About Our District
Chassidy Weaver - 3rd Grade Teacher, Porter Elementary School
Chassidy is a lifelong Syracuse resident: She graduated from Fowler High School and went to Syracuse University, where she earned her degrees in inclusive elementary education and early childhood education. After teaching at a local public charter school for two years, Chassidy joined Porter Elementary School, part of the district’s Innovation Zone (iZone), in 2013.
My Students Are Growing
I feel successful when my students are achieving their academic goals. They may not be on level yet, but they are growing at a rate that will put them on track. They respect me, and I respect them as learners.
I use students’ data to drive my instruction: What have they done well? What are their challenges? We also let students know about their scores and talk about what we expect from them. We set goals both as a whole class and individually. I appreciate that we have this assessment to see where my students are so I can focus. It’s exciting.
I Feel Like Part of a Team
The staff at my school is very welcoming. At my old school, the environment was competitive, but here, everyone works together. Our principal calls us a family, and we definitely try to help one another.
My teammates are amazing. I have a veteran teacher who observes me once a week and sends me immediate feedback. She answers any questions I have on instruction and makes sure that my lesson plans are meeting our new standards.
And diversity is a key thing. The district is hiring more diverse teachers – a good mix of Syracuse natives and people from outside the area – and setting them up to make a difference.
Melissa Scerbo - Special Education Teacher, Salem Hyde Elementary School
A Syracuse native, Melissa “fell in love with urban education” while studying to be a teacher in nearby Rochester. After graduation, she moved back home and began her career as a Teaching Assistant in Syracuse at Salem Hyde Elementary. In 2008, she joined Franklin Elementary as a Special Education teacher, where she taught fifth-grade students with learning disabilities, both in regular education classes as a consultant teacher and individually as a resource teacher. In 2014, Melissa was able to return to Salem Hyde Elementary; this time as a Special Education Teacher teaching fifth-grade students with learning disabilities.
I Want To Ensure That All Students Are Successful
I work with a partner teacher in a classroom where our students with special needs learn with other students. We have several students with learning disabilities and one with autism. Our goal is to make sure that you can’t tell who’s who. We accomplish that by working with small groups and seeing every student in the class.
I don’t want anyone feeling singled out. We want everyone to feel successful where they are. We always tell them, “We’ll never get upset if you’re trying your hardest.”
We do a lot of goal-setting with students. It’s been great to have students monitor their own progress, and seeing how much they improve helps me know that I’m doing my job.
We Have a Vision for the District
We have an extra hard job. With the Common Core curriculum, there’s a lot to teach, and it’s often far above where our students currently are.
But our principal has high expectations for kids and that trickles down to the staff. She’s had us do a lot of new things – like differentiating instruction or trying new ways to engage students – which have been difficult, but they’ve helped. These high expectations are important if our students are going to get a fair shot at success.
And the superintendent has really communicated the message about becoming the most improved urban district. That’s always in the back of everyone’s minds, and having that vision keeps everyone on the same page.
Eva Williams - Principal, Van Duyn Elementary School
Eva began her career in education as a college admissions counselor with the State University of New York. It “pulled at her heart” that few Syracuse students ever made it to the colleges where she was employed. Thus began her journey from higher education to secondary and, later, elementary education. Eva spent five years as a guidance counselor with the Syracuse City School District before stepping into a principal position at Van Duyn Elementary School, a turnaround school in the district’s Innovation Zone (iZone), in 2013.
We're Changing Our Students' Mindsets
Van Duyn is the “Home of the CHAMPS: Courageous Hardworking Achievers, Motivated Persistent Scholars.” Our goal is to develop students who are academically and socially successful. I’m proud that our students are buying into the fact that they are CHAMPS – and working towards that goal.
Our mission includes changing our students’ mindsets about school and creating an innovative and welcoming learning environment. A longer school day affords us extra time for academic and social enrichment activities that strengthen both our students’ skills and our school community. There is focus and stability in the classrooms; our students’ mindsets are shifting from compliance to engagement.
I want to help students to have a big life, and you can’t do that without a quality education.
Everyone Has a Role in Making Change Happen
Everyone has something to offer the world to make it a better place. I believe it will take all the talents in our “village” to educate our children. Through intentional collaboration, administrators, teachers, parents and community members are reshaping education so that we can better serve all of our students.
On my first day of school as principal of Van Duyn, we had about 100 volunteers welcoming our students back. We’ve worked together to continue that kind of enthusiasm. It is outstanding to work here in a community with people who have the same vision for students and spirit to make a difference.
