Jaime Alicea, 62

Retiring superintendent of the Syracuse City School District: ‘I’ll still be involved in the community’

By Mary Beth Roach

Q. What prompted the decision to retire? Family. My parents are in Puerto Rico. They’re having some health issues. They need some support, and I’ve got to have the flexibility that if I need to be there with them a week, two weeks, and take care of them, I’ve got to be able to do that. 

Q. Do you have other things that you’d like to do? I’m still going to be involved in the community. I’m still involved with the board of trustees for Onondaga Community College. I’m still involved with the Gifford Foundation, Golisano Children’s Hospital, Blueprint 15 and other agencies in our community. I’m still committed to our community.

Q. In your 39-year career with the Syracuse City School District, what do you see as your biggest accomplishments and the biggest challenges? We have had to deal with this pandemic and having to adjust to the needs of our kids, the needs of the community, to being able to provide remote instruction to our kids when we were not able to be in person. That has been one of the biggest challenges.

We have had a lot of successes in the district. We implemented early reading intervention programs at the elementary level. We expanded the options for our kids in the district in career and technical education. We have different programs at the elementary level, like the Montessori program, the Syracuse Latin program, the dual language program. We have options for our students from kindergarten all the way to high school. We have seen an increasing graduation rate in the district.

Q. Anything else? For years and years, we talked about the opportunity to renovate the old Central High School to bring that back. We were able to get legislation; we were able to get money allocated for that. We’re in the process of working together to have the first STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) high school that will provide services to students in Onondaga County. It’s the first regional high school in Central New York.

Q. How do you think that having come up through the ranks, like you did, prepared you for your role as superintendent? I have to give credit to a lot of mentors that I’ve had through my years in the Syracuse City School District — Manny Breland, Diane Rispoli, principals at the elementary level, teachers that I worked with, superintendents that I worked for and that I worked with during my career in the district, and people in the community. They have been there to support me since I came to Syracuse 40 years ago. I’m going to retire from the district but not from my community.

Q. Education has changed a lot over the years. How do you summarize some of the changes? Throughout the years, I have seen more technology being embedded in the teaching of our kids, and using technology as a tool to make sure that our students are ready to compete in the global economy. We have moved from the teacher just being in front of the class to using more technology, using all the resources to teach our students. It’s been amazing the work that we have done in the Syracuse City School District to provide our kids with the skills that they need to be successful later on in life.

Q. Syracuse battles a high poverty rate. In your role with the district, you’re acutely aware of that, but how can we, as a community, help the district? Poverty is a barrier, but barriers can be overcome. It takes all of us to work together to make sure that we’re supporting the students in the Syracuse City School District. People can be mentors. People can help us to provide extra support to our students by coming in to help them read a book, to listen to them. People can provide some workshops for our students, provide workshops for our staff. There are different ways that we can continue to work together. People can make donations. I’ve got to give credit to community agencies like Terakeet, the Allyn Foundation, the Central New York Community Foundation, the Boeheim Foundation and other organizations that when we had to close the schools in March 2020 made donations of laptops for our students so we were able to provide them with the technology that they needed for that.

Q. What do you see ahead for the Syracuse City School District? I see a lot of opportunities for our students. I see a lot of opportunities for our staff. We still have a lot of work that needs to be done, and for some people that work that needs to be done could be a challenge. But for me, I call that an opportunity.

Q. Do you have any words of advice for your successor? My advice is to be a good listener, a good communicator and to continue to engage all the stakeholders in the decision-making for the Syracuse City School District.