Catherine ‘Missy’ Lennard, at the construction site for York Innovation Academy, is now a regional superintendent for the Hillsborough County School District. (Photo credit: Hillsborough County Public Schools.)

As a newly named regional superintendent, Catherine ‘Missy’ Lennard brings to the job her lifelong experiences with Hillsborough County Public Schools as the daughter of Earl Lennard, a much-beloved superintendent and Brandon High graduate, and the namesake of Lennard High in Ruskin.

A graduate of East Bay High in Gibsonton, Missy said her “amazing experiences” as a teacher and reading resource teacher, at Cypress Creek and Gibsonton elementary schools, respectively, prepared her for her principal duties.

With a career spanning more than 20 years, Missy was the first-ever assistant principal at Symmes Elementary in Riverview. Next, she was principal at Mintz Elementary in Brandon. She said she left Mintz “five years to the day” she was hired to open Stowers Elementary in Lithia in 2009, and then to open the pre-K to grade eight York Innovation Academy in Apollo Beach in 2022.

In her new position, Missy is informed by the wisdom she gained as the child of a career educator, who her current boss, Superintendent Van Ayres, admires greatly.

“The commitment for him was always to our county,” Missy said about her father, who was superintendent from 1996 to 2005.

“Coaching and leading with kindness and making decisions that are best for all students, that’s what it was like back under Earl’s leadership,” Ayres said. “We all knew that number one, Earl cared about us as individuals, and that’s what made us better workers.”

Missy is no stranger to the Ayres family, and vice versa, as their connection through education is deeply rooted. Missy’s father entered the Hillsborough school system as a first grader at Palm River Elementary and ‘graduated’ as superintendent in 2005 after rising through the ranks from teacher through administration. He died in 2019 at age 77.

Ayres’ parents, Nuri and Van, graduated from Hillsborough High and spent their careers in Hillsborough County schools. Ayres’ father taught career education for 33 years at Leto High; his mother was principal at both King and Sickles high schools. The younger Ayres graduated from Jefferson High, where he later served as principal.

“I have a ton of respect for Van and his family and their time in our schools, and I believe Van Ayres is the perfect person to lead us into rebuilding our culture,” Missy said.

Ayres was appointed superintendent in 2023 following the departure of Addison Davis, whose last day on the job came 41 months after the school board in 2020 approved his appointment to replace outgoing Superintendent Jeff Eakins, a longtime district employee. Davis hailed from Clay County and was the first superintendent hired from outside the district in more than 50 years.

Now, it’s back to tradition for school district leadership, and Missy said she is all in to support Ayres and his goals for the district. Missy is one of 12 regional superintendents, a cabinet position that requires oversight for about 21 North Tampa/New Tampa schools.

“I’m very excited to have the opportunity for the next phase of my career, and to be able to support principals in schools,” Missy said. “I share Superintendent Ayres’ vision of ‘Hillsborough Strong,’ in which he says every single person in a school matters. Coming together is what makes a difference for all our children. It is an honor to work for someone who is aligned with that vision.”

With the new comes a bittersweet goodbye.

“Leaving York was a very difficult decision,” Missy said. “I had built relationships with the students and their families and I loved being a part of the amazing trajectory that we had set in motion.”

But the school is left in good hands, Missy added, noting that her successor, Dustin Robinson, is more than qualified to help York succeed in its candidacy to become an International Baccalaureate (IB) school.

“I hired Dustin as a brand-new teacher at Stowers Elementary before he worked his way up to assistant principal, and then hired him to help open York as assistant principal,” Missy said. “Dustin is very excited to be leading York, and he will do an amazing job.”

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