South Orange and Maplewood NJ schools

If you’re a homebuyer with children, the quality of the local school district is one of your top priorities, and you’re not alone in putting education at the top of the list. Highly-rated schools underpin property values and boost the desirability of a neighborhood. In New Jersey, families flock to beautiful Maplewood and South Orange in part for the schools, and the district encompasses the combined public school system for the two towns. With approximately 6800 students, graduates attend some of the best colleges and universities in the country.

It’s a unique school district, and if you’re setting your sights on buying a home in Maplewood or South Orange, it’s worth taking a closer look at the school system’s inner workings. Let’s explore how the South Orange-Maplewood school district (SOMSD) provides a unique, rich K-12 education.

History of the South Orange-Maplewood School District

The school district’s history is rooted in the story of the two towns themselves. The Township of South Orange was founded in 1861, encompassing the lands that would eventually become the two separate villages of South Orange and Maplewood. In 1904, representatives of Maplewood approached the New Jersey legislature, formally requesting separation from South Orange. Independence was granted, except in the case of the pre-existing school system. With two independent local governments sharing the local public schools, the name School District of South Orange and Maplewood was created.

How the District is Structured

The district is comprised of 6 elementary schools as well as South Orange Middle School, Maplewood Middle School, and Columbia High School. Elementary schools are assigned to children depending first on the town of residence and then more specifically on the street where the family lives. In the middle schools and high school, the average class size is between 20 and 25 students.

As of the 2016-2017 school year, a new school, the Montrose Early Childhood Center (MECC) opened in September 2015 offering a pre-kindergarten program for ages 3 to 5 and provides resources to serve students with disabilities. After elementary, children move on to either Maplewood or South Orange Middle School, according to the town of residence. Graduates from both schools are then offered a seat at Columbia High School.

What Makes the Educational Experience Unique

The South Orange-Maplewood School District, which gets an A grade in Academics and diversity and an A+ in College Readiness from, has a lofty goal: “…to be the top-performing diverse suburban school district in the nation.” Each school implements the vision in its own way, starting at the elementary level.

For example, Seth Boyden Demonstration School—the district’s only school which accepts applications for special placement—uses the Multiple Intelligences theory to teach children visually, artistically, and through nature. The school also utilizes a beautiful outdoor classroom in warm weather.

Tuscan Elementary uses the Workshop and Gradual Release teaching models to create an immersive classroom experience, and South Mountain Elementary calls its students “Superstars,” seeing each one as a unique, enlightened force in the world.

After elementary, the middle schools open more doors to youngsters by teaching them how to explore and participate in the world. At Maplewood Middle School, there’s a student musical every spring, where talented youngsters perform such classics as Annie Get Your Gun and Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka. In May 2016, a combined Model UN team from South Orange and Maplewood made history as the only middle school group at the New York City Invitational Model UN Conference!

Columbia High School has a reputation and prestige all its own and is often rated as one of the best high schools in the country. With a 93% graduation rate, the average SAT score is 1200 out of 1600, Advanced Placement participation is at 50%, and the student body outperforms the New Jersey average in both English and math proficiency—at 96% and 82%, respectively.

At Columbia, students pursue their passions and develop a strong awareness of culture. Famous for the invention of ultimate frisbee in 1968, Columbia High School students participate in clubs like The Columbian, where students lay out, compile and print the school’s famed newspaper of the same name, and Diversity Rocks, which promotes community and celebration of all backgrounds. In December 2016, a wonderful club called Boxes of Fun prepared toy gift boxes for hospitalized children in need of bone marrow transplants.

Involving Parents and Building Towards the Future

The South Orange-Maplewood School District is known for meeting challenges head-on and is great at getting parents involved. The Achieve Foundation of South Orange & Maplewood came from community fundraising efforts and enables the schools to continue enrichment programs and disability accommodations even when the district budget is tight. Another example is The Parenting Center, which helps the families of Maplewood and South Orange access support and meet each other’s practical and social needs.

If you’re considering a home in South Orange or Maplewood, and you want an education for your child that’s strong, steeped in cultural diversity, and geared towards success, contact Victoria Carter at (973) 220-3050 or email I’d love to show you these beautiful towns and talk with you about the schools. Plus, if you’re still in need of more detailed information on the local schools in northern New Jersey, visit my Compare Schools website page where you can access the latest surveys, school website links and more.


About the author

Victoria Carter

Victoria Carter

Broker Associate

Victoria Carter has been a resident of New Jersey since 1994 and a professional in the real estate industry since 1998. She is a multi-year winner of the Five Star Professional Award and has been a Platinum member of the NJAR Circle of Excellence from 2007-2013. Before becoming a realtor, she worked as a senior corporate executive in Manhattan at Saks Fifth Avenue. This corporate experience honed her negotiation skills as well as her competitive nature. These qualities give Victoria an edge when she negotiates on her client's behalf. In addition, she remains active in the community and is a member of the Junior League of the Oranges and Short Hills.

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