By Cheryl Conway
As one of the youngest residents to be elected to serve on the Mt. Olive Township Board of Education, Nolan J. Stephens will bring an inside perspective regarding the issues and needs of the school district when he begins his three-year term next week.
Stephens, 19, is set to be sworn in at the Jan. 6, 2020, Mt. Olive Twp. BOE meeting, along with incumbents William Robinson and Anthony Giordano. Receiving 2,092 votes in the 2019 November Primary Election in his first race for office, Stephens will be replacing Brian Schaechter.
As a June 2019 graduate of Mt. Olive High School, Stephens knows first-hand today’s issues facing Mt. Olive students and the local school district and looks forward to making an impactful difference by sharing his ideas.
“I think a lot of the board members don’t know what’s going on inside the building,” says Stephens, a student at County College of Morris in Randolph. “I could be an inside view for them.”
While running for a school board is usually not a main priority for most high school graduates, Stephens made it one of his while attending college and working on his family farm.
“I’m 19 going on 40,” Stephens says of his view of himself. “I’m very mature for my age. I thought I could be a help. Ever since I was a little kid, I couldn’t wait to help the community; one of the places is the school district, a community all around us.”
He says, “When I started my senior year, I was interested in it.” He “wanted others to enjoy high school; I thought I would be a fresh face to the board.”
To run for the school board, candidates must be residents and be 18 years old or older.
Since the history of the Mt. Olive BOE, Stephens is the second among young board members to win a seat.
“There was another young board member whose name is Jairo "Jay" Jimenez who graduated from Mt. Olive High School, June 1992 and served his first term as a board member 1993-1996 and the second term 1996-1999,” says Kay Van Horn, secretary to the superintendent with the Mt. Olive School District.
Stephen’s decision to run for school board may also be in his blood. His grandfather, the late Chester M. Stephens, was superintendent of the Mt. Olive School District for 35 years and there is school named after him.
Says Van Horn, “Mr. Stephens' years of service as the Mt. Olive Township School District Superintendent were July 1, 1957 through January 19, 1992. Chester M. Stephens Mt. Olive Middle School was officially named on October 24, 1993. This plaque is now at CMS Elementary School which opened September 2001.”
Chester Stephens was involved “when the district was growing very fastly,” says Stephens, adding that his grandfather also worked as a teacher then principal in the district before superintendent.
“Mr. Stephens taught in the Hopatcong School District Middle School and High School English and then became a principal of the Flanders-Budd Lake School,” confirms Van Horn.
Goals In Mind
There are a “lot of issues that I want to address now that I’m on the board,” says Stephens.
Vaping is one of those issues.
“As a senior, you can see it around you,” he says, adding that it is a major problem. From being around it, Stephens says he has a “young perspective where this is and how to address it, maybe in different ways,” than the current board members.
Vaping “still is an issue,” he says, and “not as many know the affects,” adding that a 16-year-old recently underwent a double lung transplant as a result from vaping.
Another goal of Stephens is to grow the agricultural program in the school district and provide scholarships to students who plan to pursue agriculturally based programs.
“Agricultural-based programs are dying,” says Stephens. “Either they don’t know about farming or they never had a time to try it.”
While the district does offer some agriculture-based classes, Stephens suggests those that offer “more hands-on activities” as it pertains to agriculture such as growing own plants outdoors.
Stephens would also like to see more offerings in arts and says there is a “need to keep up with” technology. “Twenty years from now will be more and more engineering jobs,” reasons Stephens.
“Painting, music, art…need to keep up with that,” he says, suggesting to “upgrade classrooms and get more resources.”
Encouraging more interaction with students and the board is another goal of Stephens.
“Their voice and opinion do matter as much as ours do,” says Stephens about students. “either they are afraid to [speak out] or they just don’t care.”
When Stephens was a student at Mt. Olive High School, he says “I would go to the board meetings, would take notes. I would speak to my principal to give him more ideas of what was going on. I went because I wanted to know.
“There were times I’d want to speak up to the board,” says Stephens, but admitted that it was more comfortable to speak to board members individually rather than in public at the meetings.
Homegrown is one way to describe Stephens not only because he is a life-long resident, but his ancestors date back to living in Mt. Olive for hundreds of years. The Stephens family dates back seven generations, as one of the founding families that established the town, and still operate a historic farm on Flanders-Drakestown Road in Budd Lake.
“Stephens Farm has existed since early colony times in the 1700s,” says Stephens. “I have worked on my family’s farm since I was young, but as I have gotten older, I do more and more.” Stephens still lives in the historic farmhouse he has lived his entire life. When he is not at CCM studying political science, he works on the farm planting hay, sweet corn, pepper, tomatoes and other crops.
He hopes to work in government in the future, but that can change.
