Meet the new Hamilton schools superintendent, who is starting earlier than expected

The new Hamilton Schools Superintendent isn’t really all that new to the teachers and staffers in the Butler County district.

Mike Holbrook will officially take over the 9,500-student district on April 8, but he’s already moved into former Superintendent Larry Knapp’s office following Knapp’s early departure from the job.

MORE: Hamilton Schools leader unexpectedly leaves earlier than planned

School parents and other community stakeholders — including local city and business leaders — will play prominent roles in helping to guide his administration, Holbrook told the Journal-News in his first interview since taking over the top job.

The 53-year-old Holbrook has long been a familiar face to the district’s 1,000 employees, having visited their schools and worked with many of them during three years as Hamilton’s assistant superintendent and since April 2018 as associate superintendent.

Under a contractual agreement approved unanimously by the school board last year, Holbrook was to spend a year working and preparing to take over for Knapp, who was promoted in 2018 after the unexpected resignation of former superintendent Tony Orr.

“I’ve been in all 13 school buildings and I’ve met a minimum of 80 percent of the staff,” during his four years with the city schools,” said Holbrook, who will earn $166,500 annually under a three-year contract.

And that face time has only increased since Knapp recently informed him and school board members of his plans to leave earlier than his original departure scheduled for this coming summer.

“In the last two weeks I’ve met with every elementary teacher in this district, just introducing myself,” Holbrook said.

That sort of diligence and attention to detail are a few of the reasons why the city school board member enthusiastically approved the superintendent transition plan last year, members have said.

“The board members have been impressed with Mr. Holbrook’s leadership these past four years and we are confident that he will continue to lead our district forward, along with our dedicated and hard-working staff,” said Board President Rob Weigel.

Holbrook said his leadership will include a high-profile presence within and outside the school district’s boundaries.

And school parents will play prominent roles in helping improve the city schools, which earned an overall district grade of “D” on the last annual report card from the Ohio Department of Education.

“Part of the work in this job is to be visible and to create relationships,” Holbrook said. “Our biggest partner is parents and we are going to create a district parent council with representation from all (school) buildings.

“At the end of day, their kids are their most precious commodity they are sending us every single day. We need to listen to their concerns and that’s a big piece in my agenda for next (school) year.

“It’s not going to be one person in an office making decisions.”

School district residents can also expect to see a “change of culture,” which he said had already begun under the leadership of Knapp and will accelerate during his tenure.

“Culture both internally and externally. What is the culture within our buildings with the teaching staff and what is the culture externally? What perception do folks have of Hamilton city schools and how we can move forward and improve that culture?

“Culture is something very difficult to measure and it’s very difficult to change. But it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Being visible and being genuine and truly having forums for people to be able to speak are huge components of that.”

About the Author