Suzanne Olivero, left, former vice principal at School No. 4, hopes to build on past accomplishments as she takes over as principal in the upcoming school year. She will be joined by Rosalia Kolibas as vice principal.
By Gary Miller
It’s a year of change at School No. 4.
Suzanne Olivero will be taking over as principal, and she will be joined by a new vice principal, Rosalia Kolibas. They will be joined by four new teachers and two new aides, on top of seven new teachers who joined the staff last year.
But for all the change, there will also be continuity. Olivero knows the school and its community well, having been a teacher and reading coach at the school, and was vice principal for the past two school years under longtime Principal Anthony Cataline, who just retired after 48 years with Linden Public Schools.
“I want to build on what Mr. Cataline accomplished here,” Olivero said. “Obviously, we’re two different people and we have two different leadership styles. I don’t want to change everything, because he motivated so many people to work; he had high expectations, and I feel the same way. Our kids deserve that.
“I want to continue to set the bar high for our staff and expect that they’ll reach it.”
Olivero said she is happy to team up with Kolibas and said their different backgrounds should complement each other well. Kolibas has been the district’s supervisor of elementary math for the past two years.
“I’m excited to work with her,” Olivero said. “It’s good because she has a strong background in math and I have a strong background in English language arts. We really need to focus on student achievement. I think the two of us will really work well together, and we’ll work with the coaches to make that our main focus.”
Kolibas, who has also been a math teacher as well as vice principal at School No. 2 and McManus Middle School, said she is just as excited for her new opportunity.
“I’m looking forward to being back with the kids and the families,” she said. “You get to work with the kids as a supervisor to some extent but not as much as when you’re in the school every day.
“And I’ve always called them ‘my kids.’ I never refer to them as ‘the students.’ Even before I had my own kids, I always thought that I want to treat them like I would want my own kids to be treated.”
Acting Superintendent Denise Cleary said the School No. 4 students are in good hands under the school’s new leadership.
“I think Ms. Olivero and Ms. Kolibas will be a tremendous team to continue the great work being done at School 4 and to raise the bar even higher,” she said. “They have each excelled in their own areas and have varied experiences. Ms. Olivero is very in touch with the School 4 students, staff and parents, and Ms. Kolibas will only enhance that connection to the school community.”
One chief focus for Olivero is to make sure that parents feel welcome and comfortable at School No. 4 in order to be a partner in their child’s education.
“Our parents want to help,” she said. “They’re not uninvolved because they don’t want to be involved, they just may not know how. They want to help their children and we have to show them how. We’ve got to work together. We can’t do this by ourselves.”
There is a growing number of English as a Second Language students at School No. 4, so the language barrier can be intimidating for parents. But Olivero, who speaks Spanish, said the staff is committed to overcoming any hurdle.
“My biggest thing is that language is not going to be a barrier,” she said. “I speak Spanish, we have many staff members who speak Spanish, we have staff members who speak Creole. We have two ESL teachers. Anyone who comes in not speaking English, it shouldn’t be a factor. Even our English-speaking staff, they’re amazing. They’ll sit through conferences using Google Translate.”
Olivero said she has seen improvement over recent years because of outreach to parents.
“I think it helped. I saw an increase in parents coming in and not feeling so discouraged,” she said. “You can tell when they walk through the door. It’s on their face when they don’t know how to communicate.”
Kolibas understands how they feel. She grew up in Guttenberg the child of Italian immigrants who didn’t speak English. She said she had to deal with school issues on her own because her parents had difficulty getting involved.
“I get it,” she said. “I have that compassion and a connection with those parents. It’s like if I go to the doctor, I want them to explain things to me in my language. We’re educators and we know all the lingo, but we have to be able to explain things to parents.”
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Among the Olivero’s other goals for the new school year:
– Visiting classrooms more often. “I feel like as vice principal you deal with so many things all day long that I felt like I didn’t visit classrooms enough. So I want to schedule myself to visit classrooms every day. I share that goal with Ms. Kolibas that I want us to be more visible in the classrooms not only for the kids but for the teachers. And it’s not a gotcha, I just want to see the good things that are going on. The teachers will appreciate it because I’m supporting them, and the kids will appreciate to, too, because they don’t just see me behind a desk.”
– Including students in the planning of family events. “The teachers do an amazing job on these events, but I want the students to have more of a role in the planning, in the behind-the-scenes. Then the parents want to come because the kids did the work. And the other kids will respond to that too. ‘I want to do something like that.’ We have a good group of kids, so I think we’ll probably get an abundant response.”
– Continued integration of technology into the classroom. “We’re very fortunate in this district to have an abundance of technology. I think we’re going to continue to develop that use. Last year I had started the initiative ‘Less paper and pencil, more technology.’ That’s what I looked for when I went to visit the classrooms at all ages, the children immersed in technology. They need to be prepared for the 21st century and that’s through technology.”
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Olivero, a native of Middletown, has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and Spanish and a master’s degree in higher education administration from Rowan University. She has an educational specialist degree from Seton Hall University, where she is pursuing a doctorate in education.
Her doctoral dissertation is on a topic that would be pertinent for schools across the state: chronic absenteeism. She is studying the reasons behind the problem.
“At this level, it’s not the kids deciding not to come to school, it’s the parents. And people make the assumption it’s because they slept in late or they just didn’t want to come,” Olivero said. “But there are other factors that we don’t even know. Loss of utilities, issues in the community, transportation, a parent gets ill and they don’t want their children walking.
“It’s been very eye-opening. Hopefully, whatever I get from this study, I can share with my colleagues. It really is an issue everywhere.”
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The School No. 4 staff showed great support for Olivero to be named principal after Cataline retired, and Olivero said she couldn’t reach her goals without their help.
“They are amazing,” she said. “I’ve developed relationships with everyone in the building to some extent, and I think that’s why I had their backing. I want them to be happy, I want them to love coming to work. It’s a very hard job, and I think if I show that I support them and I’m there for them, they appreciate it.
“They’re a great group of people. We’re like a family here.”