Super-volunteer Jim Irving leads by listening, guiding MUSD students 

Jim Irving is regarded as a pillar of the community for his extensive work with young people. [Bryan Mordt]

Jim Irving is regarded around town as a pillar of the community, a class act, dedicating more than 40 hours a week to Maricopa Unified district schools and other organizations. 

Since 2005, super-volunteer Irving has been a fixture, from coaching Little League to coordinating volunteer groups. It seems he’s done it all.  

Students are Irving’s No. 1 priority. 

He has been a teacher, administrator, member of the MUSD Governing Board and even appointed to the city’s Planning and Zoning commission in 2014.  

“I’ve always been involved in education,” Irving said. “My aunt, uncle and mother were all in education. Ever since high school, I’ve always wanted to teach. That’s what drove me.” 

Irving volunteers at MUSD, he said, to ensure students have the best possible experience. He works with booster clubs, parent teacher organizations, nonprofits and other volunteers. He works alongside MUSD to address issues from the inside. 

“All the different programs that I’m a part of tie together,” Irving said. “It’s just fun, getting around and being involved with the kids.”   

Irving is a listening ear, a guiding hand and a shoulder to lean on. Students feel comfortable enough to share their personal struggles outside of academics. They flock to Irving for relationship advice, rant sessions or just a good laugh, knowing he’ll respond with calmness and capability.  

Jim Irving at work in his office at MUSD. [Bryan Mordt]
While he loves interacting with the students, there’s only one Jim Irving, and over the years, he has recognized a shift in his work. Students are facing new social pressures. From endless social media to the hierarchy of popularity, these are real issues that Irving takes seriously.  

“At 13 years old, these high school kids have to make decisions for their future selves,” Irving said. “But they’re worried about just getting to 14.”  

Irving advocates for character-building and career education. He believes younger students should learn about themselves and others on a deeper level, while simultaneously balancing academics.  

Irving sat down with InMaricopa for an interview about his relationship with the district, students and life.  

Question: How have you seen education grow or change in the last couple of years?  

Irving: It’s obviously growing because we’re getting a lot more students. That’s why we’re buying those portable classrooms. We can’t build fast enough. I think we’re growing well academically, but one of the things that young people are facing is now the whole social part of it. It’s just different, it’s very, very much of a pressure thing. 


Q: Where do you think that pressure comes from?   

Irving: Well, when you take kids coming from fifth grade to middle school, that’s a lot. Who do they fit in with? What is their group? They’re dealing with all of that plus the academic part. So, one of the things we have to figure out is how to balance that, and the social problems that this generation faces. It’s just new to education.  


Q: Do you think social media plays a role in the social pressure?  

Irving: Social media wasn’t around before. When I was volunteering with kids at the high school, the whole issue with social bullying boggled my mind. It’s a horrible thing. Kids would come to me crying and then I would have to calm them down. And I’m going to have you worry about pre-calc and English 4? It’s just a whole different world, because trying to get them to focus is a challenge. 

Social media is social media, you and I aren’t going to cure it. It’s a lot of good, a lot of bad. But you still have to get up every morning and deal with it. So that’s been a huge change and I think it’s hard sometimes. There’s more to school than surviving now in this generation. 

Jim Irving chats with City Manager Rick Horst. [Bryan Mordt]
Q: How are schools trying to tackle this issue?  

Irving: Schools are doing a lot more character stuff. The Maricopa Elementary is doing the Leader-In-Me program, which is teaching seven effective habits. We want the kids to think about, ‘Who am I culturally? What do I believe in? How do I organize myself to get through this mess?’ The point is that we are trying to prepare kids for life, with the academic part, plus all that other stuff you guys have to face. 

We also start working with high school kids as freshman in what we call career education, where you get exposed to different careers. The theme is, ‘Who am I? Where am I going? How do I get there?’ They’re awfully young, but you have no other choice but to start. 


Q: How will this help the transition into the ‘real world?’ 

Irving: There are some things you just don’t learn in high school. High school is so set and organized. You get out and it just changes. Some kids don’t even know where to eat lunch after graduation.  

So, you stop and think: What have we done? We’ve planned every minute of their day and now they have no clue how to face their free time. These kids get to college and worry about doing their laundry and paying for pizza on the weekend. 


Q: What would be the immediate solution if there is one?  

Irving: Maybe more sociology classes or seminar classes, where you sit and talk in a circle – like logic classes at a high school level. The kids need exposure to different people, so also getting the community involved and talking with the kids. 

And listening to kids a lot more. All you can do – like our district – is hire more counselors. Just have people around to talk and listen.