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Knight Writers

The student news site of Robinson High School

Knight Writers

The student news site of Robinson High School

Knight Writers

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Back to School Issue: Veteran Educator and District Official Van Ayres Named HCPS Interim Superintendent

In the wake of former Superintendent Addison Davis’ abrupt resignation, Van Ayres, Chief of Strategic Planning and Partnerships for HCPS, has been named Interim Superintendent.
Photo Vikram Sambasivan
Interim Superintendent Van Ayres reviewing documents in his office. Ayres was appointed as Interim Superintendent after Addison Davis’ resignation.

Addison Davis, former Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) Superintendent, resigned from his post on Wednesday, June 14, leaving the school district without a leader. Six days after Davis’ announcement, Van Ayres, was named as HCPS Interim Superintendent.

As a long-term Hillsborough County educator and administrator, Ayers was the obvious choice. He began his teaching career as a chemistry teacher at Howard Blake High School from where he jumped to administration positions, including being the Principal of Thomas Jefferson High School. He eventually gained positions at a district level, most recently being the Chief of Strategic Planning and Partnerships.

As Interim Superintendent, Ayres will serve an initial 12-month term before the school board will make a decision to determine whether or not to appoint him to serve a full four-year term.

“I’m at the place now, where I was offered the opportunity by the board in this interim role. But, whether you’re interim or not, you’re still superintendent, so that’s kind of my mindset of how I’m going about this year,” Ayres said. But, for me to have the opportunity to lead this district [for a full four years], with all the great history we have, would be an honor.”

In his current one-year term, Ayres is faced with a multitude of issues affecting the district, one of the most being large numbers of students receiving Certificates of Completion.

These certificates are handed out to students, in place of a diploma, who complete all the high school credits required by the district and have maintained at least a 2.0 GPA, a C average, but were unable to pass their Florida Standards Assessments (FSAs). Depending on the type of certificate received, the student is able to take the Post Secondary Education Readiness Test (PERT) and may be placed at a community college. However, these certificates are generally unsatisfactory for admission into a four-year college.

“They’ll [the student who has not passed their FSAs] walk across the stage and nobody really can tell the difference, [at the time], but they’ll go to the back to receive their diploma and get a piece of paper which says, ‘Certificate of Completion,’ which, basically, is worth nothing more than the paper it’s printed on,” Ayres said.

This disparity between passing district standards, but not the state ones, can be attributed to the method with which state standards are tested. There has been a long debate over whether standardized testing is an effective method with which knowledge is tested.

According to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, such tests have been shown to be biased towards higher-income students who have had more experience with test-taking strategies, and only test a narrow measure of skills. It is for these reasons that score reporting of nationwide tests such as the SAT and ACT has been made optional by most leading United States universities.

Since many modern schools allow teachers more freedom in their methods of teaching and grading, students may be receiving a more holistic education, but perhaps are not as well prepared for standardized exams.

“A lot of students don’t know,” Ayres said. “They don’t realize that when they get to be seniors and they haven’t made that score, it hasn’t really hit them that ‘I might graduate in May, but if I haven’t made my score, I’m not going to get my diploma.”

One of the solutions to this issue, which the district feels may work, is to simply help students practice more for these standardized tests.

“A lot of it is making them [students] aware and bringing it to their attention early so that they practice,” said Ayres, whom as former Chief of Strategic Planning and Partnerships helped implement the Academic Excellence piece, among others, of the district’s 5-year strategic plan. “[We have to] create those opportunities for students to get better at those particular skills.”

Sanjna Madabushanam (’24), a member of Robinson’s Political Science Club shares a similar sentiment.

“I believe that schools can increase state exam pass rates by offering more test-taking strategies classes as an elective or before/after school club and providing students with practice tests,” she said. “Additionally, schools can provide students with more resources such as tutoring, online tools, and the right practice books to help them succeed.”

Another large issue facing the district is the issue of teacher pay, which has been a point of contention between the district and the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association (HTCA).

On Wednesday, April 5, the Hillsborough County School Board voted to award teachers and staff with a salary increase, or as seen by many teachers, some of the “pay steps” that they’ve earned. Despite this agreement, according to the HCPS job listings website, as of July 26, there are still 1,240 unfilled positions within the school system, 600 of them being instructional.

Starting the school year with so many instructional vacancies poses a large issue in instructing students. However, those who have worked with Ayres in the past believe that he has the experience to help deal with these issues.

“That [teacher vacancies] is a huge obstacle for Mr. Ayres to climb,” said Jennifer Orjuela, a Teacher Mentor and former Social Studies Teacher under Ayres while he was Principal at Thomas Jefferson High School. “But, because he has made so many connections in this county, he has a core of teachers and people in different positions that he trusts, and maybe together as a community of Hillsborough County Educators, we can bring back and elevate our [district] to where it should be.”

At the beginning of his first term, Ayres leaves a message for students approaching the upcoming school year.

“We’re excited to have all students back on the first day of school. All of our principals and teachers are excited, and there’s nothing like the first day of school,” Ayres said.

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About the Contributor
Vikram Sambasivan, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Vikram Sambasivan is a senior at Robinson and the Co-Editor-in-Chief of Knight Writers. This is his third year on staff and his third year as an editor. A passionate storyteller, Sambasivan's writing varies across a variety of sections, but he finds his comfort most in news stories, where he delves mostly into current events. "My favorite is perhaps news writing. Some may say it’s plain, and a bit boring, but I find the simplicity to be elegant and a reprieve from the frilly writing that is sometimes preferred in a typical high school English class," Sambasivan said. Outside of the journalism room, you can see Sambasivan serving as the president of Mu Alpha Theta Mathematics Honor Society, rowing down the Hillsborough River for Team Tampa or even conducting research at the Clean Energy Research Center at the University of South Florida. Despite his demanding schedule, Sambasivan likes to wind down and relax by indulging in a number of movies or TV shows. "Rowing is probably tied with tennis as my favorite activity (although it’s not as fun to watch).  The feeling of the cool morning breeze on your face while rowing in the calm, quiet waters isn’t something I’ll soon forget," Sambasivan said. "Watching TV and movies are some of the other things I enjoy. My favorite show changes every day depending on how I’m feeling. Most movies that I watch speak to a different part of me, so I don’t think I could choose a favorite." Sambasivan has set multiple goals for this year's staff. He is looking forward to being in charge and being able to recreate the fun experience of journalism for new staff members. His biggest goal, though, is to be able to help everyone reach their greatest potential by making them stronger writers. "I would like to make them better than me. That’s the hallmark of a good teacher: having your students exceed you. If I can create an environment where people are excited to come in and produce content every day, where they are excited to learn, then I will be happy," Sambasivan added. Although his future is unclear at the moment, Sambasivan hopes to be able to combine his love for STEM and journalism in his future career. "I’m a little sad to be leaving high school. I’ll miss the friends and connections which I have made once I go to college, but this year, for me, is mainly about the future," Sambasivan said. (Profile by Cecilia Cheng)
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