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McWhirt to help Muncie schools

BY Lucas Robinson - lrobinson@chronicle-tribune.com

Former Superintendent of Marion Community Schools, Stephen Edwards, has chosen Grant County Council President Jim McWhirt to help work on a state-appointed emergency management firm tasked with saving Muncie Community Schools from collapse.

Edwards, long credited with saving Marion Community Schools durwing his tenure as superintendent between 2009 and 2013, was selected by the state to bring that same administrative expertise to Muncie.

Chosen to serve as Director of Operations, McWhirt will join Edwards and a group of former Indiana administrators, teachers and officials in what the Muncie Star Press calls “a veteran if not an all-star team of Indiana education administrators.”

The officials were chosen with the help of Administrator Assistance, a consulting firm affiliated with the state.

“We looked at a number of candidates here and I had some input,” Steve Edwards said of the decision to appoint McWhirt. “He’s very detailed-oriented, exactly what I needed. We practically think alike so it was a natural hire.”

“I enjoy working with Steve,” McWhirt said. “We had a great time working together in Marion.”

McWhirt’s responsibilities, according to the Star Press, will include overseeing Muncie Community Schools’ vendor contracts in areas such as “food service, nursing, maintenance and transportation.”

Muncie Community Schools had contracted out of the school corporation basic services like buses and school lunches due to its troubled financial standing. McWhirt said he is currently in the process of reviewing these contracts, having only started his new position last week.

“We haven’t gotten to those yet,” he said.

Edwards and McWhirt will also work together on the fate of the famed Muncie field house. Damaged by a tornado last November, Edwards visited the field house Tuesday with the press, and McWhirt said that the emergency management firm is awaiting feedback on the structure’s insurance claim.

Edward’s work at Marion schools garnered him his current reputation as an administrative miracle-worker. In the years before Edwards tenure as superintendent, Marion schools consistently received an “F” academic rating. By 2014, a year after Edwards’ retirement, the school corporation touted an “A” rating.

“The people in our school system worked very hard,” Edwards said at the time of the “A” rating. “At some point, they questioned whether this could be done, and this is a validation of their hard work and their effort.”

Edwards’ other accomplishments at Marion included stabilizing enrollment numbers, boosting the graduation rate from 63 to 95 percent, raising a surplus from $4 million to $21 million and introducing an innovative teacher evaluation program based on data.

Edwards said his past work in Marion and his current work in Muncie differ in regard to the financial solvency of the two school corporations.

“Our goal right now is to run the school system,” Edwards said of the emergency management firm’s role as both school board and superintendent for Muncie schools. “Look(ing) at efficiencies in spending and how educational programs can be enriched or expanded. Muncie still has financial concerns. That is our primary focus.”

How long the emergency management firm is to be the de facto administration of Muncie Community Schools will be decided by the Indiana General Assembly. A bill being considered by the Indiana legislature would give Ball State University total control over the school corporation. Should the bill fail, Muncie schools would remain in charge of the emergency management firm past the July 1 deadline.

Neither Edwards or McWhirt did not comment on the ongoing state of the legislative battle, and Edwards stressed the need to remain “apolitical” about the issue.

“It’s going to be a two or three year project, maybe longer,” Edwards said. “They (Ball State) have a task ahead. I would assume there will be a lot of conversations between the emergency management team and Ball State. We’ll share everything we know about the district... Ball State’s really positioned well to do good things in Muncie schools. They have the capability. They have the expertise.”