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Monroe Schools leader praised for rescuing district from financial crisis nears retirement

In more than four decades of working in public education there are few things Monroe Schools Superintendent Phil Cagwin hasn’t seen and some he wished he had.

Cagwin is one of Butler County’s most veteran superintendents and is retiring next month after leading the fast-growing Monroe school system since 2012.

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Starting as a fifth-grade teacher in 1975, Cagwin has been on the front lines for many of the historical and sweeping changes in public education since then.

But there’s some compelling reasons for the 65-year-old to leave the school world.

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“My six grandkids,” said Cagwin. “They are my motivation to retire.”

He has taught and led school buildings and districts through some of America’s less-than-successful reforms once in vogue, including switching to the metric system, adopting Esperanto — created to become a new international language — and classrooms without walls, which literally removed walls between classes in some buildings.

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And he said, “I wish I had seen more parental involvement” in some children’s education in recent years.

While he remains vigorously optimistic about the future of Monroe Schools — and American public education in general — he also worries about the looming shadow of school security threats.

“Schools are now trying to become hardened targets,” Cagwin said in reference to the quickened pace of protective additions to school buildings.

“That (school security) has definitely been a paradigm shift,” he said.

Cagwin did his own shifting of Monroe’s paradigm when he agreed in 2012 to come out of early retirement and led the embattled school system that was one of only a handful at the time in Ohio to have fallen into state-ordered fiscal emergency.

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Typically, he credits others for the recovery.

The district’s school board — then and since — has been “the best I’ve ever worked with,” according to Cagwin.

Together Cagwin — and the board that hired him — cleaned up the school’s insolvency with budget cuts, program and staffing trims and successful persuasion of local taxpayers to up their school taxes to better fund the now 2,900-student district.

Monroe Board of Education President Brett Guido credits Cagwin for bringing the district from the brink of financial free fall.

“Phil came to Monroe during difficult times, when we needed someone with experience and who could make everyone feel that everything would be okay. He did that, and more,” said Guido.

“He has handled the difficulties that we as a district and community have experienced this year with grace and compassion. We could not have gone through all of this without his leadership,” he said.

And, said Guido, “he brought a personality that’s engaged the staff, community and school board together. It is rare that someone is able to gain the support of all three. He has been an absolute pleasure to work with and is genuinely a great guy.”

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