Many people know Earl Lennard as Hillsborough County's Supervisor of Elections, a job he retired from in 2012.
But before that, he spent more than four decades with Hillsborough County Public Schools as a teacher, and eventually as superintendent. Lennard is being presented with a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of South Florida's College of Education on Friday.
He says that before he ever considered working in a classroom, he wanted to be in a courtroom- as a lawyer. He taught one year at Ruskin Elementary School back in 1963 to save up for law school. But, he says things didn't work out the way he expected.
"And [I] began teaching, I knew I was hooked on teaching," Lennard said. "Because I really enjoyed it, I had a great time and I began teaching at the high school, I announced the football games. I became more active in the affairs of the student council."
For someone who didn't expect to stay long in the classroom, Lennard ended up teaching for 15 years. He remembers wondering whether some of his students would ever graduate.
“And then you see them three or five years later. They’ve got great jobs, they’re moving along at the university or college, and you think ‘Wow- this youngster,’" he said. "And then for them to say 'you’ve had a good influence on me' or 'you were the influencing factor that made me want to do this' or 'want to go to school,' or 'want to move in this career,' or what have you.”
He worked his way up the ranks to become Hillsborough County's superintendent in 1996. He was named Superintendent of the Year in 2003. Lennard said that being superintendent came with its share of frustrations. He managed the county's school system during a time of rapid population growth. He and his staff built and renovated a total of 60 schools, managing to get students out of portables, during a time when the county turned from rural to urban.
“Sometimes it was frustrating when we could not do as much as we wanted to do because obviously, we wanted to change the world," he said. "We wanted to change the world for the better, but not all the resources were necessarily there. It was very frustrating to me, when we built one school and the next year we got another 4,000 students and I was still two schools behind.”
Even as superintendent, he found time to spend in the classrooms.
"I still visited the classrooms, I felt that call," he said. "I felt a necessity to stay linked up with students.”
Lennard will be presented with a Distinguished Alumni Award on October 10, where he will give a "last lecture" speech at the USF College of Education. The award has been around since 1976.
“Well you know, he’s very friendly, very personable, very gregarious," Puglisi said. "And that’s the way he was when he was as a superintendent. Not- you know, he wasn’t hiding in his office. He was very people-orientated. And as a consequence, he was very successful as a superintendent."
Lennard felt a sense of pride when he walked into a school where the principal was his former student.
“Perhaps, I walked a little taller and felt a little better because of the influence on that youngster,” he said.
He added that the best part about being an educator was trying to make a change.
“You could create an environment that helped individuals and each of those individuals could then help the community, create a better community, a better place to live," he said. "Something that was good for the nation, and what was good for the nation was good for people.”
Lennard retired in 2005 from education. He became the Supervisor of Elections in 2010, and retired from that position after one term. He said he hopes people remember one thing.
“I just hope that they remember that I worked hard to make a change and make a difference. To make things better for those that came after me," he said, "And that together, together we can do that.”