New school year rotates in 5 new superintendents

The approaching start of a new school year is bringing with it another round of new leaders to area schools.

Classes open Wednesday for Butler County’s 10,000-student Hamilton Schools and for other local districts later this month.

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Five area school systems — Hamilton, Madison, Monroe, Talawanda and Mason in southwest Warren County — are starting the 2018-2019 school year with different superintendents than last year.

The new faces are a continuation of a recent years’ trend that has seen local schools undergo historic leadership turnover.



Though he is starting his first school year as Hamilton’s superintendent, Larry Knapp has previously held that job with two other area districts. He was appointed to the job last spring in the wake of former superintendent Tony Orr’s unexpected resignation in April after allegations he violated district policies.

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In Madison, Lisa Tuttle-Huff replaces Curtis Philpot, who had the led the district since 2012.

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Monroe Schools are now led by Kathy Demers, who replaced former superintendent Phil Cagwin, who retired.

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And in Talawanda Schools, a former top official with Hamilton County’s Princeton Schools — Ed Theoruex — takes over for former superintendent Kelly Spivey.

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In Mason Schools, which borders Butler County and is the largest district in Warren County, long-time leader Gail Kist-Kline has retired and been replaced by Jonathan Cooper.



Veteran superintendents say the job is the public sector similar to running a major corporation but with the added pressures of being accountable to every taxpayer who helps fund the publicly financed schools.

Long-time public school administrator and former Edgewood Superintendent Tom York has some short, to-the-point advice for any new school leader: Smile a lot and listen even more.

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“There is really no way to prepare for these jobs, until you are sitting in the seat,” said York.

“Get the lay of the land first. Go in with a big smile. Watch everything and listen,” said York, who has also worked as a school board member and is the principal of Talawanda High School.

In Ohio, local boards of education hire district superintendents but the daily operations of public school systems are directed by superintendents. Their decisions impact tens of thousands of students and involve millions of dollars of public tax money.

It’s a lot of responsibility, said Cagwin, who has twice led Butler County school districts.

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“As a new superintendent is faced with the many daily decisions, I would advise them to trust their heart and their years of formal education and on-the-job experience they have gained from being a teacher and building administrator,” said Cagwin.

“I would also advise them not to make high stakes decisions without first seeking input from trusted educators in their districts and when appropriate their school board members,” he said.



Veteran Mason Board of Education member Kevin Wise said the top-rated district, which regularly scores among the best academically in Ohio, has a new, strong leader in Cooper.

Wise, who was first joined Mason’s board in 2002, praised Cooper as a superintendent “who invests in relationships and operates in a very transparent way.”

“Jonathan is full of energy and is present at so many Mason events to support students, staff and families,” he said.

Demers is making the most of her time since her hiring at Monroe was announced in May.

“Since late spring I have had the privilege to meet many community members, parents, students and staff. while attending concerts, athletic events, community, parent and board of education meetings and touring buildings during my transition period,” said Demers.

“I sincerely appreciate everyone’s warm welcome and making me feel at home,” she said.

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