Lynne Olerich, Montecito Union Reading Intervention Program Specialist
On a pleasantly balmy Tuesday afternoon, somewhere between the way too cold or searing desert heat of our current weather, I had the opportunity to spend some socially distant, in-person, fully masked time with Montecito Union School’s reading specialist, Lynne Olerich. Our conversation included her tenure at Montecito Union, her journey from Rutherford, New Jersey to Santa Barbara, and touched upon shared memories of our own kids at Viewpoint School in Calabasas where we served in different capacities. The day before had been the very first day of on-campus classes at Montecito Union since, well, forever. And Olerich’s mood reflected an infectious enthusiasm equal to that of the returning students.
Lynne Olerich began her tenure at Montecito Union School close to three decades ago when Bronte Reynolds, administrator at the time, hired her as a part-time English as a second language teacher. “I learned Spanish teaching full time in a classroom in Santa Monica,” recalled Olerich, “and received the gift of a second language, a tremendous advantage.” Reynolds requested that she organize a formal EL program at Montecito Union during which time she began to help with reading at the bidding of second grade teacher Dr. Judy Compton. “As the English language program grew, I found myself working four days a week while developing our present Reading Intervention Program,” she explained. When Maria Kalin came aboard to head the EL program, Olerich could concentrate on reading intervention full time, the position she holds today.
Growing up in northern New Jersey, Olerich always knew she wanted to be a teacher. The daughter of a stay-at-home mom and a small business owner, her love of teaching began in church school and summer camps. New Jersey winters, however, brought dreams of a warmer climate. “Always wanted to come to California,” she chuckled, “ever since I did a fourth grade report on the state, the dream of an East Coast kid.” Apparently she wasn’t the only one in the family with thoughts of moving west. Although Olerich spent her first two years at Ohio Wesleyan University, upon retirement her father decided to move the family to Scottsdale, Arizona. Her education was completed at Arizona State University with a degree in elementary education and her ticket to finding a job in sunny California.
Olerich’s first couple of years teaching found her in Fontana, California, definitely a place with warmer weather. Meeting her husband extended her stay in the Imperial Valley to a position in Riverside. CBS/KNX radio in Los Angeles required the couple to relocate allowing her to take advantage of a previous offer in Santa Monica close to the ocean. “Of course, I grabbed it!” Olerich laughed. “It was a fabulous job – I learned Spanish, taught ESL – a great experience in the years before having kids of my own.”
A move to Malibu and three kids in four and a half years kept Olerich busy as a stay-at-home mom. One of the first families in Malibu to transport their children over the Santa Monica mountains to Viewpoint School in Calabasas in the San Fernando Valley, the Olerich kids thrived. Viewpoint was a pre-K through eighth grade school where Olerich was again offered a part time teaching position. “It was an ideal situation,” she recalled, “being there with my kids’ childcare was certainly not an issue.” Once again, she moved from being a part-time teacher of math and reading to a full-time classroom.
The family’s next move came in 1985 when Olerich’s husband partnered in a TV station in Santa Barbara with outlets in other cities. “Our two girls, Erika and Katharine, started at Crane Country Day School,” she recalled. “The youngest, Chris, at MUS, eventually joined his sisters because Crane offered after-school programs.” At the time Olerich substituted at Montecito Union and later taught a sixth grade bilingual class at Aliso School in Carpinteria, a combination requiring time and energy. Then she decided to focus on Montecito Union, where she caught the attention of Bronte Reynolds. In hiring Olerich 27 years ago he’d indeed found a teacher with extensive knowledge and experience. Olerich has since served under four administrations and is proud to be part of the talented Montecito Union School administration, faculty, and staff.
Montecito Union students returned to school on Monday, September 30. “The kids are really happy to be back despite the masks and social distancing,” Olerich says, “so happy to see their friends!” It was obvious that she too was delighted to finally be back on campus. “Much of our time is spent reinforcing the importance of hand washing and social distancing and maintaining a safe space between everyone on campus,” she noted. Classes consist of a series of small groups who stay together through the entire day with drop-off, pick-up, and lunch times scattered to accommodate the revised format. “I see small groups for reading intervention and am still Zooming a few kids.”
“It’s wonderful to serve under such amazing administrators,” Olerich exclaimed. “Being part of MUS is a privilege – everyone’s voice is heard, so important during this COVID time where creativity and flexibility are essential.” Now with the first weeks of real school in the history books, Montecito Union School has embarked on a new year. And as the afternoon drew to a close, Lynne and I parted remembering old times, reviewing the challenges of the current ones and concluding that kids, their energy, enthusiasm, and creativity – regardless of the circumstances – is the reason we love our work.