Goodbye, Principal Eric Contreras

Former Principal Eric Contreras has become principal of North Shore High School after resigning from his position at Stuyvesant on July 31.

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When asked about how he felt about starting his new role as Interim Acting Principal in September 2016, former Principal Eric Contreras said, “I’m eager and excited […] I feel eager to start the work. I feel eager to see students come in on the first day, and talk to them, and get to know them.”

And after four years at Stuyvesant and four years of talking and getting to know his students, Contreras resigned from his position on July 31. He is now principal of North Shore High School in Long Island.

Contreras’s decision was influenced by a multitude of personal factors. The death of his father due to COVID-19 made him re-evaluate how much time he was spending with his own children. “The American economic system forces people […] to give up time away from their family. We’re stuck on our phone. We’re stuck at work,” he said. “Having spent time with my family during COVID affirmed how important that is.”

Though Contreras enjoyed serving as Stuyvesant’s principal, he felt that change was necessary. “One of my goals was to expand and work in the arts, and [North Shore High School has] a very robust art program. They have this sense of shared community. I appreciated that, and I had never worked for a school outside of New York City,” he said. “I've always told my kids ‘try something different,’ and with the context of everything going on, I wanted to experience that.”

The decision to leave, however, was not easy for him. “I like being a principal. I like being around students and teachers, and I like the democratic messiness,” Contreras said. “I like being in a space around that energy of high school students. At [Stuyvesant], there’s a maturity of thought and an optimism for the future and an abundance of imagination for what could be that I didn’t want to leave. I was afraid.”

This was also not the first time Contreras resigned as principal. Two years ago, he initially stepped down to become Senior Executive Director of Curriculum, Construction, and Professional Learning at the Department of Education, though ultimately decided to remain at Stuyvesant with the start of the 2018 school year. “I had made that decision [to stay as principal] last time when I was offered more money, a bigger position,” Contreras said.

From introducing Advanced Placement core science courses to underclassmen to opening the The Irwin Zahn Innovation Lab in 2018 to expanding English, history, art appreciation, and music appreciation curricula, Contreras worked to provide Stuyvesant students with more opportunities during his time as principal. “Him being a social studies teacher in a STEM school always gave him an interesting perspective in the sense that he always wanted to learn more about what it really meant to be a STEM teacher or what it really meant to be in a STEM school. He also remembered that even in a STEM school, the humanities—whether it be English or social studies—mattered just as much as the sciences and math,” former Student Union (SU) president Vishwaa Sofat (’20) said. “We saw growth in electives in almost all departments […] he always had new bold ideas.”

Assistant Principal of English Eric Grossman added, “He’s the principal who was focused most closely on the nitty-gritty of instruction […] that really mattered to me. His friendliness, down-to-earthness, approachability are unusual in a leader, and the fact that he was able to be that way while still commanding respect is a real quality.”

Having worked closely with Contreras, Grossman appreciated his considerate approach in working with the other members of the administration. “He was unfailingly equitable in both his support of individual departments and making clear the limitations the support could be,” he said. “He gave me plenty of freedom, plenty of room, and plenty of support, but he also made clear that there are limits, and he was not going to gut another department in order to serve the needs of one.”

Contreras was also attentive when working with both the student body and the school community, valuing the perspectives of others. “Because he cared so much about the school as a whole and the educational goals as a whole and not just about the position, it really made sure that he made his job about listening to other people,” senior and Acting SU President Julian Giordano said. “He made his job about consulting other people and about hearing what they all thought.”

Grossman agreed: “He’s incredibly smart [and] kind [and] values the right things and is supportive of Stuyvesant […] in every context, in every meeting I had, even when the topic might be a contentious one, everyone around the table understood that he wanted the best possible resolution for the school and was determined to be fair […] and to be kind to everybody, regardless of their position.”

Many students had their share of memorable moments with Contreras. During the International Women's Day Run in 2019, “my friend and I caught up to Contreras, who was also running, so for a few seconds, he ran alongside us, and we had a nice chat,” Andrew Smsaryan (’20) said in an e-mail interview.

Reflecting on his time at Stuyvesant, Contreras feels that his role as principal has had a positive and lasting impact on him. “I'm a better person for having served as principal at Stuyvesant, and I will never ever forget. It’s changed me—I'm a different person,” he said. “I hope to take all that and continue my own personal growth as an educator for as long as I can. I hope to do good work wherever I go and engage with similar discussions and learn.”