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Latest News in Mount Olive, NJ

Mount Olive suspends superintendent. He plans to sue. Parents just want answers.

3 minute readThe Mount Olive board of education voted to suspend Superintendent Robert Zywicki on Monday, after he filed legal notice of his intent to sue two school board members for $10.2 million.Neither side is saying what triggered the conflict, leaving parents in one of Morris County's largest school districts to complain that they were being kept in the dark.Before a packed crowd that overflowed into the hallway of the district's headquarters, the board agreed to place Zywicki − who was unnam...

3 minute read

The Mount Olive board of education voted to suspend Superintendent Robert Zywicki on Monday, after he filed legal notice of his intent to sue two school board members for $10.2 million.

Neither side is saying what triggered the conflict, leaving parents in one of Morris County's largest school districts to complain that they were being kept in the dark.

Before a packed crowd that overflowed into the hallway of the district's headquarters, the board agreed to place Zywicki − who was unnamed but identified by his employee number − on paid administrative leave effective Oct. 10 and until further notice. It elevated Assistant Superintendent Sumit Bangia to acting superintendent through Dec. 31 with a monthly stipend of $2,500.

Both measures passed by an 8-0 vote. Board President Anthony Strillacci abstained because he has family members employed in the district.

In response to his expected suspension, Zywicki has filed two tort claims − legal notification of his plans to sue− for $5.13 million each against board members Antoine Gayles and William Robinson. Neither Zywicki nor his attorney, Stephen Edelstein of the Weiner Law Group, responded to requests for comment Tuesdayon the motivation behind the threatened lawsuits.

Several board members said at Monday night's meeting they were unable to comment on personnel matters, a point board attorney Marc Zitomer reiterated in an email to the Daily Record Tuesday morning.

The lack of information has frustrated community members and led to speculation in social media groups about Zywicki, who has led the district of 4,600 students for four years.

Several said Monday that they were caught off-guard by the suspension announcement. One speaker, Debbie McIntosh, said she thought Zywicki was "doing fantastic things" during his tenure at Mount Olive, including his support of special education services and guiding the district through the COVID-19 pandemic.

"If the rumors are (true) that Dr. Zywicki is bad, then I as a parent will support that. If the rumors are true that there have been several people on this board that want him out, that don't like the fact that he stands up for what he thinks is right, then I'll support him," McIntosh said. "Right now, I can't really support anybody because I don't know the truth, nor do most of these people in this room."

Strillacci cautioned the public against believing the accounts posted online. He told meeting attendees that the district is determined to move forward and focus on the students.

"I know there's a lot of frustration out there. There are many rumors flying around, but I want to tell you they are just rumors," he said. "I can assure you we are not skipping a beat on any of your (children's) education, and everything is continuing as usual. I can also assure you that this board would never do anything to the detriment of our school district."

Dan Woelki, another Mount Olive parent, urged the board to expedite the process so details can be released to the public. Right now, he said, the community is caught up in speculation and parents are unsure whether to support Zywicki or the board.

"I don't know, I can't tell you. Either way, it's hurting our community," Woelki said. "Transparency is huge, and that's all it comes down to in the end."

Bangia said the heated debate at Monday's meeting is evidence that the district "needs healing," and she hopes to address the process in her new role as acting superintendent.

"What I will guarantee you (is), as long as I'm in this seat, I will listen to every single group to ensure that the decisions that we make are in the best interest of all students," Bangia said. "That takes collaboration and that takes unity, and that's what I ask for the community tonight."

Zywicki was named superintendent of the Mount Olive district in 2018. He also served on the Sparta Board of Education before resigning last November.

Kyle Morel is a local reporter covering Morris and Sussex counties.

Wrestling: Top-ranked 132-pounder falls as No. 6 Southern beats No. 16 Mount Olive

Southern, No. 6 in the NJ.com Top 20, rolled to a 52-15 victory over No. 16 Mount Olive during a tri hosted by High Point.The win kept Southern unbeaten at 6-0.The most notable result of the tri was a Marauders (4-2) win though, as Jack Bastarrika, the No. 6 ranked wrestling in NJ.com’s 132-pound rankings took down No. 1 Conor Collins via a 4-3 decision. The loss dropped Collins to 12-4 on the season. Co...

Southern, No. 6 in the NJ.com Top 20, rolled to a 52-15 victory over No. 16 Mount Olive during a tri hosted by High Point.

The win kept Southern unbeaten at 6-0.

