Philip H. Wagner was named the new superintendent of the Licking Heights Local School District at a special meeting July 24.

Philip H. Wagner was named the new superintendent of the Licking Heights Local School District at a special meeting July 24.

He will start Aug. 1. He succeeds Thomas Tucker, who will become superintendent of Worthington City Schools in August after three years at Licking Heights.

Wagner earned $125,000 annually as assistant superintendent of Beachwood City Schools, overseeing the district's curriculum, technology and human-resources departments. He will earn slightly less, $122,500, as superintendent of Licking Heights.

"Salaries are based on the region and I think the board was fair to me based on how superintendent salaries are aligned in the area," Wagner said.

As part of his contract, Licking Heights will pay the standard 14-percent contribution, as well as the 10 percent usually paid by the employee, to the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio. Because of the arrangement, the district will also pay STRS an additional 2.4 percent, which means 26.4 percent of the $122,500 will be paid to STRS for retirement benefits.

Wagner also will pay 25 percent of his health insurance, which is consistent with what other district employees pay. In the past, the district paid 100 percent of the superintendent's medical benefits, but Wagner opted to forgo that benefit.

Wagner said he would prioritize elevating the district's academic performance.

"The board has been very clear that they want to make the district a top-tier rated district, and I think they found my background in Beachwood, Hudson and Solon to be attractive," Wagner said.

Enrollment at Beachwood, a suburb east of Cleveland, is about half the enrollment at Licking Heights, but the per-pupil expenditures are significantly higher, both because of property values and because larger districts operate more cheaply on a per-pupil basis, Wagner said.

"Any time you have a district as small as Beachwood, you have increased costs because of the economies of scale that come into play," Wagner said. "For example, in Beachwood, you have to maintain a bus garage and in Licking Heights, you have to maintain a bus garage. But the per-pupil expenditure is much higher in Beachwood because the district is about half the size. It's about 1,590 kids. That thread runs through a lot of the finances, whether it's the librarian or student advisers."

Among the primary duties Wagner has had at Beachwood is implementing the state-mandated flex-credit requirement that allows students to receive academic credit for non-district educational activities, so long as they meet academic standards. Wagner said he supports the idea, but does not expect it to be a significant portion of student academic credit.

"That's been a significant responsibility for me at Beachwood," Wagner said. "We have had only a few requests, and I think that is similar around the state that, by and large, there have not been a lot of requests.

"I think it is attractive for two reasons. One is that it is flexible, so it allows students to work outside of school days and on the weekends. Another one of the things is it is an opportunity to expand learning opportunities beyond what is offered in the district, which can be important in a small district that cannot offer everything. But the other aspect is educational quality, so when we provide a quality experience, they have less need to go outside the district."

Wagner, 46, said his wife, Maureen, will stay this year in northeast Ohio with their three children, who are in high school and middle school, while he establishes a temporary residence and seeks permanent housing in the Pataskala area.

"Everything has come together so quickly, we won't move the family right away," Wagner said. "The plan is that I'll secure some transitional housing in the Pataskala area. The plan can change, but I'll probably be spending my weekends in northeast Ohio. I'll be looking in six months to a year to move my family to Pataskala. They've just started their sports, and while I have a general sense of Columbus, I don't yet know the area like I need to."

Wagner said initially, he is going to take his cues from the board and the community, and he will respect what is already working at Licking Heights.

"I think it takes a good three years to hit your stride, to understand the complete environment," Wagner said. "You can see a cycle or two. You continue to grow after that, but three years is a consistent time.

"The next step will be to work closely with the board and the staff. I want to step back and learn, see how things operate. Then we'll have some goal-setting sessions, for growth, building and teaching and learning. I want to be able to honor what is working in Licking Heights."

Wagner spent seven years at Beachwood, where he served as assistant superintendent, director of pupil services, director of human resources and elementary school principal.

Prior to that, he was director of pupil services at the Hudson City School District for seven years and a school psychologist at Solon City Schools for six years.

He earned his doctorate in K-12 education leadership, as well as bachelor's degrees in sociology and psychology and a master's of education in school psychology, from Kent State University.