CHATHAM, NJ - Darren Groh, the principal at Chatham High School, believes his school is No. 1 in the latest state-wide rankings by New Jersey Monthly for more reasons than just academics and test scores.
“There is no place like Chatham," Groh said. "As a teacher, as a coach, as an administrator, I’ve been in a half-dozen places. All pieces of the puzzle that are needed to create an outstanding high school really exists here. It’s not easy to build the reputation that Chatham has, but it’s easy to lose that reputation. I think our kids work hard at representing themselves, the school and our community well. That is also part of what will serve them well when they leave here.
"I would tell you, I’ve been here 10 years and from the day I started in Chatham until now, I’m still incredibly impressed by the quality of person that comes to our school. They are not just kids who study all the time. They’re nice kids who have manners, who are courteous and who have a pride and caring for their school beyond themselves. I think that’s very impressive to see that from a teenager. We’re proud of it."
The rankings by New Jersey Monthly are published every two years. In 2012, New Providence was ranked No. 1 and Chatham was 20th. Chatham has been ranked No. 12, No. 10, No. 8 and No. 20 in previous rankings by the magazine.
The top 10 ranked schools are: 1-Chatham. 2-Haddonfield. 3-Northern Highlands. 4-West Morris Mendham. 5-Millburn. 6-New Providence. 7-Pascack Hills. 8-Glen Rock. 9-Marlboro. 10-Rumson-Fair Haven.
“I’m proud of the fact that our children are being recognized for their achievements academically," Groh said. "I think as a building and as a district this is a small portion of what we set out to do each year. I think it’s as important or more important that our kids develop the skills outside of the academic success. It will really prepare them for their future.
"We do that by creating an environment where the kids like coming to school, where parents trust what we provide and we have a community that supports the schools during the school budget vote each year. That environment creates a humanistic approach to the person as opposed to what is produced by a student on standardized tests."
Chatham High students, however, did earn their ranking by scoring well on two new categories added to the assessment compiled by Leflein Associates, an independent research company in Ringwood. Chatham scored high marks in "post-secondary enrollment" and its scores on the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA).
"Chatham kids clearly are well prepared for their college years," Ken Schlager, editor of New Jersey Monthly, said.
In calculating students who are enrolled in two- or four-year colleges at least 16 months after graduation, Chatham had 92 percent of its graduates in college. That was the third-highest percentage in the state.
Also, 54 percent of CHS students achieved advanced proficiency on the HSPAs.
"Our courses are not built around teaching a standardized test," Groh said. "We’re not doing well because we prep them on HSPA for 10 months, or SAT or AP results. We do well on those tests because of the instruction that is in the classroom, because of the input that kids have in what goes on in a daily basis in the classroom. It’s not simply our teachers providing for students, it’s our students providing for students in how we set up the classroom and how instruction occurs here on a regular basis."
BLOCK SCHEDULING IS A PLUS
Groh says the block scheduling that's been in place for more than a decade is a plus for the students. There are eight periods in each day, but students drop two each day and attend six classes. This allows for study halls and free time.
"The block scheduling helps the student create time-management skills and opportunities for students to become more independent," Groh said. "Eighty percent of our students have study hall, which means they have built-in free time to either get ahead on schoolwork, decompress from the courses they’ve had, socialize, whatever may be, so they can refocus once they’re back into the academic classroom."
Seniors are given the privilege to leave campus during their free time/lunch periods and Groh says that the students have not broken that trust with bad decisions.
"When they do leave for college and they do leave home, they’ve had enough experience making their own decisions where they are comfortable," Groh said. "They’re making more right decisions than wrong decisions."
Darren Groh, CHS principal, in video below, talks about No. 1 ranking
"IT'S A VICIOUS CYCLE"
Groh says it is a cycle of excellence that sustains itself through the relationships between the students and the teachers.
"This vicious cycle of students who like their teachers and want to work hard to be successful for them," Groh said. "So they work hard. And teachers who respect and like their students, so they work equally as hard to maintain the appropriate challenge and standards to help them grow and reach the levels they can reach.
"We don’t just lecture. We include the students in the educational process. We want them to be part of the instruction. Being able to hold an intelligent discussion is very important and that happens here. We want students to come up with why things are the way they are. Problem solving. It’s a thought process that the kids develop. Students are respected. It’s a wonderful dynamic to see. Kids deserve credit for that. This is a different place."
BYOD - BRING YOUR OWN DEVICE
As technology becomes more and more a part of learning, Chatham has managed to keep pace. CHS students have been allowed to bring in laptops and cell phones to school for the past 10 years and it has been a positive.
"The speed at which technology moves makes it very difficult to stay in front of," Groh said. "We’re well beyond many other schools in the state and the country with the technology we have to enhance instruction. That being said, we don’t need new gadgets and magic tricks. We need to find what works for us and utilize those things. Our kids are respectful. We don’t have a lot of behavior issues or concerns."
MORE THAN JUST THE HIGH SCHOOL
Groh points out that the excellence starts way before high school and is nurtured by a caring community. There are a number of organizations - such as the Chatham Education Foundation, the PTO, the Athletic Boosters, the Music Boosters, and ChathamSTEM - which complement the school system with equipment and support.
"This is a high school recognition, but it really recognizes all of our schools for the part they’ve played in our kids lives throughout the educational system," Groh said. "Again, it’s the community, the volunteerism, which, year after year, has supported our budgetary needs. And our outstanding faculty."