Mar 02, 2011 Ami Olson Uncategorized
In two separate receptions, the Syracuse community was introduced this week to the two finalists for the top spot at the Syracuse City School District.
The first candidate for the superintendent position, Bernard Taylor Jr., met with the community Tuesday March 1. Taylor is the current superintendent for the Grand Rapids public school system in Michigan, a district with about 19,000 students, 52 percent of whom graduate each year, and an annual operating budget of $210 million.
He has served as superintendent at Grand Rapids for five years. Prior to that position, Taylor held superintendent positions at Kansas City School District in Missouri and teaching and administrative positions in the Pittsburgh public school system.
The second candidate, introduced Wednesday March 2, was Sharon Contreras, the chief academic officer of Providence Public Schools in Rhode Island.
The Providence district student body is about 23,500, the graduation rate is 68 percent and it’s annual operating budget is more than $395 million.
By comparison, the Syracuse City School District maintains a student population of about 20,000, an annual operating budget of $354 million, and a graduation rate of around 50 percent.
Each candidate spoke for about 30 minutes during their respective receptions, followed by an informal opportunity for community members, parents and district employees to chat with the candidates and provide feedback to the board of education.
After attending both receptions, Freddie and Lisa Wade were impressed with both candidates but felt Contreras offered more specific plans for Syracuse’s future.
“They were two very good candidates,” said Freddie Wade, a technology teacher at Clary Middle School. “But there was more meat to what she [Contreras] said.”
Both Freddie and Lisa work for the district and their son is a seventh-grader at Roberts K-8.
“His love for the students was clear,” said Lisa Wade. She works in the central administrative offices for the SCSD. “He understands the value Say Yes has in the community,” she added.
As for Contreras’ emphasis on community involvement, “that’s key,” the Wades agreed.
Quanasia Eiland, a junior at Corcoran High School, also appreciated Contreras’ focus on the community’s responsibility to nurture students.
“If the community was more involved already, it wouldn’t be as bad as it is,” she said. She said putting high-quality teachers in the classrooms — one aspect both candidates touched on — is a top priority. School is not interesting enough to keep kid’s attention, she said, and they end up leaving school during the day and out on the streets.
Quanasia was less subtle about her preference in candidate:
“He was all about games to me,” she said. “She’s more serious about what she’s going to do.”
While the superintendent will not be chosen by popular vote — the decision is up to the board of education — public opinion seemed to be leaning toward Contreras Wednesday night.
Her speech did not receive as many chuckles as Taylor’s passionate but humorous address, but about 20 members of the crowd responded to Contreras with a standing ovation.
According to 24 Hour News 8, a TV news channel in Michigan, the Syracuse board of education expects to make a decision within two weeks.
The Syracuse City School District Board of Education meets next at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday March 9 in the central office at 725 Harrison St. The meeting is open to the public.
See next week’s issue of The Eagle for more on this story and the next steps in the superintendent selection process.