Sharon L. Contreras
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|Superintendent of Schools, Guilford County, North Carolina|
September 1, 2016
|Superintendent of Schools, Syracuse City School District, New York|
July 1, 2011 – August 5, 2016
|Preceded by||Daniel Lowengard|
|Succeeded by||Jaime Alicea (Interim)|
Uniondale, Long Island
|Alma mater||Binghamton University; University of Wisconsin-Madison|
Contreras earned bachelor's and master's degrees in English literature from Binghamton University, where she also earned a master's degree in English Education. In 1996, she earned a third master's degree in educational administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she has also completed work toward a doctorate in educational leadership and policy.
Contreras became a principal at age 27, in the Rockford Public Schools in Rockford, Illinois, the district where she started her career as a high school English teacher. She later served as a central administrator for the district.
Contreras' prior positions include:
- Chief Academic Officer, Providence, Rhode Island school district, 2007-2011
- Chief Academic Officer, Clayton County, Georgia school district, 2004-2007
- Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Personnel Services, Rockford, Illinois school district
- Principal, Lewis Lemon Global Studies Academy magnet school, Rockford, Illinois
- High school English teacher and Curriculum Specialist, Rockford, Illinois
With an initial three-year contract, Contreras became Superintendent of Schools in July 2011. In 2012, her contract was extended through 2016. Upon becoming Superintendent, Contreras took over a district with a graduation rate under 50 percent, a dropout rate of nearly 30 percent, a high and dramatically increasing poverty rate, and hundreds fewer positions due to significant budget cuts in each of the two years before her start. When the State Education Department identified the lowest performing schools in the state, nearly every one of Syracuse's public schools was in the lowest-performing 15 percent of schools. Contreras led the development of a 5-year strategic plan aimed at improving the schools by providing all students with equitable access to rigorous curriculum, investing in teachers and leaders, developing systems to support student success, building a district culture based on high expectations, and improving communication.
New schools, programs, and facilities
The New York State Education Department required that several historically low-performing schools be restructured due to their consistently poor test scores, graduation rates and learning environments. With Board of Education support, Contreras avoided closing the schools altogether by developing plans to phase out the underperforming schools while phasing in new, innovative schools. The following new schools were opened in the fall of 2014:
- Delaware Primary School, a neighborhood elementary school with a bilingual Spanish/English immersion program
- Public Service Leadership Academy @ Fowler, an open enrollment high school of choice providing multiple career and technical education/vocational education pathways
- Syracuse Latin School for the Gifted, a selective admissions elementary school offering a classical education curriculum
Contreras expanded career and technical education (CTE) and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs by partnering with Syracuse University, the State University of New York's Onondaga Community College, Le Moyne College and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Syracuse developed a dozen new CTE pathways in areas including computer forensics, cybersecurity, law enforcement, geospatial intelligence, and nursing. This expansion was driven by a report by a Blue Ribbon Task Force commissioned by the Superintendent with a goal of ensuring students have multiple authentic opportunities for access to 21st Century STEM fields, emerging technology opportunities, and other professions and trades.
Under Contreras, the district completed construction projects in which four schools were completely renovated at a cost of roughly $150 million. Three schools were completed on time; project costs were under budget; two schools achieved LEED Silver certification; one school won an American Institute of Architects (AIA) design award; and the overall project exceeded all Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise and EEO goals. In partnership with Syracuse, New York Mayor Stephanie Miner and the legislative delegation, Contreras secured the passage of enabling legislation another phase of construction in which up to $300 million was designated for use in school renovations.
Student discipline practices
Contreras led an overhaul of the district's Code of Conduct through a year-long, community-driven process as part of a strategy, including a groundbreaking agreement with the New York State Office of the Attorney General, to correct historical overuse and disproportionate use of suspension. Other school districts, including the New York City Department of Education, later announced similar changes to student discipline practices.
In March 2015, Contreras served as a panelist for a Congressional briefing: “From the Police Precinct to the Principal’s Office: The Challenges Facing School Districts One Year After the Release of Federal School Discipline Guidance.” The panel explored the on-the-ground efforts to reform discipline practices and the challenges facing school districts as they try to improve school climates.
Graduation rates and dropout rates
By the 2013-2014 school year, the district's graduation rates had passed 50 percent (51.1%); by August 2014 the rate had reached 56 percent. The dropout rate decreased to 16.5% for the 2013-2014 school year, down from 25.8% two years before and representing the fourth consecutive annual decrease in the dropout rate. Meanwhile, the district was recognized as one of the most effective large school districts in the nation for feeding its students, offering free breakfast and lunch to all students.
Community and labor relations
Contreras worked closely with the teachers union to develop plans for turning around the lowest-performing schools, successfully negotiating an agreement to extend the day for students by at least 180 hours per year in seven schools in 2013 while obtaining over $30 million in state education grants; five more schools extended student learning time in 2014. Contreras established an Innovation Zone made up of and serving the lowest-performing schools.
