Returning Springboro schools leader ‘We’ve got a lot of work to do’

Larry Hook is “very excited” to return to the Springboro school district as superintendent, he said in an interview this week.

Hook, assistant superintendent in Springboro until 2010 and a Springboro resident for 17 years, will take the reins in his home district on Aug. 2. He is currently superintendent of Carlisle Local Schools.

Between now and then, Hook plans to focus on opening Carlisle’s new K-12 building in July, while also beginning to help Springboro school officials move forward with the new year and toward putting an additional tax levy before voters.

“I’ll be driving back and forth a lot I’m sure,” Hook said Friday.

“I think we’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’ve got some great people there, some people who are still there from when I left,” he said.

On Thursday, the Springboro school board voted 4-1 during a virtual special meeting to approve a two-year contract with Hook. The contract, effective Aug. 2, pays Hook $143,000.

Hook was hired after the board began searching for another interim superintendent to run the district, until a national search could be made.

“He is the right person to lead us at this time,” Board President Jamie Belanger said Thursday.

Belanger pointed to upcoming contract negotiations with teachers and other staff and talks of a possible additional tax levy as reasons not to hire another interim superintendent.

Board Member Lisa Babb noted the change from hiring another interim leader, while searching for a new superintendent, in explaining her vote against hiring Hook.

Babb said she also got negative references in inquiries about Hook.

“I cannot in good conscience vote for Mr. Hook,” Babb said. “I look forward to a full search in two years.”

Babb said she would nonetheless support Hook as superintendent.

Hook said he understood Babb’s position.

“You can’t please everybody. The only thing you can do is what you think is the best thing for kids and the best thing for the school district,” he said Friday.

In March, the Carlisle board approved a retire-rehire pact with Hook, effective on Aug. 1, with a 10-percent reduction in his current annual salary of $146,516.

At the time, Hook said he would like to stay in Carlisle for the opening of the district’s new $49 million school building serving pre-K through 12th-grade.

Hook also guided the Carlisle district’s successful 6.2-mill bond issue campaign in 2017 when 67 percent of the voters approved the local funding for the new building.

RELATED: Springboro schools changing interim superintendent

In Springboro, he replaces Interim Superintendent Carrie Hester.

On May 27, the board approved a three-year contract with Hester to serve as assistant superintendent of administrative operations, starting on Aug. 1.

At the May 27 meeting and other regular meetings, as well as seven previous special meetings since then, the board has met behind closed doors to consider Hester’s successor.

The week before approval of Hester’s new contract, after a letter was sent to staff, the district confirmed Hester would be returning to the assistant superintendent position she held before becoming interim superintendent.

She took the interim superintendent role in August 2019 when Superintendent Dan Schroer was placed on administrative leave amid allegations of misconduct involving mileage reimbursements, sick days and use of work days. He resigned later that month as part of a financial settlement agreement.

RELATED: Ex-Springboro superintendent accused of mileage, pay misconduct

In January, Hester’s interim superintendent contract was extended through 2020-21, with school board president Jamie Belanger saying at the time that “stability is important” and saying Hester had excelled in the role. Hester said she was honored by the move.

In May, school officials indicated the change was not a reflection of of Hester’s performance.

“We will look to our next interim superintendent to maintain our culture, support our staff, work with our community, and keep the district’s priorities moving forward,” Belanger said.

Hester indicated she asked “to step back,” noting her 45-minute commute to district offices.

“The Superintendent role requires and also deserves to be filled by someone who is either a community member or lives very close by. Additionally, there is much good and necessary work to be done in the Human Resources and Operations areas of Springboro Schools. I want to lead that charge and be devoted to the work,” Hester added in an email.

The Carlisle board held a special meeting Thursday and Hook’s resignation is on their board agenda Monday.

Hook said he remained committed to getting the new Carlisle building open by Aug. 15 and would attend construction meetings on the project.

“I want to make sure the building is delivered on time and on budget,” he said, adding he had understandings with both boards about the transition. “Most of it hopefully will be done in July so it will be relatively smooth in August.”

While it’s been 10 years since Hook was an administrator in Springboro, he can bring knowledge from his time there building new elementaries, the CareFlight Field project and his experiences as a parent of two children who attended Springboro schools through junior high.

Hook left the Springboro school administration in 2010 after the election of Kelly Kohls who headed the school board during a time of cost-cutting and staff changes.

“That was the beginning of some real instability on the board,” he said.

Hook will be the fifth superintendent since his departure.

“That’s hard to do anywhere,” he said. “Stability is critical.”

Hook said he was reviewing a packet of financial documents prepared by Treasurer Terrah Floyd and looked forward to getting back to work in Springboro on if and when an additional levy was needed, as well as what to do about school crowding and other issues.

“I love the community,” he said. “It’s important to me. I want to make sure the school district does really well.”

He also expressed satisfaction his time in Carlisle.

“They are about to launch a whole new era,” he said.