An advocate for providing high, quality education to all children, Sharon Contreras began her career as a high school English teacher in Rockford, Illinois, then went on to serve as a principal, area superintendent and an assistant superintendent. Throughout her tenure in Rockford, Illinois, Sharon worked diligently to implement a federal court order to desegregate the Rockford Public Schools. Sharon has also served as the Chief Academic Officer for the 52,000 student Clayton County Public Schools in Jonesboro, Georgia and the Chief Academic Officer for Providence Public Schools in Rhode Island. There she improved the graduation rate and rolled out the Providence Pathways initiative to provide high school students with greater access to career programming.
On July 1, 2011, Sharon became superintendent of the Syracuse City School District. Not only is she the first female superintendent of SCSD, but she is also the first woman of color in the history of New York State to serve as superintendent of one of the Big 5 districts (New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers). In August 2012, Sharon unveiled Great Expectations 2012-2017, the district’s five-year strategic plan. She has also successfully negotiated progressive teacher and principal evaluation systems, as well as an Innovation Zone (iZone) that provides maximum operating flexibility for the lowest performing cluster of schools in the city. Under Sharon’s leadership, SCSD secured a $31.5 million dollar grant, the largest in the district’s history, to support the underperforming schools in the iZone.
Sharon convened a Blue Ribbon Career and Technical Education (CTE) Task Force to ensure students have access to the 21st Century STEM, emerging technology and other professions and trades. She established 15 new career pathways and opened a 6-year P-TECH high school that represents a ground-breaking partnership with Onondaga Community College and MACNY to provide high-school students the opportunity to earn an Associates Degree in Electrical Engineering Technology or Manufacturing Technology. Sharon also spearheaded the creation of two other innovative schools – Syracuse Latin and the Public Service Leadership Academy (PSLA). PSLA offers four academies: First Responder/Law Enforcement Academy; Homeland Security Academy; Military Science Academy; and Entrepreneurial Academy.
Sharon has also worked tirelessly with City and State elected officials to secure passage of state legislation that authorizes $300 million in construction funding as part of Phase II of the Joint Schools Construction Board. This funding will enable the district to create 21st century educational learning environments in up to 20 schools.
Sharon has spearheaded initiatives to address not only the students’ educational needs, but their health and social-emotional needs as well. She has implemented Breakfast-in-the-Classroom and universal free breakfast and lunch programs in all schools. Additionally, she has worked closely with Say Yes to Education and Onondaga County to expand the Promise Zone program to every elementary, K-8 and middle school, to provide critical supports and resources to students with emotional or behavioral challenges. Impassioned to eradicate the school-to-prison pipeline, she recently was invited to participate in a briefing for members of the United States Congress on implementing fair disciplinary practices in schools.
Sharon currently serves on numerous Boards and Councils, including SYRACUSE 20/20, SCSD Educational Foundation, Near Westside Initiative, Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection, NYS Commissioner’s Advisory Council, Northeast Comprehensive Center, and the New York State Council of School Superintendents. Sharon is a well-regarded and sought after speaker at the national level and has won several awards for her civic and professional leadership including The Network Journals 25 Influential Women in Business Award 2015, the Interdenominational Ministers’ Alliance Drum Major for Social Justice Award; Nosotros Radio Latina of the Year Award, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Fortitude Award and the NAACP Freedom Award, to name a few.
Sharon holds degrees from SUNY Binghamton and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is an active member of numerous community and civic organizations.