Education a second career for Region 16 torchbearer

Woodland Regional High School teacher Lisa Olivere is Region 16’s 2016 Teacher of the Year. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI
Woodland Regional High School teacher Lisa Olivere is Region 16’s 2016 Teacher of the Year. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

REGION 16 — Region 16’s 2016 Teacher of the Year traded a corporate office for a classroom nearly 20 years ago and never looked back.

Lisa Olivere, a 51-year-old West Haven resident and Boston-area native, studied business and human development at the University of Connecticut with the intent of pursuing a human resources career in the corporate world. After graduating from UConn in 1988, Olivere took a job with Perrier to get her foot in the door, and she quickly climbed the corporate ladder.

In her seven years at Perrier, Olivere earned six promotions, including a position as an employee trainer — her first experience with teaching. Olivere was happy and making good money at Perrier, but after seven years in the corporate world she wanted a career that offered a more “worthy reward” than just monetary wealth.

“In the grand scheme of things, when I reflected back on my life, did I make a difference? I may have made my company more profitable, but what sort of impact did I have on people,” Olivere said.

So, Olivere went back to school to get her master’s degree and became a teacher.

Olivere’s first teaching job was at Bacon Academy in Colchester, where she earned $30,000 less in her first year than what she was making at Perrier.

After four years at Bacon Academy, Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, was preparing to open Woodland Regional High School. Aside from cutting down her commute time significantly, the chance to build a school community from the ground up was too much for Olivere to pass up.

“I was all in,” she said. “I could not wait to come here and interview and start.”

In 2001, Olivere became a “founding member” of the Woodland faculty. Fifteen years later, she is the region’s teacher of the year.

“As a parent I can’t speak highly enough of her. As a board member, I’m so proud to have her as teacher of the year,” Board of Education Chair Sheryl Feducia said.

Olivere said she was stunned when she found out about the recognition, adding there are so many teachers in the region worthy of the recognition.

“It’s kind of a misnomer,” she said. “There is no such thing as a ‘teacher of the year.’ I think it’s fair to say there are ‘teachers of the year.’”

Currently, Olivere is the social studies department chairperson and teaches Advanced Placement psychology, civics and contemporary world issues at Woodland.

“They’re incredible courses,” Olivere said. “I love the discipline that I get to teach because it’s easily relatable to students, they quickly and a fluidly make connections to their lives.”

Olivere’s impact on students and the district stretches well beyond the classroom. She is co-founder and co-adviser of Woodland Worldwide, a school-based nonprofit organization that works to develop leadership skills in students and empower them to recognize their role in making the world a better place. She also serves on numerous committees in the region, including co-chairing the New England Association of Schools and Colleges steering committee. Her resume also includes a stint coaching soccer at Woodland.

Woodland Principal Kurt Ogren said novice and veteran teachers seek out Olivere for advice, and she serves as a mentor and role model to many.

“Lisa is true teacher-leader who brings her ‘A-game’ each and every single day. … Lisa is a high-energy and creative teacher who intellectually challenges her students on a regular basis,” Ogren said.

A desire to help students be the best version of themselves and get to know themselves better is what drives Olivere each day.

“One thing I value and appreciate at Woodland is the type of student that I get to work with,” Olivere said.

When people find out she is a high school teacher, Olivere said, most people’s first reaction is to ask how she can teach teenagers and work with them. She feels teenagers get a bad rap.

“Each and every day I’m amazed at some of the maturity, the care and concern for others that our students show,” Olivere said.

Those looking on are as equally in awe of Olivere and all she’s done in the region.

“Once the time is actually taken to review Lisa’s resume and the three nomination forms that were submitted on her behalf it is quite intimidating and unquestionably impressive,” Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin wrote in a letter announcing Olivere as teacher of the year. “It is rare to find an individual as positive, supportive, compassionate, intelligent and dynamic. Lisa has an insatiable desire to personally improve and the ability to empower her students to believe that they can influence change in the community, while serving as a role model and mentor for her colleagues every day.”