After 23 years under the same leadership, Hamilton City Schools have a new superintendent.
Tony Orr stepped into his new role as superintendent on Aug. 1, when former superintendent Janet Baker retired from her 44-year career in the district.
“It was a difficult decision, because I loved what I was doing,” Baker said.
As difficult as it was to step down, she left the district in good financial standing, with an updated master facilities plan in place and new and updated buildings.
“It was kind of the perfect time to pass the baton to someone else,” she said.
Orr comes to Hamilton from Northwestern Local Schools, where he was superintendent for the last seven years.
Although an increase in pay factored into the decision, his biggest motivator was Hamilton’s proximity to his fiancée’s family.
“I have a new fiancée and her family is from the West Chester area, so we were trying to get closer to her family to have that support system in place,” he said.
Orr was one of about 23 candidates considered for the position, but a strong recommendation from the Ohio School Boards Association put him high on the list from the start. His preparation and “sincere interest” in improving the quality of education in the district helped sway Hamilton City School Board members in their decision, said school board president Scott Kruger.
“We were looking for a strong instructional leader, someone with classroom experience, someone with superintendent experience and someone with knowledge of school financing,” Kruger said.
“Tony exemplifies all those characteristics that we were looking for,” he added.
Prior to his position at Northwestern, Orr worked for Huber Heights City Schools, where he started out as a high school English teacher and later became a middle school principal. He credits his desire to broaden his impact for his rise from teacher to building administrator and eventually superintendent.
Now, as superintendent of Hamilton City Schools, that impact extends to approximately 9,700 students.
Despite the size of the student body, Orr does his best to remain accessible.
“He makes himself available to staff and administrators,” Kruger said. “He visits the schools on a weekly, if not daily basis. He’s very active in our schools.”
Baker, who worked with Orr during a transitional period before August, said she feels optimistic about the future of the district under his leadership.
“He came to Hamilton very committed to trying to do a good job and wanted to remain superintendent of the district for a very long time,” Baker said.
His commitment to the district carries over into his perspective on the city itself. Orr, who in his free time enjoys spending time with his family, playing competitive tennis, riding his Harley and going to country concerts, sees Hamilton as his home.
“I’m a member of this community,” he said. “I call the people in Hamilton my neighbors. Hamilton is truly a great place to be.”
As he settles into his new role in the community and the district, Orr is getting a sense of the direction he wants to take Hamilton City Schools.
“We’ve already begun some gradual changes,” he said.
Two areas in which his efforts are visible are the district’s emphasis on writing in all subjects and reviewing the district’s assessments to ensure they’re aligned with the core standards being taught.
While he is guiding the changes, Orr makes a point to include others in the decision-making process.
“I think one of the things he prides himself on is getting everyone involved,” Kruger said. “It’s not a top-down leadership approach. He wants input from everyone, from all angles.”
“Ultimately,” said Orr, “I try to seek input from all stakeholders, collaborate when possible, and ultimately I try to make sure that whatever decisions we’re making are going to improve student achievement.”
Some of that input will come from Baker, who is working part-time for the Butler County Educational Service Center as a mentor and coach for administrators in the county.
“I thought this would be a good way for me to stay connected to a profession that I love, to work with educators who I have the utmost respect for,” she said.
While she’s glad for the opportunity to assist Orr, Baker is confident in the direction she sees him taking the district.
“I think the district is poised really well,” she said. “He’s able to take the district from where it was and take it forward with some new ideas.”