Small Town Feel, Big City Innovations: Mount Olive Township School District Has It All

By: Sahil D’Souza

 

Matthew Robinson

The Mount Olive School District is one of the best school districts in New Jersey and takes pride in putting students first and in being an innovative district. Mt. Olive serves as an exemplar district which surrounding towns respect

and look to take guidance from. In order to maintain this excellence, Mt. Olive employs a talented group of Directors who lead the different departments and work to ensure that our standards are met and exceeded. While each administrator has had a unique experience that led to their current position, they share many similar views and backgrounds which have brought them to their current position. 

Many of the administrators have been drawn to the district because of their personal

Deborah Huffman

attachments to the school. Matthew Robinson, Director of Elementary Education, and Deborah Huffman, Director of Elementary Inclusion and Special Education PK-5, are former students who attended Mt. Olive from elementary to high school. Glenn Miller, Director of Facilities, Maintenance and Custodial Services, had children who rose through the grades of Mt. Olive schools. Miller says, “I have always loved the district and wanted to repay the district for the wonderful experience and education my children received.” 

Others came to Mt. Olive because of the reputation that the school has set. Kimberly Markus, Executive Director of

Glenn Miller

Innovation and Personnel, joined the district last year because of, “its excellent reputation and its student-first focus.”  Dr. Robert Zywicki, the district superintendent who began his tenure in 2018, said, “I was attracted to the district because of its long history of innovation and academic achievement.”  Similarly, Sharon Staszak, Director of Special Services for grades 6-12, joined the district because of the many programs that are either being built upon or created in order to help students with disabilities. It is not only the district’s reputation for prioritizing students, but also its investment in the school districts and setting an image of integrity, innovation, and prioritizing all students. For example, the district has built fantastic facilities and offers many programs for students, such as MILL for Engineering to the TV and Music productions. Dr. Susan Breton, Director of Social Emotional Learning and College Career Readiness, notes that one of her favorite aspects of the district is, “the plays, music programs and rich culture of our

Robert Zywicki

school community.” 

Kimberly Markus

Although district administrators have differing reasons for loving their district, there is one commonality that they all share: the people. Dr. Zywicki cites the students as his favorite part of the job:”Our students are at the center of every decision we make. Our kids are truly world class that compete at the highest levels academically, in the arts, and athletically.  I’m most impressed with the kindness of our students and how they care for one another and their community.” Like Dr. Zywicki and others, Dr. Brad Halien, Director of Student Achievement and Reporting, rose through the ranks from teacher to administrator over the past 26 years. He says, “All the years I’ve worked directly with the students – either as a teacher or a supervisor.  They never ceased to amaze me at what they were able to accomplish, and how they were able to make me smile.” The students are one of the most important aspects of the school: their willingness to learn and adapt helps motivate everyone involved to do their best. With the responsive students population, teachers and administrators are more

Sharon Staszak

than happy to put in more time and effort to help get the best out of their students. The teachers are also something the administrators have been proud about. The teachers are the ones who facilitate the education of students and work hard to ensure they can get the most of their students in their time together. Staszak finds that the teachers “go above and beyond each day to support our students.” Lisa Schleer, Executive Director of Personalized Learning, echoed Dr. Halien’s praise of the Mt. Olive District students, faculty, and staff. She moved from Connecticut in order to be close to her father and brother and ultimately joined

the district because, “I felt drawn to the community.  I know I made the right choice, and I feel fortunate to be here.” Mt. Olive has certainly grown over the years as more people

Brad Halien

have moved here and the town continues to expand. 

The administrators also praised the community surrounding the district. They enjoy spending their time in Mt. Olive, whether from visiting the local businesses to going to Turkey Brook Park. Yet, even as the town continues to grow, Robinson notes, “We don’t have a true Main Street or downtown area, but we still have a small-town feel. While the community has changed so much since I was a kid, it still feels the same.” Dr. Zwyciki also praised Mt. Olive’s restaurants. “MO is an awesome food town with restaurants specializing in cuisines from

Susan Breton

around the world. I try to frequent a different local restaurant each day for lunch. MO has several excellent pizzerias. I rotate through them all and have a favorite specialty slice at each one. I’m a frequent flyer at both Adams Family Restaurant and Budd Lake Diner for an early breakfast. My guilty pleasures are daa from Taste of India, falafel sandwich from Istanbul, egg salad on an everything bagel from Flanders Bagel,

Lisa Schleer

and extra hot buffalo wings at Market Tavern.” 

Overall, the administration works hard to ensure that they are able to provide the best education to the students even

during the rapid changes of 2020. For example, Dr. Halien facilitated the transfer to a new Student Information System called Realtime and worked to have the district transfer over to the new system with current and historical data for the students. The global pandemic has further disrupted the status-quo and the administration has had to quickly adapt. Dr. Breton has played a key role in the school’s response. “I spend a great deal of my time working on COVID matters and run the COVID testing clinic for the district.” This has been a difficult task, but Dr. Breton and her fellow administrators have worked hard to ensure that students are kept safe and are kept healthy. Yet, just like Mt. Olive as a town has evolved over the years (and will continue to do so), the school district will continue to get better. 

 

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