Charlie Cardinal High-Fives West View Student

An Innovative Journey

Less than a year into his tenure, Ball State University President Geoffrey S. Mearns shared a radical plan with the Indiana Legislature: Ball State should become the first university in the United States to oversee a public school district.

Muncie Community Schools (MCS) had been struggling for some time. Founded in 1855, MCS serves approximately 5,000 students at nine different locations: six elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school. But in December 2017, declining enrollment and financial challenges became insurmountable, and the state government took direct control of the school system.

Recognizing that the success of Ball State and Muncie Community Schools were interlinked, President Mearns saw an opportunity for Ball State to live up to the values of its Beneficence Pledge and stated that the partnership with MCS is “an exceptional opportunity for us to demonstrate once again that, at Ball State, we transform lives through education and service….It is our duty to assume this responsibility. The children of MCS are our children. And like every child, they deserve a great education.”

In May 2018 the Indiana General Assembly adopted unprecedented legislation to grant Ball State oversight of Muncie Community Schools. Starting in July 2018, Ball State University and Muncie Community Schools embarked on a historic partnership to transform the city’s public school district into a national model for innovative, holistic education. The anchoring, city-wide effort sets a new precedent for the role higher education can have in K-12 schools and solidifies Ball State’s commitment to its community.

At the onset of the partnership, a joint Ball State and Muncie Community Schools team of representatives formed the Academic Innovation Council (AIC) to develop strategies to engage and embolden educators in Muncie Community Schools. For the first two years, the AIC guided the work of the historic partnership to transform the district.

Since the innovative partnership began, Muncie Community Schools has stabilized enrollment, garnered more than $5 million in pledges and grants, launched new academic and enrichment programs, and enhanced professional development for MCS administrators, teachers, and staff.

In July 2020, after a year of listening sessions with the Muncie community and a second year of planning, the AIC released the Academic Innovation and Financial Viability Plan. This plan outlined a novel, cradle-to-career, community-based approach to the innovative partnership based on two foundational pillars: culturally responsive practices; and continuous, aligned, and strategic professional learning. These two pillars guide the operations of the Ball State and MCS partnership.

The Academic Innovation and Financial Viability Plan is supported by MCS’s five-year strategic plan, also released in July 2020. MCS’s Strategic Plan guides the MCS Board of Trustees, CEO, administrators, staff, and teachers in making decisions and implementing the plan to propel the district into the future and provide MCS learners with the high-quality, community-based, cradle-to-career education they deserve. Together, these living documents will guide the future of Muncie Community Schools.

Strategic Direction (MCS Website)

An in-depth history of the first two years of this innovative and historic partnership, from the partnership’s conception to the presentation of the Academic Innovation and Financial Viability Plan in June 2020.

September 2017

  • Ball State University installed Geoffrey S. Mearns as the institution’s 17th president.
  • In lieu of an extravagant ceremony, Mearns urged the University community to join him in supporting scholarships for MCS graduates who would become first-generation students. Mearns and his wife, Jennifer, contributed $100,000 to endow the Mearns/Proud Family Scholarship, which has grown to upwards of $280,000 to provide for Ball State-bound Bearcats.
  • He pledged to strengthen Ball State’s presence within Muncie through a “Better Together” initiative and mentality, calling support for and collaboration with Muncie a “moral obligation.”

December 2017

  • The state placed the “distressed” Muncie Community Schools (MCS) under direct, state-government control.

May 2018

  • During a special legislative session, the Indiana General Assembly adopted IC 20-23-18, to authorize Ball State oversight of MCS. It also granted relief from debt and other restrictions to provide MCS with “all administrative and academic flexibility to implement innovative strategies.”

July 2018

  • Muncie Community Schools welcomed a new, seven-member Board of Trustees to guide the partnership and move forward. Within its first month, the board decided to hold bi-monthly meetings, each at a different school in the district. They learned about the facilities and connected directly with faculty, administrators, and students at each school.
  • Ball State named Susana Rivera-Mills provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. Soon after, President Mearns charged Rivera-Mills to lead collaborations with MCS. A first-generation college student, Rivera-Mills said she is driven to establish a holistic, culturally competent system that nurtures all students’ potential. 
  • Media outlets reported that the partnership had already raised $3 million in community support from foundations, businesses, and private donors. That number has since risen to more than $4 million.

August 2018

  • Following announcement of the partnership, enrollment for the 2018-19 school year was 5,066 students, a drop of 48 students, compared to the district’s projected loss of 450 students. The better-than-anticipated enrollment enabled MCS to hire eight additional elementary school teachers.

