Thursday's swearing-in ceremony marked a pivotal moment for the School District of Manatee County.
Cynthia Saunders, previously the deputy superintendent of instructional services, is officially the new superintendent. In a district where both grades and finances are improving, it would seem she is poised for success.
Voters approved the extension of a half-cent sales tax in 2016. They went on to approve a one-mill increase on property taxes in March, allowing the district to offer competitive salaries. And after being a C-rated school between 2012 and 2014, the district maintained a "B" grade for the last two years. All eyes are now on the "A" rating.
"I know that the foundation has been laid by my friend and my mentor of more than 20 years," Saunders said, referring to Diana Greene, whose last official day as superintendent is Saturday.
Saunders and Greene traveled to Manatee in 2013, when they both left administrative positions in the Marion County school district. Greene will take over as superintendent of Duval County Public Schools on Sunday.
With support from the school board and county residents, Saunders will harness her knowledge and youth-oriented spirit to further Manatee's schools, Greene said during the ceremony.
"It's not about me and it's not about Ms. Saunders," she said. "It's about the children and the people who help infuse knowledge."
"Interim superintendent" is not a job description that exists under Florida law. Though Saunders is officially the superintendent, she is only meant to serve until the district finds someone to permanently fill the position.
According to her contract, Saunders will make $15,500 per month, and she is barred from applying for the permanent role. The search process could take a year or more, especially since three school board members are up for re-election.
After first serving Manatee as the executive director of secondary schools, Saunders then earned the title of deputy superintendent. There are no immediate plans to fill that position, she said on Thursday.
She offers nearly three decades of experience, having served as a teacher, principal and district administrator throughout the state and even the world. Saunders taught mathematics in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, from 1991 to 1993, according to a biography on the district website.
Circuit Judge Brian Iten oversaw Thursday's swearing-in ceremony as Saunders' husband, George, held the Bible. Saunders then shifted focus to her former boss and longtime mentor, Bobby James, who currently serves as a school board member in Marion.
"I would like to congratulate the board, because you picked a winner," James said.