Dr. Sharon L. Contreras is passionate about providing a high-quality education to each child. She is a teacher at heart, a transformational leader and a passionate advocate for children and education. Growing up in Uniondale, New York, with nine brothers and sisters, she learned early to advocate for her right to an excellent education. At the age of 10, she was told by her teacher she didn’t belong in the new gifted program that she knew included classmates she had tutored. After pleading her case independently, then alongside her parents, she gained a seat in the accelerated program, which changed the trajectory of her life while lighting a fire for achievement and advocacy of others.
Years later, not even the gradual loss of 95% of her hearing stopped her from breaking through barriers for herself and removing them for her students. Over the course of her 30-year education career, she has held two superintendencies – one urban and one in a county-wide urban, suburban and rural district. As superintendent of Syracuse City School District, she became the first woman of color to lead one of New York’s “Big 5” school systems and was the first woman and Latina to lead Guilford County Schools in North Carolina, one of the nation’s largest school districts with 126 schools and 10,000 employees.
A true warrior for equity, Contreras is celebrated for implementing policies aimed at closing achievement gaps and improving life outcomes for all students. In Guilford County, she helped close the graduation rate gap and vastly expanded career technical education and Advanced Placement programs, as well as access to Dual enrollment programming to prepare students and their parents for the workforce. GCS’ high-dosage tutoring initiative and high-school learning hubs, developed during the pandemic, are considered a national model for addressing unfinished learning. In 2022, the GCS graduation rate increased to 91.8%, its highest ever.
Seeing the unacceptable state of school facilities, Contreras formed a Joint Facilities Committee of the Guilford County Board of Education and the Board of County Commissioners. She testified before the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor about crumbling schools and in November 2020, Guilford County taxpayers approved $300 million dollars to begin addressing school construction needs. Motivated, Dr. Contreras led the charge to place an additional $1.7 billion dollar bond referendum before the voters to fully address the district’s facilities master plan. In May 2022, Guilford County residents overwhelmingly approved the largest individual school district bond referendum in North Carolina’s history.
Contreras was named Superintendent of the Year by the North Carolina PTA (2019), a North Carolina Regional Superintendent of the Year (2020) by the Piedmont Triad Educational Consortium and a Top 5 Finalist for the Green Garner Urban Education Leadership Award by the Council of the Great City Schools (2020). She was among Triad Business Journal’s Most Admired CEOs in 2020 and the 2022 AASA Women in School Leadership Award recipient. Contreras was named to the Business North Carolina Power List 2022, a collective report of the state’s most influential leaders. She holds multiple degrees including: a Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis and a Master of Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison; a Master of Arts, English Literature; a Master of Arts in Teaching and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the State University of New York at Binghamton.
In 2022, Dr. Sharon L. Contreras was named the CEO of The Innovation Project in North Carolina.