November 2018

  • MCS welcomed Bradley DeRome as the district’s chief financial officer. The former business manager and treasurer of Jay County School Corp. earned degrees in accounting and finance from Ball State.

December 2018

  • The board awarded MCS faculty and staff monetary stipends in recognition of their service and contributions to the district.
  • To support the partnership, Ball State empowered a group of passionate community members to head a Community Engagement Council (CEC). The council coordinates and supports volunteer efforts within the district.

January 2019

  • Ball State and MCS established the Joint BSU-MCS Academic Innovation Council. The team of 30 educational thought-leaders, administrators, parents, and community members guide the partnership and are developing an Academic Innovation and Financial Viability Plan. The plan was due to the Indiana General Assembly by June 30, 2020.
  • The Muncie Community Schools and Ball State University Community Engagement Council hosted an inaugural “We Thank You Appreciation Luncheon” to recognize teachers, drawing a crowd of almost 600 educators and supporters.

February 2019

  • The Academic Innovation Council established a national panel of experts to offer guidance and feedback throughout the process of developing the Academic Innovation plan to guide the future of MCS.

April 2019

  • A team of Ball State faculty and students conducted a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) assessment in the district. MCS engaged in a range of other assessments, including a comprehensive external audit of curriculum and instruction.

May 2019

  • The joint Academic Innovation Council hosted a well-attended “Dreams for Our Schools” community forum. The event kicked off a three-month effort that, in partnership with the United Way of Delaware and Henry Counties, collected input from hundreds of educators, MCS families, and Muncie residents.

June 2019

  • MCS held robust summer professional development for teachers and staff.

July 2019

  • The board also voted to boost the starting salary for MCS teachers and approved the first pay increase in eight years. Based on 2018-19 numbers, the new starting salary at MCS will be second-highest in the county.
  • Muncie native Charles “Chuck” Reynolds joined the MCS leadership team as associate superintendent. For 14 years, the Muncie Central and two-time Ball State graduate worked for MCS in the classroom and as a principal.

August 2019

  • Ball State launched a streamline process for faculty and staff to propose academic projects, programs, and research within Muncie Community Schools.
  • MCS approved a new background check policy to heighten the level of security throughout buildings. The district also adopted the Raptor Visitor Management System, which allows a school’s front office to scan a visitor’s driver’s license to input them into a visitor database. Once approved, the internet-based system prints a photo-name tag with name, photo, time, and destination.

September 2019

  • The MCS-Ball State partnership held a two-day Academic Innovation Summit to imagine the possibilities for Muncie Community Schools.
  • The event brought together more than 500 Muncie educators, community stakeholders, Ball State professionals, and nationally recognized educators and innovators, including George Couros, Jennifer Blatz, and Robert Jackson.
  • Professional development sessions, table conversations, and school debriefs offered teachers the space to collaborate with each other about ways to implement innovative practices in their classrooms and buildings.

View the Academic Innovation and Financial Viability Plan (MCS Website), unveiled in June, 2020.


  • Enrollment stabilized for the 2018-2019 school year, and the 2021-2022 school year had the first significant enrollment increase in 15 years. 


  • Opened high-quality preschool classrooms in all elementary schools.
  • Introduced a new elementary literacy program.  
  • Expanded our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program. 
  • Introduced new classes, courses, college credit, and career opportunities in the middle and high schools and at the Muncie Area Career Center (MACC). 

Teachers and Staff

  • Provided staff pay raises for the first time in more than a decade, and teacher salary increases for the first time in eight years. With the new salary structure adopted 2022-2023, MCS is one of the top-paying school districts in the state.
  • Improved teacher retention from 67% in 2016 to 83% in 2021.
  • Provided MCS staff with more than 30 professional development sessions.
  • Hired and trained master and mentor teachers in all of our schools. 
  • Adopted and implemented a new Teacher Evaluation Rubric.


  • Garnered more than $5 million in pledges and grants.
  • Volunteering is on the rise. Hundreds of Ball State faculty, staff, and students have contributed their time, talents, and skills to volunteering with our local public schools. 


  • Partnered with Meridian Health Services to open a physical and mental health clinic at Southside Middle School for families, students, staff, and the community.
  • Added a no-cost after-school program at Grissom Elementary School in partnership with the YMCA. 

For more on the historic and innovative partnership, see The Ball State Daily News’ Partnership Project.