Photos courtesy of Dr. Robert R. Zywicki
By Steve Sears
When Mount Olive Life recently discussed the Mount Olive School District’s (MOTSD) 2021 year with Dr. Robert R. Zywicki, both pride and gratitude emanated from the three-year Superintendent of Schools, and it all hovers around the word “commitment.”
“It’s a constant commitment on the part of the teachers to the kids,” Dr. Zywicki says. “Our teachers, do whatever it takes to meet the needs of our kids. And the next level can be found in the Board (of Education), and it’s still this commitment of innovation, constantly moving forward, of constantly improving. Then there’s the parents; they’re so into the school district. The school district is in so many ways the identity of the community. So I think that that constant commitment, and that you have all of those oars in the water, really set the district apart. And, bolstered by all of that, our kids – because there’s such a commitment wrapping around them, and you know they say it takes a village – take advantage of this and compete and connect at the highest levels.”
The MOTSD, due to the pandemic, remained in January 2021 on the hybrid, cohort schedule begun in September 2020. “But in March,” Dr. Zywicki says, “we got everyone back in school. Basically, anyone who wanted to be in school could come to school at the same time starting in March. So we were really happy about that, and were really proud about that team effort to be able to do that. And continuing with that, after all the sports (seasons), we hosted the Tournament of Champions for lacrosse, and the regional wrestling tournament. We also had our spring musical production (Bright Star), and that was a success.” When the MOTSD school year ended, it welcomed its largest summer programs ever, which were primarily intervention programs, and its valuable summer ESY (Extended School Year) program was the biggest ever.
As the 2021-22 school year began, all was going successfully, until a spike in COVID cases after Thanksgiving forced the district to slip back into pandemic operations. However, it removes none of the luster and pride that invigorates the fine school district.
“I would say the other thing with the pandemic that I am super proud of is, since I first got here, we got our ‘Response to Intervention’ program up and running,” Dr. Zywicki says. “I think the thing that we have done best is that we have been providing intervention to our kids continuously throughout the pandemic. We were proactive and used all of our universal screening mechanisms and had RtI going every day, full time from March of 2020 through the summer of 2020, straight through last year, straight through the summer 2021. I’m really proud of all the teachers and all the work we did there.”
When it comes to advancing equity, Dr. Zywicki is extremely proud of the “Marauders Believe” program, which helps students with academic and developmental disabilities prepare for independence and adult life. “I think that’s a huge component,” he says. “I’m very proud that since I got here, we brought a Special Ed inclusion from K to 5, and we’ve gone full day kindergarten.” Also, the AP (Advanced Placement) incentive program, which the Mount Olive Board of Education approved in January 2020, numbered over 800 AP exams in 2021.
And then there’s the accolades and the recognition that the district has received. “We were once again ranked in the top 50 by niche.com, and our schools were ranked in the top 10% by US News and World Report,” Dr. Zywicki proudly states. Also, all six MOTSD schools were awarded a Digital School Star and earned bronze certification from Sustainable Jersey. “We’re one of only three districts in the state to have all of our schools certified, so that’s a big point of pride and shows you the commitment of our teachers and our administrators to continue innovating and adopting best practices, even with the pandemic swirling around us,” Dr. Zywicki says.
Mount Olive is also committed to having awesome facilities. Phase one of the renovation of Chester M. Stephens School took place this summer, and ground was broken on a new multisport field at the site of the old baseball diamond. Soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, and baseball will be played at the new field. “As you know,” Dr. Zywicki says, “this is a community that really supports athletics as well as the arts.”
As for 2022, Dr. Zywicki envisions the same stellar performance from the MOTSD, and even more progress. “’Response to Intervention’ is not going away,” he says. “We’re going to keep going with that. And I think for next year, there’s going to be more facility improvements when they complete the field project. We’re doing the second stage of the renovation of Chester M. Stephens School, and we actually implemented the statewide computer science curriculum a year early before we were required to do so. So, you’re going to see a lot more robust curriculum activities from the computer science area.”