A passionate advocate for providing high-quality education to all children, Dr. Sharon L. Contreras made history in August 2016 when she became the first woman, first person of Latina heritage, and the second African-American superintendent of Guilford County Schools in North Carolina. Contreras is focused on one goal: ensuring that every student graduates college and career ready.

Contreras began her career as a high school English teacher before serving as a principal, area superintendent, and assistant superintendent in Rockford, Ill. She went on to serve as chief academic officer for Clayton County Public Schools in Georgia and Providence Public Schools in Rhode Island, where she developed high-performing teams and helped improved graduation rates and access to rigorous academic programs.

In 2011, Contreras became the first woman of color in the history of New York to serve as superintendent of one of the state’s largest districts. As superintendent of Syracuse City School District (SCSD), she increased access to challenging academic courses, expanded career and technical education options, and improved low-performing schools. Under her leadership, SCSD established 16 new career pathways for high school students, opening a school for gifted elementary children and two new high schools that allowed students to earn associate’s degrees in electrical engineering technology, manufacturing technology, and health-related fields.

Recognizing the population of SCSD students at risk for dropping out, Contreras, in conjunction with Say Yes to Education, expanded its Promise Zone program, providing critical supports and resources to students with social, emotional, or behavioral challenges. She introduced a new Code of Conduct and was subsequently invited to participate in a White House convening on school discipline, an opportunity through which she briefed members of Congress on implementing fair disciplinary practices in schools.

Over the course of her nearly 30-year career, Contreras has received countless awards for her civic work and leadership including: YWCA Champion of Opportunity Award; The Network Journals 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.

Contreras earned her doctorate in educational leadership and policy analysis and a master’s in educational administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also holds a master’s in English literature and English education and a bachelor’s in English literature from the State University of New York at Binghamton.