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      UPDATE: Syracuse School District chooses next superintendent

      Bernard Taylor

      Update, 8:00pm:

      The Syracuse Board of Education plans to announce Sharon Contreras as the next superintendent at its meeting on Wedneday at 6pm.

      At that time, the board expects to approve a 3-year contract with Contreras. Her first day on the Job will be July 1.

      Updated Monday, March 14th at 6:15pm:

      The search for a new superintendent in Syracuse is down to one candidate.

      Bernard Taylor has withdrawn his name as a candidate, and will stay in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Taylor is current the GRPS superintendent.

      Taylor released a statement saying "After much prayerful reflection and thanks to a lot of support and encouragement locally, I have decided to withdraw my candidacy for the Syracuse superintendent position...While it was a unique professional and personal opportunity, it is clear to me that my calling is -- and remains -- right here and right now."

      Taylor was one of two candidates for superintendent in Syracuse. The second candidate to be introduced to the public earlier this month was Sharon Contreras, of the Providence, Rhode Island school district.

      We have reached out to the Syracuse City School District and school board members for comment. Stay with NBC3 and CBS5 News, along with for updates.

      Wednesday, March 2nd:

      The two finalists vying to lead the Syracuse School District have both stopped in Syracuse, and now the tough decision making process really begins for the School Board.

      Dr. Bernard Taylor Jr. and Sharon Contreras are both up for the tough task of taking control of the district. One of them will be stepping in as Superintendent, as the district faces some big challenges. Right now, it's working through a budget that closes a $60-million gap.

      Tonight, the board of education held its first meeting since the finalists visited Syracuse, meeting behind closed doors with the districts lawyer, and began debating the decision. Up until now, Say Yes to Education and Cascade Consulting scouted the candidates to bring to the board.

      "Everyone has their own opinion, which is why we have a board and not one person making the decision. So we have our list of characteristics, we'll listen to all the input from everybody and we'll go from there," said Board President Richard Strong.

      Strong says they are looking for a candidate that knows how to improve student performance, in an urban district that teaches 21,000 students. Plus someone who is able to build communication and consensus within the district.

      The board says both Contreras and Taylor are strong contenders making the decision a difficult one. "That's a really good problem to have. We're happy the way things are moving along," said Strong.

      The school board says it hopes to have a decision made by next week.


      Superintendent candidate Sharon Contreras said she was impressed by how strongly the Syracuse community feels about education. She had a long day of meetings with the School Board, the Mayor and Syracuse University's chancellor and it capped off with a chance to make her case for the superintendents job to parents.

      Sharon Contreras is familiar with the challenges of a large urban school district. She's currently the Chief Academic Officer for the 24,000 student Providence School District and says in her experience districts need to find creative ways to support teachers and give students motivation if they want to improve graduation rates and test scores.

      "I believe education is the only way to ensure our students have a high quality life, choices in life access to democracy and this is my passion," said Contreras. "I am a lifelong educator."

      She received a warm welcome from the crowd of parents and educators at Corcoran High School tonight. Contreras didn't shy away from the challenges urban school districts can face but her optimistic attitude had several parents believing she could make a difference.

      "We've been in this rut too long and we need some creative, some hard thinking as well as some motivated people other than who's at the table now to make things change," said parent Homer Davis.

      Contreras's approach was notably more low key than the other finalist, Dr. Bernard Taylor but several parents who saw them both said the district had a tough choice to make.

      "They had different styles and ways of going about it but I think they were both very positive and had a great deal of experience that would well serve the community," said former teacher Evelyn Williams.

      Contreras is no stranger to tough school budgets. Her current district, Providence, recently sent a warning to every teacher in the district that they could be laid off.

      For more on the Syracuse City School District, click here.