Typically, the first day of school doesn’t include a larger-than-life Cardinal mascot. But Ball State wanted students at Muncie Community Schools to have a reinvigorated school year.

“As you know last year we embarked on an historic opportunity for our university and for our community — an opportunity to lead a community-wide partnership to help change the trajectory of Muncie Community Schools, and as a result, create an opportunity for everyone in Muncie to get a high-quality education,” said President Geoffrey Mearns during Friday’s Board of Trustees meeting. 

So far, Senior Advisor to the President and Ball State’s Liaison to Muncie Community Schools (MCS), Marilyn Buck, said enrollment for the 2018-19 school year is just under 5,100 students currently. 

The school lost just 43 students last year — the budget was prepared for a 200-student loss. Buck said the official enrollment count will be Friday, Sept. 14. That count, she said, will determine how much state funding is awarded to the district. 

Ana Pichardo, director of MCS, said over the summer she, along with university spokesperson Kathy Wolf, spearheaded an initiative to contact every MCS family by phone. Those who said they were leaving wanted to have a smaller school, a smaller environment, Pichardo said.

Though the budget has yet to be finalized for this year, Buck said alternative transportation methods have allowed the school district to save money. 

“One of the big changes this year that saved a tremendous amount of money for the schools was that MITS stepped up to say they could transport all the Northside Middle School students for the first time … We’ve been off to a great start,” Buck said.

The newly-appointed school board has met with central office personnel, toured MCS facilities, had its orientation and first meeting, appointed general counsel, revised bylaws and set a schedule for bi-weekly meetings, Buck said. 

In addition, Buck said the board will continue to develop in areas like fiscal responsibility, student learning, advocacy, district culture, policy and legal and working as a visionary team. Additionally, she said the board will be provided a year-long curriculum highlighting national topics in the K-12 educational landscape, including Indiana school finance and school safety, which the Board has already covered. 

The next steps, Buck said, include hiring eight additional elementary school teachers and a superintendent, expanding after-school programs, collecting data, continuing community collaboration and beginning the consultative process to develop an academic innovation plan. 

Representatives from MCS said the partnership has been and a learning experience, but genuine thus far. 

“I would use first the word genuine, genuine is going to describe exactly how we feel about our relationship with the university, your willingness to come in and learn and help,” said Muncie Central High School principal Chris Walker. “We have not felt like at any one point and time that our experience where the university has come in, analyzed or assessed what we’ve done felt like that it was horrible and told us, ‘No, this is how you need to do it.’” 

Muncie Central social studies teacher, Drew Shermeta, agreed with Walker and said he appreciated the board asking about the teachers during the transition. 

“It’s been a challenging number of years … for me, for a teacher and my colleagues just to have the weight of the drama of the last couple of years to have that weight lifted and for all of us to be able to work on our craft … has been something I can’t really put words to,” Shermeta said. 

Senior at Muncie Central, Tara Horst, agreed and said she’s seen a shift from her peers in terms of the perception of the high school. 

Contact Mary Freda with comments at mafreda@bsu.edu or on Twitter @Mary_Freda1.