Interim Superintendent Van Ayres and Brandon High Principal Jeremy Klein with Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce members and scholarship recipient Sebastian Rodriguez at Brandon High School. (Photo credits: Linda Chion.)

In his first visit to Brandon High School since being appointed as head of the Hillsborough County School District, Van Ayres gave a pep talk to teachers, congratulated a student scholarship recipient and paid tribute to one of the school’s first-ever graduates, who had served also as superintendent of schools.

That would be Dr. Earl Lennard, who entered the school system as a first grader at Palm Elementary School and retired as superintendent of schools in 2005, having worked as a teacher and in a myriad of district positions. Lennard was in the first graduating class of Brandon High in its current location, at 1101 Victoria St. in Brandon.

What once was an uncommon journey is now a repeat production, with Ayres, the newly appointed interim superintendent of schools, replacing Addison Davis, who resigned effective July 14. Ayres entered the school system as a kindergartner, started his career as a science teacher at Blake High School, served as principal at Jefferson High School (his alma mater) and rose through the ranks of administration.

“This is year 27 for me in the school district, and as a teacher I worked underneath Dr. Lennard,” Ayres said.

His parents, Hillsborough High School graduates Van and Nuri Ayres, worked a combined 68 years in the school district, including Nuri’s terms as principal at King and Sickles high schools and Van’s 33 years of teaching career technical education at Leto High School.

“A lot of us hear about how great Dr. Lennard was and what kind of a leader he was,” Ayres said. “For me, it’s a personal connection because I’m hearing about him from my mom and dad, who worked closely with him, and myself as well.”

What one hears about Lennard “is his character, and how he treated people every day,” Ayres said. “And that’s what I hope to live up to.”

Ayres made his remarks outside the school auditorium before a group of Brandon chamber representatives, who were at Brandon High to award a $1,000 scholarship to Sebastian Rodriguez, a recipient of the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce Ernest Fernandez Jr. Scholarship.

“I feel very grateful to have the opportunity to be awarded a scholarship for my good deeds and for what I’ve done as a student and young person,” said Rodriguez, who plans to study music at Hillsborough Community College. Moving forward, “I’m going to be a voice for other people.”

Ayres also aims to be a voice for the people he leads — a point he made clear to educators meeting in Brandon High’s auditorium — that with a supportive environment, educators can do their best for students.

“He needs you, you need him and we all need each other, and that’s the way we’re going to move this district forward from here on out,” Ayres said. “You can’t do it alone, we’re way too big [a school district]. You’ve got to believe in people, and that’s my philosophy.”

Count among those people is Brandon High Principal Jeremy Klein, who spoke about the landmark school’s sprucing up, which includes landscaping upgrades and new student bathrooms.

“The work we’re doing here every day with our teachers is about elevating the inside, and to really get people from the outside to know that we’re doing great things here at Brandon,” Klein said. “This year is about rising above.”

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