Editor’s note: This story was first published on Jan. 2, 2019, and has been updated.
The shake-up of top leadership continues at Hamilton Schools, but this latest change in superintendents was not entirely unexpected, just early.
As first reported by the Journal-News on Thursday, Superintendent Larry Knapp is resigning.
It’s the second time in about a year the 10,000-student school system will see a new leader.
In April of 2018 former Superintendent Tony Orr resigned under a settlement agreement with the school board.
Soon after, the Journal-News was the first to report allegations of sexual harassment and other misbehavior had been made by some school staffers prior to his being place on paid leave by the Hamilton Board of Education.
Knapp’s contractually scheduled departure wasn’t expected until the coming summer break, but he told board members this week he felt confident the planned hand off of power to Assistant Superintendent Michael Holbrook – under a plan approved by the board last year – was moving ahead of schedule.
Regardless of the district’s plan of changing leaders, such rapid turnover at the top is rare for the Butler County city school system.
Before Orr’s shortened tenure, Superintendent Janet Baker had held the job for 23 years, and Orr took over in 2015.
Those changes also came while Hamilton schools went through a public battle with the county’s sheriff over school safety and a failed security tax hike request this year, but officials said there are positive signs for this year after the unusual 2018.
While there were some high points for the 10,000-student Butler County school district, the just-finished year was marked by historic and contentious events.
“Did 2018 have it difficulties? Certainly,” Knapp said late last year as the Journal-News reported on big issues the district faced recently.
“But regardless of those circumstances, there was a lot of progress made in 2018 and Hamilton City Schools continues to thrive and grow for the betterment of our students and community.”
Hamilton Schools became ground zero for a public battle between officials who oversaw the schools and Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones as he blasted district leadership for what he described as a negligent attitude toward school security.
Jones also took the unprecedented move of using private money to purchase a billboard in downtown Hamilton that called into question school officials’ dedication toward school safety. Later, school officials reversed their previous decision to explore allowing some trained school staffers access to firearms.
And the contentiousness continued as Hamilton joined four other area districts in placing a proposed school security tax hike on the November ballot, which voters widely rejected after Jones campaigned against it.
Officials also highlighted positive things that happened.
“For the third year in a row, our students have demonstrated significant increases in their scores on state mandated end of the year tests,” Knapp said last year. “We still have a way to go with those scores, but it is important to note that we are definitely making positive, measurable progress. With the hard work demonstrated by our students and staff and the continued use of improved programming, we have every indication that growth will continue in 2019.”
Knapp also pointed to increase in the district’s graduation rate, which in spring 2018 jumped to 87 percent from the previous school year’s rate of 77 percent.
The schools also signed an historic agreement in 2018 with Butler Tech that will see the career schools take over Hamilton’s independent career learning program in 2019.
Knapp said the city schools will launch an effort in 2019 that will garner public opinions from all stakeholders in the community as the district puts together a “continuous improvement process” to guide it in coming years.
“From where I sit, 2018 really was a good year for Hamilton City Schools and we have much to be thankful for. (the year) 2019 should prove to be even better,” he said.