It's been a very busy couple of weeks for Judith Slutzky during her remaining month as principal of the Mount Prospect Elementary School — busy enough, she says, that she hasn't had time to really think about retiring from the school that has known only one principal in its 14-year history.
Slutzky recalled that it also had been a frantic and exciting time when the school itself opened, bringing together some staff from other schools — Slutzky herself had been principal at the Oak Street Elementary School — and new teachers and children, along with students from The Hills who had been attending the Liberty Corner Elementary School.
The building had just received its certificate of occupancy before Labor Day and the entire staff put in an all-out effort to get the new school ready for students' arrival on the first day, she remembered.
The elevators weren't working, and custodians carried all the desks and books up to the second floor, she said.
"It was an exciting time because we were all in it together," Slutzky said.
Slutzy said she has always strived to make the school feel homelike for its prekindergarten through grade five students — and their families.
Slutzky said she had been meeting with the parents whose children would attend Mount Prospect even before the school opened. "I listened to their ideas," she said.
"I was helping them understand that we weren't doing what Liberty Corner did — we were making our own school," she said.
"Mrs. Slutzky did a tremendous job for the district with her work at Mount Prospect School," Bernards Township Schools Superintendent Nick Markarian said this week. "Judy literally built that building up from its inception to its current stature with her hard work and dedication; her commitment and leadership will be missed," he added.
Now, after making Mount Prospect a cohesive school community with an international flair and starting so many programs at that school as well as being instrumental for other districtwide initiatives, "Every morning I wake up, and say — 'I think I am really leaving,'" she said.
A visitor to the school sees evidence all around of the fond good-bye wishes that the principal has been receiving before she leaves on Jan. 31.
At a schoolwide assembly last week, all of the school's students, in prekindergarten through fifth grade, each made presentations for their principal. For example, she said, the prekindergarten students sang in a video.
She said she also was presented for a pink rose by students recalling at least some of her unique "Mrs. Slutzkyisms."
That includes, she said, playing "Simon Says" with students in spare moments.
Or ending announcements about the lunch menu with, "Yum, Yum."
Or telling students throughout the school that she is "waiting for everyone to be quiet" even before she begins her morning announcements on the loudspeaker from her office.
And reminding children to zip up in cold weather.
By the end of that presentation, she said, "I had a lot of pink roses."
Along with programs that she said became districtwide, such as the summer programs for elementary school students, and the establishment of screenings and assessments for incoming kindergarten students, Slutzky said she began some initiatives unique to Mount Prospect.
For example, she said especially at first the school held regular assemblies just to bring the students together in the new building. Even now, she said assemblies are a way to recognize students and build community in a neighborhood where many languages are spoken, and children may have arrived from many areas of the globe.
Slutzky said she had always wanted to hold an International Day event, and last year launched the program the help of dedicated parent volunteers Riham Elkashef, Achint Kaur, Helen Woo and Denise Zangara.
This year's event, including dance, food and other celebrations of Mount Prospect's especially diverse student background, was bigger than ever.
Last year, students started a garden behind the school to learn about health eating. The bounty was harvested by the children, and donated to needy families.
The school also holds many community service-oriented events during the year. "I encourage teachers to do things," she said.
Slutzky spoke highly of her successor, Joanne Hozeny, who had been assistant principal at the school. She said she expects Hozeny will continue some of Mount Prospect's programs but also will bring her own ideas into the school community.
Even after retiring, Slutzky said that along with traveling and taking classes in photography and cooking, she would like to become involved in something that draws upon her expertise gained from years in education.
Slutzky said she has heard from many parents whose children had been former students, and also had been touched by messages from teachers throughout the school district who may have started their careers at Mount Prospect.
Blending together a new school staff years ago and continuing to welcome students from different heritages has taught those involved patience and understanding, Slutzky said.
"We keep learning from each other," the longtime educator said.