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HomeEducationRay Pinder Talks Future of Hernando Schools at June Chamber Breakfast

Ray Pinder Talks Future of Hernando Schools at June Chamber Breakfast

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On June 26, the Hernando County Chamber of Commerce hosted its monthly membership meeting, with Wednesday’s focus on education. Assistant Superintendent of Hernando County Schools Ray Pinder spoke about the future of the county’s educational system, while the Hernando County Education Foundation (HCEF) sponsored the morning’s breakfast, which was catered by Chick-fil-A.

The assistant superintendent graduated from Hernando High School in 1987 before receiving his bachelor’s degree in social science education from USF and his master’s degree in education leadership from St. Leo University. He has since worked with the Hernando County School District (HCSD) for over 31 years in various capacities, including serving as principal at Fox Chapel Middle School, Explorer K8, and J.D. Floyd Elementary School, respectively.

Before Pinder spoke, representatives from the educational foundation came up to present their goals, programs, and accomplishments to the gathered community leaders. Founded in 1988, the HCEF’s stated mission is “Creating partnerships that advance student achievement and promote excellence within Hernando County Public Education.”

All of the funds that are raised by the organization go back to the county’s schools and students. In the last year alone, the foundation has raised over $150,000 in scholarships and over $250,000 to help the nearly 24,000 students across all Hernando schools take the next step academically. They also offer college and career workshops to help identify and prepare students to apply for scholarships.

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The HCEF also hosts the annual Teacher of the Year award. The foundation recognizes all of the teachers in the district but picks one to represent them for the state of Florida. This year, they honored local educator Jaime Suarez with the Teacher of the Year award. The middle school math and science teacher was named a finalist for the 2025 statewide award in May.

When he came up to speak following HCEF’s presentation, Mr. Pinder announced that he would be stepping into a new role. As of Tuesday night, he will be taking over the position of Superintendent from John Stratton “in a couple days.” On Tuesday evening, the school board approved a one-year contract with Pinder for the interim superintendent position.

The superintendent-to-be gave an overview of a five-year plan for the development of local education that was adopted within the last year. The county’s schools are now accredited with Cognia; they are expanding their VPK program and developing initiatives for the recruitment and retention of talent. The tenets of this plan are “student success, talent management, a safe and healthy learning environment, community connection, fiscal transparency, and capital planning,” Pinder noted.

Goals for growth include the expansion at Eastside Elementary and building a “flex building” between Weeki Wachee High School and Winding Waters. Only the first phase is currently approved, and there are plans to eventually build a school.

Recruitment: The HCSD is “the first to develop an innovative solution to attract and retain talented educators,” Pinder’s presentation stated. Following the success of the Associate Teacher Substitute program, districts across Florida have also begun to adopt similar models.

Pinder delved further into workforce expansion regarding certificates and other such programs in the county’s grade schools. His team is working to make it so that recent graduates are immediately ready to join the workforce. By aligning the community’s needs with programs focused on areas that pay well, the county should be able to retain talent more easily.

One way the county is planning to execute this plan is through the building of the Wilton Simpson Technical College. Pinder and the HCSD are excited to open the $9.3 million technical training complex shared by PHSC and the Hernando County government. Pinder shared an exciting development on Wednesday. He is hoping that, with the help of Congressman Gus Bilirakis, the county can get a grant to put a “Space Hub” or “Incubator Hub” at the new college to help develop jobs that are transferrable to careers in space-related fields.

“We are in a unique position that companies like Blue Origin, Lockhead Martin, NASA, different entities like that are coming to us as superintendents, as leaders of school districts and saying, ‘We need your workforce. We’ve got jobs for them. We need your people, and we need your people trained this way.”
After his speech, the Chamber of Commerce presented soon-to-be interim superintendent Pinder with several certificates of appreciation, including the Hernando County Superintendent’s Award. The Chamber will hold several more events for members this month and will reconvene on July 24 for its next monthly meeting.

“I have been in this community a long time. I care about Hernando County, I love Hernando County, and I want to make sure that we continue forward. Our students get the best education possible because the connection between our school system, the businesses in Hernando County, the real estate in Hernando County are all intertwined, and we want to make it the best that we possibly can to work towards that goal,” said Pinder.

Hernando County Chamber of Commerce members Jennifer Lopez (left) and Ashley Hofecker (right) present a certificate of appreciation to newly minted Superintendent Ray Pinder. [Photo by Austyn Szempruch]
Hernando County Chamber of Commerce members Jennifer Lopez (left) and Ashley Hofecker (right) present a certificate of appreciation to newly minted Superintendent Ray Pinder. [Photo by Austyn Szempruch]

Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He's written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.
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