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HomeEducationRay Pinder Picked Again as New Interim Superintendent

Ray Pinder Picked Again as New Interim Superintendent

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Nearly two months after initially selecting an interim superintendent, the Hernando County School Board landed right back in the exact same spot. This time, the decision was essentially made for it. Assistant Superintendent of Business and Support Services Ray Pinder became the pick by a 3-2 vote at the June 11 school board meeting, just as he had at a meeting on April 23 in a decision that was revoked because the board had not allowed for public comment.

“You interview for a job every day you show up to work,” Pinder said while speaking at the June 11 meeting. “Not the day that you sit in front of that committee and tell them about yourself. Your actions speak louder than your words.

“In many instances, I’ve shown people what I’ve got and I’m ready to show that as I look forward to the future of what I can do and will do for Hernando County, together with everyone.”

Pinder’s official hiring is pending the signing of a 1-year contract. Board chairwoman Linda Prescott anticipated having a contract negotiated and ready to present to the board at the next meeting on June 25. Time is of the essence as the current Superintendent John Stratton is retiring at the end of the month.

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Back on April 23, the board agreed to bring in someone on an interim basis due to the upcoming election and pending changes to the makeup of the board. While that consensus has remained, the selection process was reopened at the May 14 board meeting in order to comply with proper procedure and at least give the public an opportunity to react.

At that same meeting it was decided that Pinder and the only other nominee for the position, Brent Gaustad, would be allowed to make a 10-minute speech and answer questions in front of the board. That took place at a workshop on June 11.

Gaustad spoke first and, believing the board leaned toward Pinder due to familiarity, opted to use his time to review his background as a teacher, coach, athletic director and administrator. That included his work as an assistant principal, first under board vice-chairwoman Susan Duval, who was then the principal at Springstead High before he moved on to Hernando High.

“It was a very good tenure. I learned so much about how to run a school,” Gaustad said of his time at Springstead. “Ken Pritz (the then principal at Hernando) was another one. I was lucky to have two people that are my mentors who are legends in the county.”

Gaustad went on to become principal at Parrott Middle School and Moton Elementary before retiring in 2018 with 31 years in education under his belt, though he did end up helping run a private school.
“I see all these different aspects and I think that culmination of what I’ve done over the years has readied me to do this job,” Gaustad said. “That being said, it’s with a heavy heart and a difficult decision over a month that I am going to pull my application for being considered as the superintendent. I don’t feel at this time this is what I can work with.

“You kind of put the cart ahead of the horses when you already voted and articles were out there and things like that. If I’m going to be the leader of this county, the leader of this school system, I need that support. Because I am a proactive leader. I make difficult decisions. I will get out there and fix what needs to be fixed, and I’m not afraid to do that. But I’m going to need support.

“Your job is to hire a quality, hard-working superintendent that’s going to go out there and do the job you want him to do. And that would have been me. But I’m going to rescind my application. At this time, it’s just not a fit for me.”

Despite Gaustad’s withdrawal, the board continued with its interview of Pinder. He detailed a career entering its 32nd year in Hernando County, where he has lived and attended school after his family moved from Key West. He is a graduate of Eastside Elementary, Parrott Middle School and Hernando High.

“I’ve been a part of the culture of Hernando County for 32 years,” Pinder said. “I can tell you what I think I’ve done. If you want to know what I’ve really done ask the people who worked with me. Ask them was I a good person to work for, did they respect me? Did they respect that I had decisions to make that they didn’t always like?

“And really the true measure, did they respect me after I had to make tough decisions which included them, because I was fair, and I was honest, and I was as forthright and straightforward and transparent as I could be as a leader?”

Even with Pinder being the only remaining nominee, board members Shannon Rodriguez and Mark Johnson maintained their no votes. Rodriguez, who originally nominated Gaustad, continued to chastise the rest of the board for not following the proper procedure back in April.

“It was evident from Day 1 that there was no changing your minds, therefore not any other candidate could or would ever be considered,” Rodriguez said. “So on that note, I feel we did not allow for full vetting of all the candidates, nor do I think we did an expansive search to find the best candidate available.

“This is in no way a reflection on this candidate, Mr. Pinder. He has a long record of service to Hernando County schools. I believe we should have looked at external options, people with different experiences and different views that could help Hernando County schools move forward. Our students, our teachers and our constituents deserve a more exhaustive search than what was provided for them
here.”

Rodriguez’s comments led to a terse exchange with board member Gus Guadagnino, who originally nominated Pinder. “If you were in the position before of changing leadership you would know that the most important thing in replacing our superintendent is continuity,” Guadagnino said in response to Rodriguez. “We have a lot of good programs. You don’t talk about them. And my reason for saying what I said was because I wanted continuity, I wanted the programs to continue, I wanted the growth to continue and I wanted somebody in the game that knows all the actions that have taken
place.

“We are going to have more changes in the next two years than you’ve seen in the last five years, and that is my reason. I happen to like Mr. Gaustad probably more than I like Ray because I’ve spent more time with him. But it was not the time for him.”

Chris Bernhardt
Chris Bernhardt
A resident of Spring Hill since 1986, Chris graduated from Springstead High in 1999 before moving on to earn a bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Central Florida. In summer of 2003 he joined the staff at Hernando Today, working at the paper for 11 years as a sports reporter, the last three as sports coordinator in charge of the paper’s sports coverage. After an initial 3-year stint with Hernando Sun, he spent four years as a staff sports reporter at the Citrus County Chronicle. Follow on X @cpbernhardtjr.
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