthony Administration Building so he could focus solely on that effort.

Truth be told, he can’t wait to get back into the Central building full time.

“Nothing against the people here, but I want to be around the kids,” he said with a laugh. “I miss them.”

His days, instead, are filled with meetings and decisions that he hopes will benefit those kids for years to come.

The meetings are often back-to-back. The decisions aren’t always easy.

The first thing on Jarvis’s to-do list was to create a list - a massive collection of everything he could possibly think of that needed to be done to make the transition possible.

He started rattling them off - moving equipment from the Southside building; organizing the athletic teams; creating a plan for the first day of school; getting students registered; hosting student leadership workshops; making needed changes to the building; determining faculty and support staff. .

“From that list, we developed some committees to make sure we get input from everyone who wants to help out,” he said.

There are about 20 committees that are already meeting on a regular basis (he has attended all but two). About 500 people - teachers, parents, students, support staff, alumni, community leaders - have volunteered for at least one committee.

He insists on sending hand-written thank you notes to every person who is volunteering their time during this process.

“I try to do a few between meetings,” he said with a laugh, a small pile sitting within hand’s reach on his desk. And more people are calling or e-mailing just about every day to see how they can help.

The most popular committees, he said, are athletics and the one focused on the first day of school.

The student leadership committee is the largest, with more than 150 members, most of them hand-picked by administrators for their leadership qualities.

Jarvis said he was impressed with the first student leadership workshop, held last month, which brought together leaders from Central and Southside, as well as some eighth-graders from the middle schools.

“The kids really took ownership of it,” he said. After a day of team building and brainstorming, the students came up with a theme for the start of the 2014-15 school year: “It’s Our Time.”

“They feel like it’s their time to make a difference,” he said, adding that shirts with that theme will be handed out to students at the next workshop, set for March 19.

Parent Daniel Stallings volunteered at the workshop.

“I appreciate that there has been an emphasis on developing a strong student voice through the leadership retreats,” Stallings said.

Stallings, who was the director of leadership and service learning at Ball State University, said that the committees as a whole can only benefit the transition.

“I believe that leadership is not defined only by the formal organizational leadership, but is enhanced when there are multiple opportunities for stakeholders to serve, which have been created, and the more voices that are included, the better the process and the outcome,” he said.

Even if those voices aren’t exactly positive.

While some committees and workshops have gone smoothly, others have hit a few snags. Take the committee formed to help with the merger of the two marching bands, for example.

Southside parent Dave Collins, who was a vocal opponent of the merger for weeks leading up the final decision, said during a recent school board meeting that he was disappointed in that committee.

He felt the band boosters at Southside were left out of the loop on some meetings, that the idea of a “united band” wasn’t sounding so harmonious.

(Jarvis could be seen getting contact information for Collins immediately after the meeting.)

Jeramiah Bowman, who was named the director of the merged Spirit of Muncie band, said he knows that everyone is looking to them as the role models for the transition.

“When you are trying to merge two families, you are going to find that there is going to be some miscommunication, some concerns,” Bowman said. “The important thing is that those concerns are addressed right away, and I think they have been.”

He said trying to find a balance has been key. For example, practices and events leading up to the summer band season will be split between the two high schools - band camps will be at Southside. The local contest - previously hosted by Southside - has been moved to Central. The Indiana State Fair preview show will happen at South, and so on.

Jarvis said decisions like the marching band and the JROTC (Southside’s Marines program was chosen to continue) have been tough because they deal with programs that have a lot of parent involvement, not to mention history. There will be missteps, hurt feelings.

But making these decisions, based on input from the committees, will ultimately depend on what is “best for the students,” he added.

And for as many tough decisions that have been made, there are many more yet to come, Jarvis said.

He leaned back in his chair and sighed before saying that decisions impacting personnel will be difficult - the classroom assignments, the coaches, the class sponsors.

“Anytime you deal with people … it’s tough,” he said. “I know so many of these people, or all of them. … But it’s inevitable.”

The district has already put in place the school’s lead administrators and department heads. A set of coaches - for fall sports - have already been assigned.

The winter coaches are next.

Is the transition moving at a good pace? Some say it’s moving too fast, others claim it’s too slow.

Jarvis said, from his perspective, “we’re getting a lot done in a very short amount of time.”

He said his biggest task right now is dealing with the “master schedule.” Even the name sounds daunting.

It’s basically everything the students will need from the “first bell to the last bell.”

“It’s scheduling 1,700 students into the building, making sure that schedule is right, making sure we have the accommodations that are needed, the room assignments that are needed,” he said. Even making sure “the walls are built for the classrooms, that everything is moved over for those classrooms in a timely manner.”

And while students are the primary focus, Jarvis knows he cannot lose sight of the parents.

There are already some who feel that their “voices,” according to school board member Beverly Kelley, are not being heard.

She said parents from Southside must be “encouraged” to come to the meetings, to help their kids with the merger.

They need to feel, she said, like they have a say in “what happens next.”

Jarvis said he hopes that is the case.

“And I hope if there are some concerns, those are addressed - at least brought to my attention,” he said.

That’s one of the reasons Jarvis created the parent meetings. There has been one so far and several more are planned in the coming months.

The meetings offer an update on the transition, tours of the building and a chance for parents to speak their minds.

“It’s important to share with the parents what’s going on and what we are doing to alleviate those fears or concerns they have,” he said. “I’m hoping parents come away from those meetings not necessarily agreeing with everything that is being done, but hopefully they can live with those decisions that are being made.”

Because, even Jarvis knows, one person cannot do this alone.

“Like the saying about a village to raise a child, it’s going to take a whole community to raise Central,” he said.

From the donation of a church building to grants to buy T-shirts, Jarvis said many businesses and organizations in the community have already “stepped up to the plate.”

“Schools don’t have the funding they used to have,” Jarvis said, adding that it is, after all, the main reason behind the merging of the two high schools.

He said it has been reassuring to find that when asked for help, most are saying yes, from Union Chapel to Ball Brothers Foundation to the Boys & Girls Club.

The Ball Foundation gave the district a $5,000 rapid grant for some upcoming expenses related to “transition initiatives,” including banners, T-shirts, brochures, food and beverages for workshops, even some items with the school’s new logo.

Ball Foundation President and COO Jud Fisher said the foundation felt it was important to help with this “historic merger,” because “you have to get it right.”

Jarvis said that support from community partners should continue long after the first day of school, but Central will have to deliver.

“We have to produce a good product for them to support,” he said. “I think we are going to produce a good product for them not only to support but to be proud of for years to come.”

Sure, he knows there will always be critics out there, ready to jump on every decision he and others make.

So he won’t hesitate to tell you that he relishes the fact that just about every day, people are coming up to him, saying he and the district are doing a “good job,” that they are “on board with One Muncie.”

School officials and board members have recognized his efforts publicly in meetings.

He’s proud of that, proud of Central.

“I just want it done right,” he said. “So that on that first day, you would never think we went through a merger because things ran so smoothly.”


Information from: The Star Press, https://www.thestarpress.com

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