“When you go to college, you get a broader view,” says Stephens, adding that he is “now getting a taste of everything as you grow.”
There is something about Mt. Olive that has simply grown on him.
“We know each other,” says Stephens. “We always look to upgrade ourselves and work harder in everything that we do.”
As far as the schools, he says, “We have very wonderful teachers and administration.”
When he was a student in the district, he says, “Everyone gave above and beyond. They took their own time to make a student acknowledged. Everyone was specially treated---motto no student is left behind.”
Looking forward, he is enthused for what comes next.
“I was excited, and I still am,” he says when he learned that he received enough votes to win a seat on the school board. He is “thrilled to get my chance to work with an astounding board that we have in the district. I am hoping to get the work done in my term.”
The local Chabad and synagogue joined in their efforts last week to kick off the first night of Hanukka with a public menora lighting, Jewish songs, festive food and enlightening words about the celebration.
About 25 people gathered at the Mt. Olive Senior Center Sunday, Dec. 22, at 6:30 p.m. – the first night of Hanukka, for the free community event. The Chabad Jewish Center of Northwest New Jersey-Western Region and Temple Hatikvah in Flanders sponsored the event with the support of Mt. Olive Twp.
Attendees filled their tummies with delicious potato latkes and frosted donuts, and their minds with greater meaning about the holiday.
Rabbi Yaacov Shusterman of the Chabad Jewish Center spoke about the significance behind the miracle of the oil lasting for eight nights, and why celebrate for eight nights.
“They found only enough oil to last one night,” says Shusterman, about the historic story of the Macabees, described as “a small band of faithful but poorly armed Jews” who fought against the Greeks. The “miracle was seven nights,” says Shusterman, so “why eight nights? Tonight shouldn’t be anything special” regarding the first night of Hanukka.
Shusterman says the celebration includes the first night because of “the fact that they didn’t give up to look.” One miracle is that the oil lasted eight nights rather than just one night, and that “they didn’t give up; they looked and they looked.”
From this there is a lesson, says Shusterman.
“We should never be complacent where we are in our life,” says Shusterman. “We should never say we are good. We should always try to search more, do more light.” For a person who embraces their Judaism that can mean hanging a mezuza on his or her door or lighting Shabbat candles.
“Always connect to our traditions,” says Shusterman. “It’s so rich. You should always continue to strive, to look for it,” to search for the oil.
Rabbi Dr. Daniel Zucker of Temple Hatikvah spoke about the Shamas candle, or ninth candle on the menora, and why light two candles on the first night of Hanukka instead of just one.
“It’s there, it’s not holy,” says Zucker. “It’s going to light the other one.”
He spoke about the “great importance” of lighting the single match to dispel the darkness.
“Think if you have two,” says Zucker. “We shouldn’t celebrate if we are alone.”
Zucker tells about the time when he started as a rabbi in his first congregation in Tennessee 41 years ago. He and his members were communicating to a Jewish man in Soviet Russia who was exiled from Moscow.
“He had a little bit of oil, he saved some potatoes,” carved a hole in the center, had a wick and made a menora, explains Zucker. But then he didn’t hear from him for about six months and feared he got sent to a gulag, or labor camp.
Next time they heard from him, he was safe in Israel.
“We want to share the miracle,” says Zucker, “that it happened. We have to shed the light. Our job is to spread the light.”
Standing in for Mt. Olive Twp. Mayor Rob Greenbaum, who could not make the celebration this year, were Council Members Joe Nicastro and Alex Roman.
“We welcome you all here,” says Nicastro, who helped in the lighting of the menora. “We wish you a Happy Hanukka.”
In a game to guess how many dreidels were in a jar, one young attendee named Nicholas, won a box of Hanukka cards.
“Send them to 18 people,” says Fraida Shusterman, co-director of the Chabad, to help shed the light of Hanukka.
Movies And Tax Prep At The Library
Mt. Olive Public Library presents “Movies at the Library,” in its Gathering Room on Tuesday, Jan. 21, at either 1 p.m.-3 p.m. or 6 p.m.-8 p.m. for the movie “Downton Abbey,” a movie based on the esteemed TV series.
The beloved Crawleys and their intrepid staff prepare for the most important moment of their lives, a royal visit from the King and Queen of England.
Registration requested. Call 973-691-8686 Ext. 106 or go to www.mopl.org to register.
NORWESCAP will once again offer free income tax assistance to senior citizens, disabled, and income eligible New Jersey residents at Mt. Olive Public Library.
Tax assistance is offered beginning Thursday, Feb. 13, 2019 and runs every Thursday through April 9 from 10 a.m.-3:15 p.m.
There will also be appointments available on the following Saturdays: Feb. 22; March 7; and March 28 from 9:30 a.m.-1:15 p.m.
Tax assistance is offered by appointment only! Appointments this year will NOT be made through the library!