The most notable result of the tri was a Marauders (4-2) win though, as Jack Bastarrika, the No. 6 ranked wrestling in NJ.com’s 132-pound rankings took down No. 1 Conor Collins via a 4-3 decision. The loss dropped Collins to 12-4 on the season. Collins is a two-time state place-winner, taking second at 113 in 2021 and third at 120 last season, while Bastarikka finished in sixth place in the 2021 state tournament’s 106-pound bracket.

The Rams had an upset of their own at 215, as Riley O’Boyle, the No. 7 at 215, outlasted No. 4 Anthony Moscatello for a 3-1 sudden victory win. Moscatello finished in fifth place in last year’s state tournament at 190.

Southern’s other two state place-winners, Matt Henrich and Cole Veladi picked up bonus point wins as Velardi took a 15-0 tech over Tyler Cumming at 165, while Henrich pinned Tanner Perez at 150.

Anthony Mason (106), Anthony Evangelista (285), Hayden Hochstrasser (144), and Wyatt Stout (138) all earned pins for the Rams while Collins French earned a 13-0 major over Nicolas Gonzalez at 190, and Scottie Sarie took a 14-3 major over Mateo Eagleson Eagleson at 126.

Mount Olive state place-winner Tyeler Hagensen defeated Attila Vigilante via an 8-5 decision at 120 and Tyler Bienus pinned Southern’s Mitch Bivona at 175. Anthony Piemonte gave Mount Olive three points with a 5-0 decision over Sam Pariat 113.

Mount Olive defeated High Point 44-22, while Southern defeated the hos6t-team 63-9.

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Ice Hockey: Results, recaps, photos and links for Wednesday, Jan. 4

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 4ESSENTIAL LINKSFEATURED COVERAGEAt Fenway Park, BostonNo. 4 Northern Highlands 3, Tewksbury (Mass.) 2No. 2 Delbarton 4, No. 1 Christian Brothers 1No. 14 Seton Hall Prep 7, St. Joseph (Mont.) 2TOP 20 SCOREBOARDSTATEWIDE SCOREBOARDWednesday, Jan. 4Northern Highlands 3, Tewksbury (MA) 2 - Box Score...

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 4

ESSENTIAL LINKS

FEATURED COVERAGE

At Fenway Park, Boston

No. 4 Northern Highlands 3, Tewksbury (Mass.) 2

No. 2 Delbarton 4, No. 1 Christian Brothers 1

No. 14 Seton Hall Prep 7, St. Joseph (Mont.) 2

TOP 20 SCOREBOARD

STATEWIDE SCOREBOARD

Wednesday, Jan. 4

Northern Highlands 3, Tewksbury (MA) 2 - Box Score

Manalapan 2, Robbinsville 2 - Box Score

Colonia 13, South Brunswick 3 - Box Score

St. John Vianney 3, St. Joseph (Met.) 1 - Box Score

Delbarton 4, Christian Brothers 1 - Box Score

Seton Hall Prep 7, St. Joseph (Mont.) 2 - Box Score

Chatham 4, Morristown-Beard 2 - Box Score

Scotch Plains-Fanwood 8, Johnson 3 - Box Score

Millburn 7, Newark East Side 3 - Box Score

St. John Vianney 3, St. Joseph (Met.) 1 - Box Score

Brick Township 4, Red Bank Regional 0 - Box Score

Northern Highlands 3, Tewksbury (MA) 2 - Box Score

Portledge (NY) 5, Bergen Catholic 2 - Box Score

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Will East Brunswick join these NJ districts adding an Islamic holiday to calendar?

EAST BRUNSWICK — Muslim residents have urged the township Board of Education to add the religion’s major holidays to the school calendar.In Arabic, Eid literally means a “festival” or “feast.” There are two such major festivities in the Islamic calendar — Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.As of 2023, at least 27 public school districts in the state had Eid recognized on their calendar, according to the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.Monroe Township Publ...

EAST BRUNSWICK — Muslim residents have urged the township Board of Education to add the religion’s major holidays to the school calendar.

In Arabic, Eid literally means a “festival” or “feast.” There are two such major festivities in the Islamic calendar — Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

As of 2023, at least 27 public school districts in the state had Eid recognized on their calendar, according to the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Monroe Township Public Schools has also added Eid to its calendar this year, bringing the count to at least 28 districts.

Muslim residents and their allies attended the East Brunswick school board meeting on Thursday and encouraged the district to join that growing list.

While the state does recognize Eid among a long list of religious excused absences, supporters have noted that it leaves those select students at a disadvantage.

“For too long, Muslim students have had to choose between attending class and celebrating major holidays. If they chose the latter, they risk missing exams, instruction, and are overwhelmed with make-up work upon their return to school,” according to CAIR-NJ spokeswoman Dina Sayedahmed.