Sam Barber - Principal, Ed Smith K-8 School
Having grown up in Syracuse, Sam always wanted to work with the city’s schools. He began his 20-year career in education as a teacher in what was then called Franklin Magnet School of the Arts. After teaching students from kindergarten to fifth grade and serving as the Magnet Coordinator, he decided to become an administrator, working as an Assistant Principal at both Franklin and Dr. King Elementary Schools. Sam joined Ed Smith K-8 School as the principal in 2012.
We Are Striving To Be the Best
The vision for our school is posted when you walk in: “To be the most improved school in the district, where every child learns and grows.” We regularly reinforce the message. We celebrate success. The kids are always eager to tell me how well they’re doing.
Last year, we had the highest English Language Arts scores in the district. That really invigorated the staff. But the work isn’t finished: We are determined to provide the best education for all students, based on their individual needs.
I’m proud of my students and teachers for accepting the challenges of these new standards and rising up to meet them. There’s dedication and hard work every day. It’s that type of school where everyone encourages each other to be the best.
Syracuse Is On the Cutting Edge
Our Superintendent is putting us on the forefront. Because SCSD has done so much work to improve, we’re being looked to as a model. We have new curriculum, a way to track data and a new teacher evaluation system. Many districts are struggling to begin to implement these. We’ve done it; now, we’re looking at how we can do it better.
If you come here, you will be supported and be on the cutting edge of education. It’s a great place to work. I’ve had offers to leave the district, but I’m dedicated to this city and believe the work we’re doing is making a difference.
James Nieves - Vice Principal, Westside Academy at Blodgett
Originally from Puerto Rico, James was teaching Spanish to native speakers when he had the opportunity to join SCSD. Attracted by the district’s sizeable Latino population, James joined Fowler High School in 2002, where he taught four levels of Spanish and has been a staple of the multicultural school community ever since. In 2012, James was nominated for a statewide “Teacher Advisory Council” to advise the New York State commissioner on education issues. He also currently piloted a distance learning Spanish 4 class for students across the district and studying for the credentials to become an administrator. James is now a Vice Principal at Westside Academy at Blodgett.
I'm Proof My Students Can Make It
We're in a city school, which is not like teaching in the suburbs. At Westside Academy, I’m proud that we respect and engage all cultures. We have more than 30 languages spoken in the building, and one-third of our student body is taking English as a Second Language.
I identify with the students in Syracuse, and they can relate to my background. I grew up in the countryside of Puerto Rico and moved to Syracuse with two suitcases.
I want my students to know that when you work hard, it pays off in the end. As a male Latino educator, I am proof that they can make it, that they can do whatever they want to if they put their minds to it.
I Let My Students Know They're Capable of More
I have some students who are so afraid of making a mistake they won’t even try. I challenge my students not to be afraid to participate and let them know that they’re capable of much more than what they’re giving me in the moment.
I had a student for Spanish 1 who couldn’t even write “My name is.” She told me she was only taking my class as a requirement. But then she came back for Spanish 2 and started reading and writing more. She became one of my top students in Spanish 3.
Jessicah Bryan - Administrative Aide to the Superintendent
As a graduate of SCSD, Jessicah knew she wanted to work in a school environment. So in 2006, Jessicah joined the district as a typist at Dr. King Elementary, working her way up to the district’s Central Office. In 2011, she was honored to be chosen as the Administrative Assistant to former Superintendent Contreras, which gave her a view into every aspect of the district. Jessicah continues to explore those aspects by supporting Interim Superintendent Alicea as an Administrative Assistant.
We're All Working With One Goal In Mind
At the Central Office, we’re kind of the people behind the scenes. We need to be precise with our timelines, make sure budgets are accurate and get resources into schools so we can ensure that students have what they need to learn.
Here, you get the feeling of a family because you are all working for the same goal. As a product of SCSD, giving back to my community is very satisfying. We want all students to be held to high expectations and see them succeed. Every time on graduation day, when you see students cross that stage, your eyes get a little watery.
Nate Franz - Assistant Superintendent of Teaching & Learning
A lifelong educator, Nate spent nine years teaching at public charters in Washington, D.C., much of that time as a middle school science and math teacher at KIPP and E.L. Haynes, two of DC’s highest performing schools. When he moved to Syracuse in 2010, he joined the SCSD Central Office as a math instructional coach while pursuing his administrative certification. In 2013, he became the Supervisor of Math, making decisions around curriculum and assessment, creating professional development for math teachers and working with instructional coaches throughout the district. Nate is now the Assistant Superintendent of Teaching & Learning.
