MORRIS COUNTY — Out of the forty-one School Districts surveyed in Morris County, Mount Olive School District not only ranks as the safest school district in the county but has also gone above and beyond to meet and exceed the Covid 19 recommended guidelines. Under the leadership of Superintendent, Dr. Robert Zywicki, teachers, students, staff and parents can rest assured that safety is paramount to this Superintendent and the Board of Education.
The Mount Olive Board of Education has a student population of 4,701, an employee population of 913, and consists of 6 schools, Sandshore Elementary School, Mountain View Elementary School, Chester M. Stephens Elementary School, Tinc Road School, Mount Olive Middle School, and Mount Olive High School. The mission statement rings true: Mount Olive School District, a guiding and unifying partner in a dynamic community, educates, challenges, and inspires all learners within a SAFE, nurturing environment to discover and develop their unique abilities as literate, ethical, and contributing citizens of the world.
Dr. Zywicki realizes that in our ever-changing society, school safety has become a major concern and one that he and the Mount Olive Board of Education do not take lightly. Upon entering the district in 2018, Zywicki convened a task force, consisting of MOPD Chief Beecher, MOPD Lt. Cordileone, NJSP Sergeant Adam Drew, and NJDOE Office of Emergency Director of Security and School Safety Specialists Dr. Tom Gambino and Robert Sensei to conduct a full security audit of the entire district. Based upon the recommendations of the security audit, in February 2019 Zywikci recommended to the Board an expansion of the camera and lockdown systems throughout the district’s four elementary buildings, enhanced access control at all district facilities, and a unified security manual. According to Dr. Zywicki, “I give full credit to the Board. We presented the data on our security gaps in February 2019 and all of the gaps were addressed within the budget by September of that year.” As a result, Mount Olive was one of the first Districts to be fully compliant with Alyssa’s Law and has numerous panic alarm buttons throughout every school as well as a distinct notification system to law enforcement. All facilities also are equipped with several visual assistance (strobes) to alert the hearing impaired during an emergency.
Dr. Zywicki also recommended the hiring of a districtwide Director of Security position which was filled by retired Police Captain James Carifi. “Director Carifi has been instrumental in ensuring that all safety protocols are not only being met but exceeded to ensure the safety of those in the school district,” said Zywicki. Carifi oversees the District’s sixteen designated security officers, including ten armed retired police officers of which eight are full-time employees and two are part-time. The District provides armed officers at every school during school hours and after hours, at BOE meetings, during summer school/extended school year, and at events held by outside organizations that take place on BOE property. Every school, bus, and the BOE building all have security cameras as well as key card access points. The District has full-time SRO’s (School Resource Officers) assigned to the High School. All of the schools are equipped with scanning devices that check visitors prior to gaining entrance to the schools. All district school security staff personnel are trained in School Resource Officer Training, CPR, First Aid/Epi-Pen, AED, Stop the Bleed, and CPI (Crisis Prevention Institute).
In October 2019, Mount Olive hosted a full-scale Reunification drill. The drill simulated parents and students from nearby Roxbury High School reuniting at Mount Olive High School following an evacuation event. The 2019 reunification drill was observed by the NJDOE, superintendents from 35 school districts, and law enforcement officers from 16 jurisdictions. Mount Olive security staff members are trained every year on the security manual for the District and have portable radios that can contact the local Police Department directly. All security employees wear uniforms and visible identification cards displayed while they are working.
Dr. Zywicki also credits his “phenomenal relationship” with MOPD Chief Beecher for Mount Olive’s culture of security. “Chief Beecher is an integral part of our learning community. Besides always making MOPD officers available to support our schools, Chief Beecher volunteers his time to serve on student panels and districtwide committees.”
Health and sanitation are part and parcel of meeting the district’s top goal of “providing the safest and innovative learning environment to all staff and students.” District buses are sanitized two times per day, the playgrounds are sanitized four times per day and the school bathrooms and elevators are sanitized hourly. Every school is equipped with Merv 13 Filters for the ventilation system and UV Hepa air purifiers in the classrooms and offices. Each school also has UV light carts to disinfect large areas, thirty-five electrostatic sprayers, and twenty-six Curis Foggers that apply hydrogen peroxide solution to the classrooms.
The time and resources dedicated to health and safety are not seen as “one-time initiatives,” but rather the heart of all initiatives led by Dr. Zywicki and the Mount Olive Board of Education. The result is that Mount Olive is the leading district in safety in Morris County and is an excellent role model for other school districts to emulate.