Englewood Cliffs has observed a half day off for this school year and last, according to the CAIR NJ data compiled online.

The majority of districts that have added Eid to their calendars were full days off. Those schools include:

West Windsor and Plainsboro, South Brunswick, Piscataway, Sayreville & Parlin, Edison, Monroe

Montclair, Jersey City, Paramus, Ridgewood, Leonia & Edgewater, Hackensack, Mount Olive, Clifton, Paterson, Wayne, Prospect Park, Pompton Lakes, Teaneck, Elizabeth, Hillside, Linden, Union, Newark, Irvington

Atlantic City, Pleasantville

“Given the growing trend of New Jersey public schools providing long-awaited and much needed accommodations for their Muslim students, we are optimistic that the East Brunswick school board will support their Muslim students and follow suit," Sayedahmed added.

Eid al-Fitr comes at the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan.

Eid al-Adha is the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice that comes at the end of the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca.

The timing of both is dependent on the Islamic lunar calendar, as holidays shift per the moon cycle.

This year, Ramadan falls between March and April.

Erin Vogt is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at [email protected]

Randolph girls basketball coach Peter Torres keeps 100th career victory in the family

There's a half-serious joke in the Torres household: Will Pete Torres keep coaching until he has more wins than his wife, Kristen?They've been a dynamic duo with Randolph girls basketball for 15 seasons. Their dining room table is loaded down with textbooks and binders.Kristen Torres was the head coach from 2008-09 through 2015-16, keeping the program going even when she was pregnant with the couple's son, Chase. Pete Torres was his wife's assistant. She stepped down when Chase was 2 years old. Pete Torres steppe...

There's a half-serious joke in the Torres household: Will Pete Torres keep coaching until he has more wins than his wife, Kristen?

They've been a dynamic duo with Randolph girls basketball for 15 seasons. Their dining room table is loaded down with textbooks and binders.

Kristen Torres was the head coach from 2008-09 through 2015-16, keeping the program going even when she was pregnant with the couple's son, Chase. Pete Torres was his wife's assistant. She stepped down when Chase was 2 years old. Pete Torres stepped in, and has been the head coach since then. Kristen is still a volunteer assistant.

Pete Torres earned his 100th victory at the helm, 43-32, at Mendham on Friday night. He was given blue balloons spelling "100," a plaque and a cookie, which the players devoured.

Pete Torres' career record is 100-53, so he's got a little farther to go to catch up with his wife. Kristen Torres, a physical education and health teacher at Randolph for 27 years, stepped away with 124 victories.

"It's satisfying," he said. "I have always had the goal to get to 100. I thought it was a pretty cool goal. … This 100 wins, my name's attached to it. but as any good coach knows, it's not about you. It's about the kids who have come through the program. There's a lot of kids who have been a part of these 100 wins.

Pete Torres recalled when Kristen reached 100 victories in a Morris County Tournament quarterfinal in 2014. It was the first time Randolph had reached the MCT final four in many years, a high point in a turnaround Kristen Torres had orchestrated.

"I'd like to take credit for some of it, but Pete is a student of the game," she said. "He's always looking to learn. He takes a lot of online classes, does a lot of research. He's a film watcher. He loves the game and he studies the game. He's successful because he does put a tremendous amount of time in."

Randolph has had double-digit victories in all but two of the past 14 seasons, one of which was cut down by COVID. Pete Torres introduced conditioning requirements when he took over, enabling the Rams to start tryouts in shape. That helped him fulfill the promise he made to Randolph's now-former athletic director Jeff DiLollo when he was hired: to deliver a sectional or MCT title within four years.

The Rams have two sectional championships: 1990 and 2020.

Pete Torres' next goal is to get to 250 combined wins for the family. He might step down after that, to watch Chase play.

A three-sport athlete at Mount Olive, Pete Torres set the soccer assists record and the baseball hits record, which was later broken by future Major League Baseball draftee Paul Ottavinia. Torres is a member of the Marauders' athletic Hall of Fame. He played second base at Virginia Commonwealth University in the mid-1980s. He coaches 11-year-old Chase's town baseball team, which has also won championships.

A basketball player for 40 years, Pete Torres said the game became his passion while coaching alongside his wife.

"It feels so natural that he should get it," said Mona Ressaissi, a former basketball coach at Mount Olive, Centenary and Hackettstown who served as Pete Torres' assistant for three seasons.

"He's so meticulous. These are not coincidences. The game he lost were part of natural growth for both players and coaches. The games he won, he connected with the kids. … He always wanted the kids to know it was an extended family. He was going to do whatever he could to make sure his family won. He made sure the 100th win was a win for the tribe, a win for the family."

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