We're Facing Challenges Head On
In Syracuse, we faced the Common Core curriculum standards head on and didn’t shy away from the challenge. We’ve rolled them out throughout the grades and made an enormous commitment to providing a math instructional coach in every school to provide feedback and ongoing support for teachers.
We’ve also been developing a more comprehensive curriculum. We want to make sure that we give students rigorous tasks because that leads to higher performance. We need to keep high expectations because students will rise up to the level we set.
We’re pretty reflective in what we’re learning from the challenges and constantly asking how we can adjust. People have been incredibly hard-working, and now we’re working smarter.
You Can Make an Impact Here
SCSD is similar to DC but with far less spotlight. I was attracted by the Superintendent’s creative thinking and big dreaming.
There’s an opportunity for individuals to have an enormous impact at SCSD, both professionally and personally. The district is the perfect size: There’s an opportunity to complete a large-scale turnaround, but it’s small enough to see the effects of your work.
Folks come here to stay and to put down roots, which you don’t see in more transient districts. People are really committed to making the change. And the district is willing to invest in employees because they know that people are in it for the long haul.
Dr. Zheadric Barbra - Assistant Superintendent of Middle Schools
A lifelong educator, Zheadric has spent his entire career in Title I schools as a teacher, assistant principal and principal. He began teaching fifth-grade science in the Atlanta suburbs. He eventually became the principal of a middle school in rural Georgia, which under his leadership met “Adequate Yearly Progress” for the first time in five years. In 2012, he joined Syracuse as the Executive Director of School Turnaround. In this position, Zheadric oversaw the district’s Innovation Zone (iZone) schools, which were at the center of the district’s reform efforts and are piloting new strategies. Zheadric is now the Assistant Superintendent of Middle Schools.
We Must Be Willing to Try Bold Solutions
I have a very personal understanding of what it takes to inspire teachers to inspire students to achieve. My life has been touched by many situations that our students face, and I’m an example that our students can overcome huge life challenges to succeed and even excel.
Identifying the problems: That's outdated. We know what the challenges are. We understand what we've tried and how that’s worked. If something hasn't worked, then let's try some new approaches. No one new approach will ever be the magic bullet, but we have to be bold and courageous enough to try something different.
Parents and the community are starting to come around to the idea that students deserve better and are engaging with education. Syracuse is a great place for someone who is ready to say, “The children deserve better. The community deserves better.”
Things Are Already Starting to Look Different
What keeps me up at night is trying to show someone who's only seen low-performing schools that great schools can exist. Everything is different from the moment you enter. The way we answer the telephones is different; what you hear in the halls is different. The same students who might have been considered disorganized and disrespectful are coming into schools ready to learn. We’re trying to convince people it's real.
If you’re a person with the passion to do this work in spite of the challenges, then this is the place.
Dean DeSantis - Chief Operations Officer
Raised in Syracuse, Dean had taught for seven years in a suburban school when he realized that the city was where he could really make change. During his 22-year career as a principal in SCSD, he transformed four struggling schools – and saw dramatic improvements in student performance. In 2013, he brought this rich experience to the Innovation Zone (iZone) where, as the Director of Operations, he monitored the progress of the seven turnaround schools and coached their principals. In 2016, Dean became the Chief Operations Officer, ensuring all SCSD buildings provide a safe, secure, clean and healthy learning environment for all students.
It Starts With Great Teachers
There’s no magic wand for transforming a school. As a principal of a struggling school, I tried to put the best possible people in the best positions. I believe all students can learn if you have quality teachers teaching them. As a school leader, you must find the right people, place them in the classroom, provide the resources they need and then allow them to teach.
We’ve provided a framework for positive classroom management and given teachers access to assessments and data to measure student mastery. Teachers also have the support of instructional coaches. Teaching can feel like a solitary job. Now, if teachers have questions on instruction, they can ask a coach to assist them in a non-threatening environment. All those pieces are helping us move forward.
You Can See the Progress
Our schools are beginning to see significant transformation. Our teams have created very warm, positive school climates where students want to be each day. Schools operating on the extended-day schedule are allowing teachers to get to know their kids on an individualized basis and more easily tailor instruction to better meet their needs.
Schools are also engaging parents and families. They’re reaching out to parents every week through positive messages because, too often, calls from school are negative. By changing that paradigm and developing those relationships, parents are becoming more invested.
We have a long way to go, but the changes are already starting to have a positive effect. It’s an exciting time to work here.