- Michael D. Clark Staff Writer
Middletown City Schools will be searching for a new leader after Superintendent Sam Ison announced Friday his retirement from the Butler County school district.
“I’m ready to take on new endeavors,” said the 60-year-old Ison, who has led Middletown Schools for the past four years.
Ison, who began as a teacher in the West Milton Ohio schools in 1979, oversaw the Middletown district’s school tax campaign in 2014 to fund a $96 million new school construction and renovation project.
“After 38 years (in education), I’m ready,” Ison said.
In 2015, despite reservations from some teacher union members, the Middletown school board unanimously approved the retirement and rehiring of Ison.
At that time, Ison agreed to return for $120,000 a year and eliminate his 5 percent bonus. The contract approved in 2015 was for three years with a possibility of a fourth year.
Middletown Board of Education President Chris Urso said there are no definitive plans yet for how the board will go about its search for a new superintendent. He said the process will include gathering public input from the school district’s various stakeholders on what they want in the next school leader.
“We have a strong community, and we want to solicit the voices of the folks who work here, parents and business leaders,” Urso said.
In Middletown, Ison has pushed for upgrading the district’s school buildings and learning technology. And as district leader he has overseen the start of the biggest and most expensive school construction project in the city’s history.
He also worked to stablize the district’s once floundering finances, increased the district’s bond rating and produced budget projections that have the schools going without any deficit until 2020. Prior to that year, the district is projected to have operating budget surpluses decreasing annually from $3.9 million in 2016 to $725,000 in 2019.
And district officials have predicted residents will not be asked for additional operating taxes through 2020.
Student academic performance during his tenure largely saw the schools continue to be among the region’s lower performers though comparisons to other school districts has been problematic in recent years due to the Ohio Department of Education’s major changes to its annual report card on school systems.
Last year, work began on a $96 million transformation of the Middletown High School campus that includes the building of a new middle school and a massive renovation of the adjacent high school.
The two schools will be connected by a new gym and athletic center. The two projects are scheduled to be completed in 2018, though some high school classroom spaces will be opened this spring.
In a statement sent out to staffers in the 6,400-student district, Ison said, “working as a team we have passed a bond issue to renovate the high school and build a new middle school, made the hard decisions to bring us to a financially stable district and collaboratively analyzing data, researching best practices and other methods to help our students become successful in life.”
Urso praised Ison for his leadership.
“We’ve been fortunate to have him as part of our community,” said Urso. “He is ethical, works extremely hard and has a truly good heart for what he does.”
“We’re in a better place for the work he has done and for the leadership he has provided. It’s going to be a job to replace that and figure out what those next steps are,” he said.
Rick Pearce, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce serving Middletown, Monroe and Trenton, said local business leaders appreciated Ison’s accessibility and willingness to discuss their ties with the city schools.
“In order for a community to get re-built and thrive, schools and business have to work together,” said Pearce. “We worked well together to build better relationships between business and education.”
Ison joined Middletown Schools six years ago as director of instructional leadership, supervising the district’s school principals.
Prior to that, Ison was principal of Lebanon High School in Warren County for 15 years.
“I’m going to miss the people and the kids — always the kids, that’s been been my passion for 38 years. I love being around young people and watching them grown intellectually, academically, socially and personally,” Ison said.