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Syracuse schools superintendent loses support of teachers

Syracuse's public school teachers have overwhelmingly said they no longer have the confidence in Sharon Contreras to lead the city's school district.

The president of the Syracuse Teachers Association, the union representing 2,800 teachers in the district, kicked off what turned into a lengthy and raucous board of education meeting Wednesday evening at Dr. King Elementary School.

"Despite our assurances that things will improve, our concerns have been ignored and the district is clearly heading in the wrong direction," Kevin Ahern said, between cheers and yells from the hundreds of teachers and parents in the crowd.

Ninety-five percent of the 2,300 teachers that voted this week supported the "no confidence" resolution. It's the first time the Syracuse teachers' union has taken the action, though it's largely symbolic. 

Safety within the schools and "inept implementation" of teacher evaluations and new education standards pushed the union to this point, Ahern said.

"By your inactions," Ahern told the school board, "these conditions have been allowed to continue. Through your acquiescence, the superintendent has been allowed to do whatever she sees fit."

Contreras remained stoic during the remarks.

About a hundred teachers walked out with Ahern following his remarks. It then took several minutes for the gymnasium to calm down.

Credit Ryan Delaney / WRVO
Hasan Stephens hold signs in support of Superintendent Sharon Contreras.

Dozens of parents and community leaders held signs and spoke in support of Superintendent Contreras during the three hours of public comments. 

"She's an agent for change and that's what we need for our kids," said Hasan Stephens, a community activist.

Many pointed out that some of the problems facing the district have roots far beyond Contreras' three years as head of the school board.

Contreras read a prepared statement at the meeting and did not make herself available for questions from the media. She said:

The feelings expressed by STA members through this action are understandable given all of the stressors that our teachers are facing – the mandated implementation of the common core and new evaluation systems, as well as the scrutiny surrounding student behavior and discipline. I remain 100 percent committed to continuing to work with and support our teachers and staff as we strive to prepare every student to graduate from high school and lead successful lives.

Credit Ryan Delaney / WRVO
Max Ruckdeschel, a school board member.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner also said the concerns of teachers are "understandable." She said in a statement she will bring Ahern and Contreras together to "begin conversations that I hope will lead everyone back to common ground."

Last month school board member Max Ruckdeschel surprised fellow members when he said he'd lost confidence in Contreras over her appointments and hiring.

Wednesday evening the board issued a joint statement saying it is "a complex issue and there are a number of factors that need to be considered." The board supports the work it has tasked Contreras to do, commissioner Bill Bullen said, but he would not take a stance on Contreras' status.