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Hillsborough County School Board names Van Ayres interim superintendent two weeks early

 Man in a suit sitting at a table behind a microphone in front of blue auditorium chairs.
Hillsborough County Public Schools
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The Hillsborough County School Board voted unanimously to place interim Supt. Van Ayres into the role two weeks early at a special meeting June 27, 2023. Outgoing Superintendent Addison Davis is leaving the district to join his family in Northeast Florida.

In a unanimous vote at a special board meeting Tuesday, the Hillsborough County School Board decided to place interim Supt. Van Ayres into the position two weeks early.

In a surprise move, the Hillsborough County School Board voted unanimously for Van Ayres to step into his roll of interim superintendent effective immediately.

The board voted unanimously to name Ayres into the role last week, but he was not supposed to officially start until July 15.

Member Stacy Hahn made the motion during Tuesday's meeting to change Ayres' start date and "transfer all the responsibilities and all that goes with the position of  superintendent effective immediately."

She added she didn't see "any reason (the board) should wait one second longer."

Member Lynn Gray said she was a little more cautious due to past experiences on the board with the firing of former Supt. MaryEllen Elia in 2015 and quick hiring of Jeff Eakins.

But other members voiced excitement at Ayres getting a jump start on the job.

Member Jessica Vaughn said she was "excited to see what leadership looks like under Supt. Ayres."

"I'm excited to see what our superintendent search looks like and what that will lead us to," she added.

Hahn also said she liked the idea of a so-called "pulse-check" in three months to evaluate Ayres' performance.

The board will continue talking about the search for a permanent replacement at future meetings as they decide whether they will do a nationwide or just statewide search.

But Hahn said she's leaning towards keeping the search internal.

"In three months, I think we'll have a snapshot and it will at least inform us as to maybe the type of search we want to do and so forth," she said.

Chairperson Nadia Combs disagreed.

"I absolutely think we have to do a state search, if not a national search. (Hillsborough County Public Schools) is the seventh largest district in the country," she said. "To think that we're just going to look internally is not fair or right. I don't think it's a transparent process."

Ayres was born in Tampa and has worked in the district since 1997. He told the board the guidance he's received from Davis over the past three years has prepared him for his new responsibilities, adding he was "ready to lead the district (immediately)."

Ayres' new contract gives the board the ability to terminate him with cause or 30 days written notice without cause. His salary is the same as outgoing Supt. Addison Davis' at $310,000.

Davis resigned earlier this month, just one day after Hillsborough Deputy Supt. Terrence Connor was named Sarasota's new head of schools.

Davis said in his resignation letter, he has the opportunity to "return to northeast Florida where (his) entire family resides and build the next chapter of (his) career."

Davis choked up while delivering a farewell to the board, saying his three years leading the district was one of the "toughest journeys" he's had, but that he was proud of the accomplishments the district achieved.

"Thank you for allowing me to go be with my family. They have been the champions of who I am as a person and leader," he said. "Twenty-five years of giving them my heart. I'm ready to go home. Thank you."

WJCT News reported Wednesday that the Jacksonville NAACP has raised concerns that Duval County Schools have already decided that Davis will become the new superintendent there, saying the search "appears to be a mere façade."

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.