Spring 2014

Sharon Contreras reforms school systems

Sharon Contreras reforms school systems
Sharon Contreras is superintendent of the Syracuse City School District.

Sharon Contreras ’91,  MA ’93, MAT ’93, had transformed school systems in Illinois, Georgia and Rhode Island, overseeing desegregation and gaining dramatic improvements in student performance. When the Long Island native was offered a chance to return to New York, she couldn’t resist the opportunity to make an impact on her home state.

For more than two years, she has led the Syracuse City School District. She is the first woman and Hispanic to serve as superintendent in Syracuse or in any of New York’s major city school districts.

“I think that speaks volumes of Binghamton University and the preparation of students,” Contreras says. “It has always prepared trailblazers and continues to do so.”

Contreras is proud of the changes that have taken place in Syracuse. For instance, the district formed partnerships that enable students to begin engineering courses in high school and seamlessly transition to an associate-degree program. Another program leads to both a Regents diploma and career credential.

“This is a new way of doing school, so we can turn things around,” Contreras says. “We can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.”

In the past eight years, Contreras says, the school system’s graduation rate has risen to 51 percent from 43 percent. Syracuse is the first district to implement the national Say Yes to Education program, which is committed to helping students achieve academic success. Every student who attends a Syracuse school from 10th grade through graduation can attend a State University of New York, City University of New York or any participating private college or university tuition-free. Syracuse is one of three districts in the nation to offer free college tuition for every graduate.

“We’ve always said it takes so much more than great teaching to provide students with everything they need to be successful,” Contreras says. “Other than being a New Yorker, Say Yes to Education is one of the biggest reasons I wanted to come here to Syracuse.”