Cynthia Bioteau loves the start of the school year.
When she was a child growing up in rural New Hampshire, it meant new adventures and possibilities. It also meant a new lunchbox and a new dress.
The school year still brings the same feelings for the president of Florida State College at Jacksonville. Just before the start of her first fall semester, Bioteau took part in a campuswide convocation, a ritual to celebrate the school year and one she wants to ramp up in the coming years.
“I believe the rituals of an institution give insight to the soul,” she said.
When she went to the podium, she brought a reminder of her past: a metal lunchbox, her favorite from when she was a child. It wasn’t the original, but the symbolism was there. It was time for school.
Her first several months were spent sorting through problems relating to financial aid from 2010-12, years before she arrived. In all, the school has paid back more than $7 million. Most of that has been worked through, she said.
There also were problems with past President Steve Wallace, “hiccups” as she has referred to them. Rebuilding trust within the community also has been a priority.
Almost nine months later, she’s moving forward, focusing on students, the school and the community. In that time, the college’s mission statement has been reworked and the school reaccredited for 10 years.
That day with the lunchbox on stage, she says there is a clear message.
“We’re back, back as one college,” she said. “Hope is probably the most powerful perspective to have … and we have hope.”
There are still challenges, though.
She is seeking to help resurrect the donor base for the college and will use a more personal touch, having meetings in her home.
The past rift between the administration and faculty isn’t as wide, although the two sides are in the midst of collective bargaining. Those ongoing conversations have been positive, she said. Outside of that, the relationship is growing daily.
With students, she’s largely still a new face. That can be a blessing and a
She talks to students, asks them how they’re doing, how school is going and describes herself as almost a secret shopper. After the conversation, she tells them she’s president, which can sometimes lead to a puzzled, although humorous response.
“’President of what?’ they say,” Bioteau said with a laugh.
Despite how things are progressing, she admits there is still “a lot of work to do and still a long road ahead.”
The convocation for fall semester served as a starting point, of sorts, to celebrate everything the college is and could become.
The hope. The possibilities.