To broaden the educational experiences during extended school days, Contreras established new partnerships with community organizations to provide enrichment to students; these partners included Syracuse University, the Museum of Science and Technology, Redhouse Arts Center, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Baltimore Woods Nature Center, Syracuse Stage, Peaceful Schools, Catholic Charities and Contact Community Services.
Perceived as too closely aligned with New York State Education Commissioner John King, Jr., against whom the state teachers union had approved a vote of no confidence in April 2014, Contreras faced a vote of no confidence from the Syracuse Teachers Association in June of the same year. Contreras pledged to continue working together with all school stakeholders. Meanwhile, the union vote was questioned and criticized by many local community leaders
Often in collaboration with the teachers and administrators unions, Contreras won multiple competitive grant awards from the state and federal education departments to turn around low-performing schools, train new leaders, and expand teacher and principal leadership opportunities. She created a Peer Observation program and expanded the number of teachers served by the Peer Assistance and Review program, a district-union collaboration.
- Breidenbach (2011)
- Nolan, Maureen. (2011, March 1). "School administrator from Providence is a finalist for Syracuse superintendent's job," The Post-Standard.
- McMahon, Julie (1 July 2016). "Syracuse Supt. Sharon Contreras: I was recruited to NC job, felt timing was right". Syracuse.com. Retrieved 15 July 2016.
- Syracuse school board votes unanimously to appoint Sharon Contreras as next superintendent
- School administrator from Providence is a finalist for Syracuse superintendent's job
- Clayton News Daily. (2004, March 2). "Pulliam 'restructures' senior administration." Accessed: August 20, 2013.
- Syracuse superintendent gets two extra years on the job, donates her performance stipend
- High school graduation rates improve slightly, but gaps remain
- Drop-Out Rate Rising For Syracuse School District
- One step ahead, five steps back: Families struggle to make ends meet as poverty grows in Syracuse
- Syracuse school superintendent proposes budget increase, job cuts
- Syracuse school board votes to close Levy K-8, cut 221 positions
- Budget advisory group recommends Syracuse city schools cut 425 jobs, including 140 teachers and 150 teaching assistants
- Syracuse school budget calls for hundreds of job cuts, pay freeze
- State adds five Central New York districts, 35 schools to its "in need of improvement" list
- Syracuse school board adopts five-year plan to improve schools, student performance
- Syracuse Latin opens today, one of three new schools in the city school district
- Delaware Academy to be phased out, bilingual primary school phased in
- Syracuse School District approves phasing out Fowler HS; new academy to be phased in over 4 years
- Different Mission for Fowler High School: Public Service Leadership Academy
- Syracuse Latin School brings different learning approach
- Preparing today's students for tomorrow's careers
- What career 'pathways' will be available at Syracuse's new Public Service Leadership Academy?
- Report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Career and Technical Education - Syracuse City School District - December 2012
- Syracuse's H.W. Smith School reopens after $30 million renovation
- Meet the board that will oversee $300 million in Syracuse school renovations
- Miner, Contreras Announces JSCB II Legislation Signed by Governor Cuomo
- Syracuse Code of Conduct
- Syracuse school district names 50-member task force on student conduct
- Syracuse school board acts on attorney general's discipline report; speakers praise Contreras
- Code of conduct for Syracuse City School District gets positive reviews, mostly
- New York City Lays Out Limits on Restraints and Suspensions
- Supt. Sharon Contreras Briefs Congress and Staff
- Sharon Contreras tells Congress: New Syracuse school discipline policy works
- Graduation rates improve for Syracuse City School District
- NYSED Releases 2014 Graduation Data - SCSD High Schools Show Progress
- Report: Syracuse City School District among best in nation for feeding students
- Effective school breakfast programs
- Syracuse teachers must reapply for positions at schools that won big grants
- Five more struggling Syracuse schools will get extra learning time
- Syracuse teachers in struggling 'iZone' schools rally for change
- 'iZone' program officially launches plan to improve education in city schools
- Syracuse leading the way on reform in New York
- Syracuse Superintendent Contreras professes '100 percent confidence' in teachers after union's no-confidence vote
- Syracuse civil rights leader blasts union 'no-confidence' vote on Superintendent Sharon Contreras
- Syracuse district wins $31.5 million in grants to improve seven struggling schools
- Federal Grants Target Leadership in 'Low-Performing' Schools
- Syracuse City School District wins $2.5 million state grant
- Syracuse Schools Join National Initiative to Extend the Reach of Excellent Teachers
- Syracuse school district poised to experiment with bonus pay for teachers
- A User's Guide to Peer Assistance and Review
- "Sharon Contreras: The Broad Superindendents Academy Class of 2010," The Broad Center, Los Angeles, California
- Griffin-Nolan, Ed. (2012, April 11). "Learning Curve: Nearly a Year Into the Job, Syracuse School District Superintendent Sharon Contreras Stays Upbeat..." Syracuse New Times[dead link]
- "Syracuse Leading the Way on Reform in New York" National Center on Time & Learning
- "Raising the standard in Syracuse schools... Sharon Contreras" Syracuse Woman Magazine
- "Women and girls: Grown-ups share their wisdom with teens" Central New York Magazine[dead link]