Any champion will tell you, it’s not easy repeating as number 1. This year, Chatham High School manages the feat, topping the New Jersey Monthly ranking of the state’s best public high schools for the second straight time.
As in the past, this year’s Top 100 High Schools chart (compiled and published every two years) is dominated by suburban schools. The West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District in Mercer County has two spots in the top 10: The district’s High School North soars to number 2; High School South holds number 9. In 2014, the two schools came in at numbers 23 and 35, respectively.
Also in this year’s top 5 are Kinnelon High School, which moves from number 20 to number 3; Millburn High School, up from 5 to 4; and Haddonfield Memorial, which slips from 2 to 5.
Rounding out the top 10 are Livingston, up from 16 to 6; Holmdel, 12 to 7; Westfield, 21 to 8; and Glen Rock, which slips from 8 to 10. In all, seven counties are represented in the top 10: Morris, Mercer, Essex, Camden, Monmouth, Union and Bergen.
The rankings are based entirely on data reported by the schools to the state Department of Education (DOE) and published in the School Performance Reports section of the DOE website. In compiling this year’s list, New Jersey Monthly made several key changes in the methodology. The first involved the use of test scores. HSPA test results had been used in the past, but those tests were replaced by the PARCC tests in 2015. New Jersey Monthly, after consulting with superintendents in several districts, chose not to use data on PARCC testing this year to replace the HSPA scores. The superintendents we polled were unanimous in their conclusion that the PARCC data is not yet a reliable metric, since student participation rates varied wildly among districts. (Due to the lack of test data, we opted not to publish a separate Top Vocational Schools chart this year.)
A new factor in the chart is student participation in classes in the visual and performing arts. Also, rather than looking at the percentage of 11th and 12th graders taking at least one Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) test in English, math, social studies or science, we looked at the percentage taking an AP or IB class of any kind. We also made changes in the weight given to various factors, placing the emphasis on student results. (Read about our methodology here.)
Despite these changes, the chart is largely consistent with the 2014 results. The fastest-rising high schools in the Top 100 this year are Newton, which jumps 69 places from 168 to 99; Secaucus, up from 155 to 92; Princeton, up from 67 to 15; Roxbury, up from 102 to 52; and Rutherford, up from 124 to 74.
Amid all this movement, Chatham holds steady at the top. The Morris County school looks commonplace from the outside, but examine its results as depicted on the chart, and it is clear something uncommon is happening within its walls. Among the impressive results: More than 97 percent of Chatham’s 11th and 12th graders took at least one AP test during the 2014-2015 school year; 91.3 percent of those tests resulted in a score of 3 or higher, indicating college readiness. On the SATs, 74 percent of students scored 1550 or better, the benchmark for students most likely to proceed to successful college careers. Chatham is number 15 in the state in that category.
As he did when Chatham topped the chart in September 2014, principal Darren Groh credits his students’ achievements to strong community support, an emphasis on extracurricular activities and the school’s college-like environment.
The school is also blessed with a population of highly motivated students. “These are just good kids,” says Groh. “They are focused. We don’t have a lot of disruption with conduct or behavior because kids are focused on doing well.”
And they do well beyond the immaculate halls of their high school. The school has a 98 percent graduation rate, and 90 percent of students remain enrolled in college 16 months after graduation—one of the indicators used by the DOE to measure school performance.
Groh emphasizes the level of independence enjoyed by Chatham’s students and the strong relationships nurtured between students and faculty. The rate of success, says Groh, “has to do with the level of courses that the students are taking, but it also goes back to those relationships, where the kids are given the freedom to make decisions, and we have to trust that they are going to make the right decisions…. I think that really sets them up to make good decisions and to be prepared when they are out on their own.”
For the complete rankings of 337 public high schools, click here or click the link below.
NOTE: This story is revised from the print version with several corrections.