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Interim Syracuse superintendent selected as Contreras steps down

Tom Magnarelli
Jaime Alicea was voted to be the interim superintendent of the Syracuse City School District by the Syracuse School Board.

The Syracuse City School Board unanimously voted for Jaime Alicea as the interim superintendent of the school district Wednesday night. Alicea has worked in the district for thirty three years, starting out as a kindergarten teacher’s assistant and moving up to most recently the district’s chief operations officer.

“It’s a great opportunity and it’s going to be a great role model for the kids in the district,” Alicea said. “They have to work hard and they will be able to realize their dreams.”

Many of Superintendent Sharon Contreras’ most vocal supporters came to the school board meeting to say goodbye as the school board accepted her letter of resignation.

“Overwhelmed, saddened, bittersweet,” Contreras said. “It’s really hard to leave a place where you poured your heart and soul into it.”

There was general agreement by the public that the district is in better shape than it was five years ago when Contreras started. Contreras thanked the community for their help in achieving high graduation rates and the expansion of pre-kindergarten classes.

But Contreras and those in attendance agreed many issues still remain in the district. Students and parents in the audience want universal transportation of students to school. Contreras said there needs to be fairer funding of school districts in New York state.

“I believe it is profoundly unfair and I believe that Syracuse can only go so far as long as that funding formula is not addressed,” Contreras said.

Contreras stepped down to become the superintendent of the Guilford County School District in North Carolina. The Syracuse Board of Education is launching a national search for a permanent replacement for Contreras.

Syracuse Common Councilor Susan Boyle said it was no surprise to her that Syracuse Superintendent Sharon Contreras has stepped down from her position. Boyle said while Contreras had a great plan for the district that Boyle would like to see happen, Contreras lacked the confidence from teachers and some in the community that she was the right leader for the district.

“We’re dealing with some really large issues in our district, state mandated and otherwise,” Boyle said. “In order to make these changes we’re going to need leadership that the people can believe in and the teachers can believe in. When the leadership says to these teachers, ‘we’re going to make these huge changes to the way you’re doing your job,’ the teachers need to believe this person and they need to believe that this person has their best interests at heart.”

Boyle said she agrees with Contreras on implementing special resources for students with mental health and behavioral issues. Boyle said the nest superintendent needs to have a sense of the specific issues facing the school district.

“A lot of transparency, a lot of communication with the public,” Boyle said. “People are going to need to be able to feel free to express their likes and dislikes without a lot of pushback. We have to have some open dialogues.” 

Boyle said the interim superintendent needs to build trust, mend some fences and smooth things over until a permanent replacement is selected.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.