Sharon L. Contreras, Ph.D., (Superintendent, Guilford County Schools)
Dr. Sharon L. Contreras is passionate about providing high-quality education to each child with the goal that every student graduates college and career ready.
A passionate advocate for providing high-quality education to all children, Dr. Sharon L. Contreras began her career as a high school English teacher before serving as a principal, area superintendent and assistant superintendent in Rockford, Illinois. She went on to serve as the Chief Academic Officer for Clayton County Public Schools in Georgia, as well as Providence Public Schools in Rhode Island.
Through the development of high-performing teams, Dr. Contreras’ work in those school districts resulted in improved graduation rates and access to rigorous academic programs for all students. In 2011, she became the first woman of color in New York State’s history to serve as superintendent in one of the state’s largest districts when she took over the Syracuse City School District (SCSD).
Dr. Contreras, again, made history in August 2016 when she was sworn-in as the first woman, and first Latina Superintendent of Guilford County Schools. From the moment she took on her new role, Dr. Contreras has been singularly focused on one goal – to improve the life outcomes for every single student.
Her first 100 days were characterized by a spirit of collaboration and measured action, reflective of her lifetime of preparation for the job. Upon joining Guilford County Schools, she traveled more than 550 miles to visit all schools, observed more than 1,000 classrooms, and met with nearly 100 community groups. Dr. Contreras also visited and spoke to houses of worship, met with parents and community members, as well as university presidents, chancellors, federal and state leaders, and elected officials.
A firm believer in the power of the collective, Dr. Contreras convened a Transition Team, a group of leaders assembled to research and assess the strengths and opportunities in the district. Over the course of six months, they conducted focus groups, collected and analyzed quantitative and qualitative data, engaged faculty, staff, students, and other stakeholders in interviews, ultimately organizing the Superintendent’s vision into four areas of focus: 1) School Choice, Equity and Excellence, 2) Talent Development, 3) Organizational Effectiveness for Optimal Learning, and 4) Student Achievement.
The result was a thorough and actionable list of recommendations that Dr. Contreras has been using as the foundation of Guilford County Schools’ next strategic plan. In a January 2017 interview, Dr. Contreras stated, “This is a district that must raise the bar and close persistent achievement gaps while expanding school choice and career pathways for all students.” Leading over 10,000 personnel and over 73,000 Pre K-12 students, it is clear across Guilford County, the State of North Carolina, and throughout the nation that Dr. Contreras is on track to meet the goals that she laid out upon acceptance of her role as superintendent. Already, under Dr. Contreras’ leadership, the high school graduation rate has reached 89.8 percent, the highest in GCS history. Additionally, the drop-out rate has reached an all-time low and the number of low-performing schools has decreased.
During the course of her nearly 30 year career, Dr. Contreras has won countless awards for her civic work and leadership including YWCA Champion of Opportunity Award; The Network Journal’s 25 Influential Women in Business Award; Interdenominational Ministers’ Alliance Drum Major for Social Justice Award; Nosotros Radio Latina of the Year; Delta Sigma Theta Sorority’s Fortitude Award; Southwest Community Health Center Leadership Award, Upstate University Hospital Community Leader Award; and the NAACP Freedom Award. She is also a proud and active member of The Links Inc. and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.
Dr. Contreras was raised in Uniondale, N.Y. by her parents James and Elizabeth Contreras with her nine brothers and sisters, all of whom supported and encouraged education as a means of gaining the tools necessary to lead a life of extraordinary service to others. She earned degrees from Binghamton University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison and now spends her days cultivating a remarkable legacy – leaving every school district better than it was when she arrived.