To make an appointment, call NORWESCAP at: (973) 784-4900 Ext. 3502. The library will still provide access to tax forms and instructions, reference materials to help demystify the tax filing process, and online access for e-filing.
NORWESCAP is a private, non-profit corporation established to serve the low-income population of northwest New Jersey. The agency employs about 300 persons, both full and part time, dedicated to housing development, energy conservation, child care, Head Start, volunteerism, and much more. Community Action remains an important local resource for families with NORWESCAP and other agencies across the state demonstrating their cost- effective service delivery method which creates thriving communities.
The Morris County Board of Freeholders plans to hold its 2020 annual meeting on Friday, Jan. 5, at 6 p.m. in the Freeholders’ Public Meeting Room in the County Administration and Records Building, in Morristown.
Newly elected freeholders Doug Cabana, Kathy DeFillippo, and Tom Mastrangelo, plus Sheriff James M. Gannon and new County Surrogate Heather Darling will take oaths of office
The Mt. Olive School District was named again to the AP Honor Roll by the College Board.
The district is one of only three districts in Morris County, 20 in New Jersey, and 250 in the U.S. to be honored.
The AP Honor Roll distinction recognizes the district’s efforts in increasing the number of students from underrepresented demographics who take AP courses, while also increasing or maintaining the percentage of students passing the exams. This is the third consecutive year in which the district has earned a place on the honor roll.
A look at the AP data reveals just how far Mt. Olive High School has evolved. AP courses were added gradually, and students responded by not only sitting for the courses but also taking the year-end exams.
From 2004 to 2019, the number of AP exams administered grew from just 85 to 667 – an increase of nearly 700 percent. The passing rate has increased as well. The addition of three AP courses for the 2019-2020 school year- human geography, computer science principles and psychology- brings the total number of AP offerings at the high school to 28.
The Mt. Olive Board of Education has made concerted efforts to encourage students to challenge themselves with high-level courses. Last year, for example, an AP incentive program was implemented so that the cost of the AP exams would not dissuade students from enrolling in AP courses. For students who register and pay the College Board fee for one exam, the district pays the registration fees for all additional AP exams. The College Board charge for most exams is about $95 but some can cost as much as $142.
“The AP Honor Roll distinction is a direct result of the AP incentive program that was approved by the board last January, the dedication of our amazing AP teachers, and most importantly the hard work of our AP students,” said Dr. Robert Zywicki, superintendent of schools. “This year, fewer school districts were recognized because the criteria were much more stringent, making it incredibly difficult for districts to make the list in consecutive years. Everyone in the school community should celebrate this achievement.”
CCM Virtual Reality Program Provides Real-World Training
Students enrolled in a Forensic Science or Investigative Function class at County College of Morris (CCM) in Randolph recently were engaged in a crime scene as close to real-world as they could get through a capstone project utilizing virtual reality.
After months of classroom learning on how to approach a death scene and determine what evidence to collect, CCM students were ready for a unique lab experience called The Virtual Crime Scene Capstone project created by CCM professors.
The capstone project is the result of an interdisciplinary collaboration between Professor Brian Olson, from the Biology and Chemistry department; Dr. Maureen Kazaba, from the Criminal Justice department; and Professor Hrvoje Slovenc, from the Art and Design department. The “Virtual Crime Scene Capstone” takes place in a new Virtual Reality Lab developed with the support of a federal Perkins Grant.
The crime scene was constructed and captured this past summer using a 360 virtual reality camera. Multiple shots using different camera settings were taken to create a stereoscopic 3D scene. Kazaba, who is a retired detective, provided the critical and real-life staging scenario.
Olson explains that the concept of the lab stemmed from Frances Glessner Lee, known as the mother of forensic science, who created the “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death,” a series of intricately designed dioramas of death scenes. Her studies are still used today by various law enforcement agencies and in FBI training.
“Basically, Frances Glessner Lee created dollhouses of death scenes in the 1940s for teaching law enforcement how to identify evidence and determine the manner of death,” explains Olson. “What we are doing at CCM is taking a cue from Frances Glessner Lee and making studies of unexplained death inside virtual reality. Students are immersed in what an actual death scene would look like.”
The interdepartmental collaboration will continue during the spring semester with a phase two launch that will provide students with the opportunity to create their own unexplained death scenes. There is still time to register. Classes that will be part of the phase two Virtual Crime Scene Capstone project include the Photography class Narrative Storytelling in X-R, the Criminal Justice class Investigative Function and the Forensic Science class for the Spring Semester. Visit www.ccm.edu and register today.
CCM Awarded Federal Grant To Help Students With Childcare
To increase the likelihood of low-income parents completing their college education so they can build a better future for their families, County College of Morris (CCM) in Randolph is offering childcare assistance with the support of a $71,348 grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
The four-year grant, Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS), seeks to reduce the dropout rate among student-parents by providing the support that can help them to stay in college. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), parents with better access to childcare demonstrate better persistence and are more likely to complete a college degree.
