What it takes to be a leader
Last week was a busy one for Riverside Military Academy’s new commandant.
On Thursday, the school welcomed 125 new cadets who needed “processing” — haircuts, uniforms and room assignments — and the necessary meetings with their parents.
On Friday, more than 100 current cadets returned to the all-boys private school on Riverside Drive in Gainesville. The academy, which serves seventh through 12th grades, begins classes Monday.
But Maj. Kevin Jarrard wasn’t complaining. On the contrary, he seems right in his element shaping teenage boys into future leaders.
Jarrard was promoted to commandant effective Aug. 3 after spending eight years as a classroom teacher at the academy. Last year, he completed his second tour of duty in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, during which he helped two Iraqi children receive medical treatment in the United States. His humanitarian efforts earned him regional and national media coverage, making him recognizable to many.
He has been back from Iraq for about a year, but he hasn’t spent much time sitting idle. The offer of his new position as commandant at Riverside came on the heels of a summer trip to Africa.
“This opportunity was completely out of left field,” Jarrard said. “I had no real thoughts of changing my role here. ... didn’t see any reason to ever leave the classroom, actually. So I was surprised when (Riverside President) Col. (James) Benson offered me this
opportunity, and after some prayerful reflection with my wife and children, we felt that it was an opportunity that I should take advantage of.”
Despite the hectic pace of the week before classes, Jarrard was ready to get started.
“Glad the boys are here. That’s why we’re here, because of the boys, so I’m happy to get them on campus,” he said.
Jarrard spent eight years teaching U.S. history, government and economics. But he doesn’t feel like he’s leaving his teaching role behind as commandant — just changing the lessons.
“I love teaching, and I don’t necessarily see it as being too far-fetched to say that I’m still a teacher,” he said. “I feel like my primary role is still a teacher. Perhaps I’m not teaching the same things, but I’m still teaching boys.”
Jarrard said he gets great satisfaction from the work he does.
“What a wonderful opportunity to receive these young men and be able to train them up in the way they are to go,” he said. “Very rewarding on graduation day to see these fellows who came in as boys, with a variety of difficulties perhaps, and then leave as just mature, fine young men walking across that stage. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than that.”
Jarrard laughed when asked if the Riverside cadets would consider him to be tough.
“Well, I hope they’ll say that,” he said, explaining that he and the academy expect a lot of cadets.
A military career isn’t the ultimate goal of Riverside, and only a few cadets enlist after graduation.
“We’re not trying to send young men into battle, necessarily. We’re trying to use the military system to support the academic program here to prepare boys for success in college and life. That’s the overall vision,” Jarrard said.
“... The soldierly virtues of integrity, honor, manliness, respect for others, selflessness. Those are the traits that we try to produce in boys and those are going to hold them in good stead if they’re in the war room, the boardroom, the courtroom. Wherever they find themselves after Riverside, we feel strongly that they’ll be well-equipped academically, spiritually and physically.”
Jarrard said he is looking forward to the upcoming year, where 330 cadets have enrolled at the school.
“It’s a very challenging economy right now ... it is a tough environment,” he said. “We’re really excited about the beginning of the year. Our enrollment is steady and we think it will increase rapidly. We’re pleased with the direction that we’re headed in and I think we’re going to be fine.”
While lauding Riverside’s academic accomplishments, Jarrard also acknowledged the strong educational opportunities available in Hall County and the Northeast Georgia region. He credits Gainesville school Superintendent Merrianne Dyer and Hall school Superintendent William Schofield with the work they have done in the public school systems.
Jarrard and his wife, Kelly, live in Gainesville with their four children. He knew of Riverside long before becoming a teacher there; his grandparents lived on Riverside Drive, and Jarrard grew up in Gainesville.
“It was always to me that place at the end of Riverside Drive that had some mystery surrounding it. We don’t want to be mysterious to the folks in Gainesville, we want to be part of the community,” he said.
“...We’re proud of our facilities, but at the end of the day, they’re just bricks and mortar and wood and concrete. But what makes Riverside special is our people. And I think when the (new) boys come in direct contact with our cadets and with our adult leaders here, they’ll feel the same way I do — this is a special place.”