Pavelka Aims To Steady TCAPS, "Have An Impact On The Future"
By Craig Manning | Oct. 19, 2019
"If you would have asked me 24 hours ago 'What are you going to be doing today?' I would have told you ‘Things that retirees do,’” says Jim Pavelka, the new interim Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) superintendent.
Pavelka has come out of retirement and been named to the post following the controversial resignation of Ann Cardon. Pavelka led TCAPS for six and a half years before retiring in 2005. He will now resume the superintendent role for an unspecified length of time, while the board determines its next course of action.
Despite some charges by members of the audience at Thursday's contentious board meeting, Pavelka says he had not been contacted by Board President Sue Kelly – or by any other member of the board – prior to Thursday afternoon. “The phone rang, and it was the board president asking to meet with me,” he says. “She sat down and said, ‘Jim, we have a situation where the superintendent is going to resign. The law requires that we have a superintendent. Your name keeps coming up. You have credibility in the community. Would you be willing to help us out?’”
Pavelka strikes a positive tone in his talks about the district, the board, the administration, the systems in place throughout TCAPS (including the “Blueprint” strategic plan), and the future. When asked about finding a way to repair the distrust in TCAPS that has built up in recent weeks, he’s optimistic.
“I'm not sure that people don't trust the district,” Pavelka says. “I think there are an awful lot of people who disagree with a decision that was made. But communication is important. Talking to people is important. We all have one thing in common: Nobody I have talked to wants to do harm to the district. Everybody wants the district to move forward. We have to make sure that we have a common element, which is the good of the district.”
“That's why I'm here,” he continues. “I want to go forward. I can't fix what happened yesterday, or the day before, or five years ago. I can only have an impact on the future, and that's why I'm here.”
Pavelka says he would not be spending much time on boardroom politics. Instead, his goal is to sit down with teachers, parents, and community members, ask about their frustrations, and “try to get them as many facts as I possibly can.”
“If you look at my background [as superintendent], you'll find I was in buildings constantly,” he says. “That's where the action in education takes place. It doesn't take place in the boardroom. It takes place in the classroom, and that is where I am going to spend a lot of my time. I want to reassure the employees: ‘We appreciate you; we appreciate what you do for our children; we want to make sure that you have the opportunity to help our kids, so they have opportunities to learn.’ That's one of the jobs I have in this role.”
In the coming days and weeks, Pavelka plans to immerse himself fully in the “nuts and bolts” of TCAPS. He says he planned to sit down with Kelly Friday afternoon to get a sense of board expectations, after which he would study up on the Blueprint and other recent developments. In the next two or three weeks, he’s hoping to meet every single district employee. “I've got a lot of catching up to do, and a lot of people to talk to,” he adds.
Pavelka does not have a specific estimate of how long he expects to remain at the helm of TCAPS, though he does indicate the arrangement will likely not be a long-term or permanent one. “I have a retirement schedule that I am not going to adhere to at this point,” he laughs. “But I would like to get back on that.”
But he adds that he ultimately felt duty-bound to accept the interim superintendent offer – both because of “vested interest” (he has a grandson in TCAPS) and because of his love for the district and the community.
“Democracy is not cheap,” he notes. “With democracy, you pay a price, and everybody has to contribute to that. I felt like I would be a hypocrite if I said no. I have to give back a little bit. So that's what I'm doing: I'm giving back for what this district and what this community has done for me.”