Each semester, the federal grant, supplemented with $25,000 from the CCM Foundation, will provide 15 low-income, degree-seeking students taking 6 or more credits with access to affordable childcare in Morris County. Through the CCAMPIS program, CCM will utilize a sliding scale based on financial need to make a childcare subsidy payment. Participating CCM students also will be provided with intensive advising, tutoring and parenting workshops.
More than one in five college students – or 22 percent of all undergraduates – are parents, with the majority attending community colleges, according to IWPR. The majority of mothers in college also are single parents.
At CCM, CCAMPIS also will allow the college to establish stronger connections between childcare centers and its Early Childhood Education degree and certificate programs.
To find out more about the CCAMPIS program at CCM, contact the Office of Financial Aid at email@example.com or 973-328-5230.
Centenary Introduces Degree In Medical Laboratory Science
Centenary University in Hackettstown has introduced a Bachelor of Science degree in Medical Laboratory Science—the only degree of its kind in northwestern New Jersey. The program responds to skyrocketing market demand for trained professionals to work in hospitals, forensic labs, and medical research facilities. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that job opportunities in this field will expand up to 13 percent, with 42,700 more jobs to fill by 2026.
“A large number of individuals working in labs are of retirement age,” explained Dr. Craig Fuller, director of the program. “Centenary’s program provides great opportunities for students who love medicine, but don’t necessarily want to be a doctor or treat patients.”
Centenary has developed an innovative academic program and has partnered with several regional health systems to provide training on the most cutting-edge instrumentation in the industry.
“These clinical opportunities will provide our students the technical training needed to be ready to start working directly after graduation,” said Fuller. “In addition to healthcare systems, New Jersey is home to the largest concentration of biotechnology and pharmaceutical labs in the country,” added Dr. Krassi Lazarova, associate professor of physics and chair of the Centenary University Science Department. “These employers are struggling to find qualified employees.”
The University has applied for initial accreditation with the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS), an important credential that will permit Centenary’s graduating seniors to sit for certification exams with the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP).
Centenary’s medical laboratory science major is part of a broader initiative at the University to expand offerings in the health sciences. Centenary is developing plans for a new Bachelor of Science in Health Science, which could begin enrolling students as early as next fall, and a master’s program in occupational therapy has a preliminary target launch date of 2026. In response to increasing requests from student-athletes, the University is also exploring the addition of a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science. The Science Department at Centenary has had an impressive record of student education and research.
“We will draw on our strengths in the sciences to develop career focused, health science degrees to improve the lives of our students,” Lazarova said.
Centenary University in Hackettstown can now add a national ranking from Study.com to the growing list of prestigious college polls that have recognized Centenary for overall excellence and specific programs this fall
Centenary was the only New Jersey institution included in Study.com’s listing of the Best Online Business Degree Programs, spotlighting 50 online programs across the nation. The annual ranking recognizes universities for high quality business programs that are accessible and affordable. Centenary was cited for its flexible online and blended programs for both undergraduate and graduate students, including accounting and business administration degrees with concentrations in areas such as data analytics, management and social media marketing.
The recognition from Study.com is the fourth major accolade received by the University this fall. Centenary was also recently cited in rankings by “U.S. News & World Report,” WalletHub, and “NJBIZ.”
“These rankings have reinforced the pride students and alumni feel for Centenary University,” said Dr. Amy D’Olivo, vice president for academic affairs. “It’s gratifying that so many institutions are recognizing what we have known all along—Centenary offers outstanding opportunities that propel our graduates to extraordinary career success.”
WalletHub, a leading personal finance website, named Centenary the sixth best among the state’s colleges and universities. The website’s annual rankings determine the top-performing schools at the lowest possible cost to undergraduates, considering data including selectivity, student-faculty ratio, cost and financing, graduation rate, and career outcomes.
In addition, “NJBIZ” included Centenary among the top three MBA programs in the state, based on the votes of readers. The University’s third place ranking reflects the excellence of its MBA program and the high level of satisfaction of alumni and students.
Earlier this fall, “U.S. News & World Report” ranked Centenary 34th among Top Performers on Social Mobility—Regional Universities North. New in 2020, this category recognizes schools that are successful in advancing the social mobility of economically challenged students through programs that support retention and, ultimately, lead to higher graduation rates. Centenary placed sixth among the 11 New Jersey universities ranked in this category. Centenary also climbed 23 places in U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges—Regional Universities North category, placing 119th overall and eighth in New Jersey.
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Experienced journalist since 1990, living in Flanders for 22 years and covering Mt. Olive Township for the past 12 years.
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