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Kean University

Kean Study Lays Groundwork for Upcoming Merger of Three New Jersey School Districts

Aerial view of Highlands and Atlantic Highlands, near Sandy Hook

The school districts joining in the merger are located near Sandy Hook.

The merger of three Monmouth County school districts into one, set to take effect in July, stemmed from a study conducted by Kean University’s Division of Entrepreneurial Education Initiatives (EEI). 

In September, voters in Atlantic Highlands and Highlands approved merging their school districts – each containing one elementary school – into the existing Henry Hudson Regional School District, home to a high school. The new district will serve about 735 students. 

The move follows a Kean study commissioned in 2022 under the Local Efficiency Achievement Program established by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and the Department of Community Affairs. In 2021, Murphy also designated Kean as the state’s first urban research university, with an aim of generating these types of research-based solutions in urban communities. 

Created by Kean President Lamont O. Repollet, Ed.D., EEI, under the leadership of Senior Vice President Sancha K. Gray, Ed.D., was uniquely suited to conduct the study, said Brian Zychowski, Ed.D., vice president for the division.

Head and shoulders photo of Brian Zychowski.
Brian Zychowski, Ed.D.

“This study was part of a cadre of services the president envisioned when he created this division to not only bring in opportunities but to make Kean a one-stop for school districts where we can provide a host of services,” said Zychowski, who facilitated the study. “This was an early success.” 

This was the first merger of school districts in New Jersey in a decade. The Kean study eased the way, demonstrating the potential financial savings for taxpayers. The study also allowed the districts to move more rapidly because it provided a suite of options for a merger, taking into account legal and timeline constraints, and giving stakeholders room to negotiate solutions that worked for all involved. 

“They didn’t have to wait until the timing was perfect,” Zychowski said. “They liked that we gave them options. We felt very good about contributing to this outcome.”

The merger achieved financial and logistical efficiencies for the districts, which were already operating under a “tri-district” managed by a single superintendent. A new governance structure reduces the number of board members. 

“We are thrilled to have finally reached our goal of creating one unified, comprehensive PK-12 regional school district to ensure that we can provide the best possible education for our students today and in the future,” said Henry Hudson Regional Tri-District Superintendent Tara Beams, Ed.D. “The expertise and insight provided by Kean University in our feasibility study was essential to the board’s decision to move forward with this important step in our districts’ history, and we are grateful for the work done through this incredible partnership.”

The study examined two options for the merger, with and without the additional district of Sea Bright. Ultimately, Sea Bright was not included in this merger, but the study provided a path to revisit the addition of Sea Bright at a later date.

Kean partnered with the school districts and others on the overall study, The Busch Law Group for legal analysis, Ross Haber Associates for a demographic study, and SSP Architects for the facilities/physical plant analysis. 

“It was great to have Kean’s expertise involved as Dr. Zychowski contributed to the successful completion of the feasibility study, which was the impetus for the successful consolidation vote,” said the district’s attorney, Jonathan Busch, of The Busch Law Group.

Partnerships with school districts are key to the vision for EEI, Zychowski said. EEI leadership members have deep experience in PK-12 education in New Jersey that fuels innovation in dual enrollment, leadership training, executive coaching, principal training and other distinctive programming. 

“What we do is create a nexus of relationships and partnerships that combine to make the University a destination for leaders in education seeking solutions,” Zychowski said. “EEI's work merges pathways of best practice, theory and research for practitioners.”