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Kean University

As School Superintendent, Kean University Special Education Graduate Changes Children’s Lives

Sayreville Superintendent Richard Labbe reads to children. He is a Kean alum.

Sayreville School Superintendent Richard Labbe, Ed.D., intended to be a sports broadcast journalist but changed career plans when he took a job as an assistant high school football coach and substitute teacher.

The Kean University graduate from Jackson said he experienced a life-changing moment while substitute teaching in a kindergarten classroom three decades ago.

“I was inspired by that quintessential moment when a child understands,” he said, “when you can see the light go on in their faces.”

Labbe has served as superintendent in Sayreville for 10 years, during which he worked to address a football-team hazing incident; implemented free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds; and ensured that every school will have new roofs, windows, heating and air conditioning. Labbe also added increased-security vestibules at all Sayreville schools.

As an educator, Labbe was inspired by the birth of his first son, Sklyer, who was diagnosed with high-functioning autism and later earned his own bachelor’s degree from Kean. 

Labbe said his Kean education deepened his understanding of his son.

“I learned that what people want is respect and a leveling of the playing field,” he said. “I’m still guided by that today.”

One of his proudest accomplishments, he said, is the creation of the Bombers Beyond Cafe, a district-owned coffee shop run by students ages 18 to 21 with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“We call it the happiest place in Sayreville,” Labbe said. “The food is excellent and the coffee is amazing, but it's the service you get from our kids that will lift the heaviest of spirits.”

Labbe said he keeps a student-focused approach as he faces budgetary and other polarizing issues.

“You've got to be in this business because you love children and want to educate them, see them grow and maximize their potential,” he said. “As long as you're staying focused on students, you're going to make the right decisions.”

Labbe completed a postgraduate teaching certification program at Kean in 1994 and a master’s in special education and teaching in 2000. He then followed that up with a master’s in educational leadership in 2001 and a doctorate in education in 2007, earned at other universities. He got his undergraduate degree in communication and media studies from Upsala College.

Brian Zychowski, vice president of Kean’s division of Entrepreneurial Education Initiatives and former superintendent of schools in North Brunswick, knows Labbe as a colleague and a friend.

“Dr. Labbe is the consummate servant leader,” Zychowski said. “He is reflective, responsive and empathetic and has used an equity lens to make Sayreville Public Schools a great place to learn and work.”

A lifelong friend and fellow Kean graduate who teaches and coaches students in Edison, John Mattos ’89, called Labbe a born leader.

“Richard has a gentle nature and has always demonstrated the willingness to help every individual with genuine sincerity and kindness,” Mattos said. “Anyone in need will receive sound advice and worthy assistance in reaching their untapped potential and standing up in the face of adversity.”

Labbe has also worked in Edison, Jackson and Green Brook as a teacher and administrator.