Hamilton City Schools Superintendent Larry Knapp, who is under contract for only the upcoming 2018-2019 school year starting Wednesday, said the district is looking to continue its recent improvement in academics while enhancing school security. Classes for the 10,000-student school system start Aug. 8. MICHAEL D. CLARK/STAFF

Historic changes mark the beginning of Hamilton Schools’ new year

When the city school system resumes operation Wednesday morning, it’s 10,000 students will be attending a district that finds itself at ground zero for a still raging debate about arming school staffers.

And for the first time in its history, Hamilton City Schools is joining with four other Butler County school districts who are collectively putting a school security tax on the November ballot.

MORE: Hamilton joins other area districts in asking residents for school security tax

Top leadership of the district remains under Superintendent Larry Knapp, but it will be a historically short stint in the top job.

Knapp replaced former Hamilton Superintendent Tony Orr, who resigned in April under a separation agreement after allegations of sexual harassment and other violations of district policies. The former district business director — and former Edgewood Schools Superintendent — is only under contract for the 2018-2019 school year.

A year from now, Associate Superintendent Mike Holbrook will takeover for Knapp as part of a leadership succession plan approved by the Hamilton Board of Education.

And the district remains one of the main targets of Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones’ highly public pressure campaign — which includes unveiling a downtown billboard in June questioning school officials’ vigilance on improving school security.

MORE: Sheriff unveils billboard questioning Hamilton school leaders on security

But despite all the changes, Knapp remains optimistic about Hamilton Schools and said residents should be too. The district has shown academic improvement in 16 of 21 areas measured by the state’s annual report card.

The schools, said Knapp, “have made significant achievement improvements … including improvement on all 12 secondary school indicators.”

“The instructional initiatives and academic growth of students for the past two years is encouraging as we look forward to our continued growth,” he said.

And progress is being made in making the city’s schools safer, he said noting Hamilton is not alone in battling such challenges.

MORE: Hamilton Schools restrict bookbags as part of enhanced security

Schools across the nation are scrambling to improve security in the wake of last school year’s deadly shooting massacres at schools in Florida, Texas and deadly but fewer fatal shootings at other schools.

Hamilton held its most extensive, active shooter drills during the summer break. And officials have also invited in federal security experts to evaluate its school buildings and how to best proceed with adding personnel, security equipment and infrastructure enhancements to improve security.

MORE: Hamilton school officials train to respond to armed attack

“The board of education members and district place safety as a top priority and have engaged staff, students, parents, and community members in regards to our safety and security planning,” said Knapp referencing a public forum last month hosted by the schools and city police.

MORE: Overflow crowd lets Hamilton school officials know what they think about arming staffers

“This positive and productive dialogue on school safety has assisted the (school board) in the gathering of information as it considers next steps in enhancing our already well-prepared safety plan. Additionally, the district continues its endless collaboration with Chief Bucheit and the Hamilton City Police Department on refinement and enhancements to all security measures,” he said.

Another challenge this school year, he said, is a revival of an old one.

“One obstacle facing the senior class of 2019 is the decision by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) to revert back to the initial graduation requirements regarding end-of course assessments and required points.”

“These requirements do not allow for district autonomy in making responsible decisions regarding student graduation. The senior class of 2018 at Hamilton High School saw a significant increase in its graduation rate due to the flexibility granted by the ODE to give school districts some autonomy to individualize student graduation pathways at the district level,” Knapp said.

The impact on the recent state changes, he said, “could possibly result in the reduction of graduates in the class of 2019.”

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