GREENFIELD — Jason Cary starts each school day greeting every one of his students, cup of hot chocolate in hand.

The gesture is the type of approach Greenfield-Central leaders hope he’ll continue next school year as he takes on a new challenge: getting to know the 1,500 students who populate the high school halls.

The Greenfield-Central School Board on Monday hired Cary, current principal at Peru High School in Miami County in northern Indiana, as the new Greenfield-Central High School principal; he replaces principal Steve Bryant, who has occupied the position for 18 years.

Cary has worked in administrative positions at Peru High School, a school of about 660 students, for the past seven years: four at the helm as principal and three as assistant principal. Before being hired at Peru, he served as assistant principal and athletics director at Blue River Valley Community School Corp. in Henry County.

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The board approved a one-year contract for Cary, with his employment beginning prior to Bryant’s retirement June 30 to ensure the transition goes as smoothly as possible. He’ll earn a salary of $112,000 annually overseeing the largest high school in the county with about 1,500 students and 85 teachers.

Bryant announced plans to retire in August after first accepting the job in 1999; the search for his replacement began earlier this year.

More than 40 candidates applied for the position, said Superintendent Harold Olin. A committee of some 45 school stakeholders, including students, spent the past month thumbing through résumés and interviewing candidates, carefully considering each applicant. Most agreed: Cary is the best person for the position, Olin said.

Members of the committee sought a candidate who will continue to build on the school success Bryant has spearheaded. They want someone who will help the school seek higher graduation rates as well as support students outside of the classroom, much like Bryant has for nearly two decades as a regular at sporting events and other school activities.

School board president Retta Livengood, who was part of the committee charged with choosing the new principal, said Cary stood out in a pool of qualified applicants. He was articulate and confident about his administrative style, she said. Choosing the right candidate is especially important at the high school, because that person is responsible for helping to educate every student who funnels into the high school from the district’s seven other buildings, she said.

“I’m excited for what our next chapter will be, for a fresh perspective and fresh eyes,” she said.

Olin said Cary’s leadership style reminds him much of Bryant — he’s known to greet his students every morning before class starts and is always in the crowd at school events.

Even more impressive is Peru High School’s graduation rate, Olin said, which hovers near 98 percent although nearly half the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator often used to identify those at risk of dropping out.

Raising the local graduation rate — which hit 91 percent last year, beating the state average for the first time in years — has been a goal of the corporation’s for years.

Cary went through two rounds of interviews, and he didn’t disappoint, Olin said. He came to the interviews prepared, and he’s personable, he said.

Cary, who has a bachelor’s degree in social studies education and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Indiana State University, has kept a short list of schools he’d be interested in moving to should the right position open up, and Greenfield-Central has long been one of those schools.

The district carries a good reputation among educators, and he and his wife, Lindsey Cary, like the area, he said. Lindsey Cary, also a teacher, will be looking for a job nearby; the Carys hope to move to Greenfield with their two young sons later this year.

Though the start of his new job is still three months away, Cary is already making a list of goals. At the top of the list is getting to know students and staff during the next couple of months, he said, joking he needs to get his hands on a yearbook.

He, too, is eyeing the high school’s graduation rate and wants to help staff and students continue to raise the bar, he said. He also hopes to carry on a legacy of being present for Greenfield-Central students. He imagines he’ll be at football, basketball and baseball games, sitting next to his 5-year-old son, who loves sports and popcorn.

Greenfield-Central is more than double the size of his current high school, where Cary can name every student who crosses the graduation stage. Learning the names of every student at Greenfield and getting to know them will be more of a challenge, but it’s one he’s ready to tackle, he said.

“I’m anxious to get here and start meeting everyone,” Cary said.

At a glance

Name: Jason Cary

Title: Newly hired principal at Greenfield-Central High School

Current occupation: Principal at Peru High School

Education: Bachelor’s degree in social studies education from Indiana State University; Master’s degree in educational leadership from Indiana State University

Family: Wife, Lindsey, and two sons

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.