Fairfield Schools superintendent is now longest-tenured of Butler County’s top education leaders

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

With the coming retirement of the Edgewood Schools superintendent there will soon be a new “dean” among the Butler County school district leaders and he works in Fairfield.

Superintendent Billy Smith, who has led the 10,000-student district since July 2016, will become the longest-tenured of the county’s 10 public school district leaders on Jan. 1, 2023.

That’s because the previous veteran of all area districts — Russ Fussnecker of Edgewood Schools — will retire on Dec. 31.

Jon Graft, superintendent of Butler Tech career schools, is next in line for the “dean” title as he started his position a few weeks after Smith in the summer of 2016.

Fussnecker was promoted to the top Edgewood job in 2015 and soon became the most veteran of school leaders due to a burst of retirements and job transitions among some other more experienced Butler County superintendents.

Smith’s career is rare in that it’s been entirely spent in the Fairfield school system, which serves students in both the city of Fairfield and the adjacent Fairfield Twp. area. He is a native of Fairfield and a graduate of the school system he now runs.

“To be honest, it is very hard to believe that I am going to be the most senior superintendent in the county,” said Smith.

Attrition among public school superintendents locally mirrors national trends for years.

The top district jobs, said education experts, are among the most difficult and stressful of any taxpayer-funded government positions and the turnover rate has increased in frequency in the last decade.

The days of a superintendent staying at the job for decades, such as Hamilton Schools’ Janet Baker did for nearly a quarter of a century before retiring in 2015.

“Things have changed so much because there was an era when superintendents would serve in the same position for a long time. I think it is a shame that we are seeing so much change in school leadership across the entire country. It is difficult for organizations and school districts to experience success and grow when there are so many rapid changes in leadership,” said Smith.

When asked why he has stayed in Fairfield Schools, starting first as a teacher then later becoming an assistant principal and then principal of the district’s high school before being promoted to superintendent, Smith said “the answer is simple. I am so blessed to work with so many great people who have dedicated their lives to serving our students, families, and community.”

Brian Begley, president of the Fairfield Board of Education, said of Smith “having been born and raised in Fairfield, Billy is ‘all in’ for the district and I am sure that unique love of community has played a role in his longevity and success.”

“I can’t imagine many jobs more stressful or all-encompassing then being a superintendent of a school district, during a worldwide pandemic,” said Begley. “Mr. Smith often says we are all in this together and our success can certainly be attributed to the culture he has built.”

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