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School visits in NJ

School visits in NJ

Old Oct 21st 2015, 9:13 pm
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Default School visits in NJ

My family are moving to NJ around Christmas time and we are travelling over next week during my kids half-term break to try and find a house and look at schools. We have narrowed our search down to Short Hills and Summit but are having problems gaining access to Middle or High Schools. (No problems with Elem schools). Apparently it is school policy?

Can anybody offer any info as to why we might be struggling to secure appointments to look round? We are finding it difficult to know how to choose a school for our boys if we can't visit them? The relocator has arranged an appointment with the Board of Education for those school districts but I would feel much happier if we could actually look at the schools for ourselves.

Any suggestions?
Thanks
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Old Oct 21st 2015, 9:42 pm
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Default Re: School visits in NJ

You're not alone - we moved states earlier this year, and I wasn't able to get a visit to any of the high schools we were considering, or even to get them to respond to my 'moving into the area, could we possibly see around the school' emails (I'm very polite, gave them free rein on a date span and times, etc... nothing).

It's most annoying - it would've been so helpful to have a quick walk around the halls and sit down with a counselor for 5 mins so they could explain how my son's grades would transfer, how he would be academically streamed, etc (he's grade accelerated in a couple of subjects). I suppose, though, from their point of view, it's a pointless waste of time until I have an address in their district, but I didn't want to sign on a house until I'd seen the school... It's all very chicken-and-egg.

Ultimately we had to go off data and a drive-by. We chose a large school in a semi-urban environment; my son adamantly didn't want to ride the bus so had to be close enough to walk/ bike, and he wanted to have shops and amenities around that he could get to without having to be driven. A large school usually means more subject choices and opportunities for streaming/ honors classes/ a wider range of AP subjects offered (and much wider sports or music programs, if your kids are into those). We could see all this on the school's website (look for their Catalog of Studies or Course Handbook, which will detail the graduation requirements, grading policies, and all the possible subjects to study).

This is my son's 10th school, so he was quite casual about the whole thing. He, and we, have learned over the years that by and large, any school in an area where we'd be prepared to live, will be fine.

And 10/10 on test scores isn't the be all and end all, either. There's a small town about 15 mins from us that we looked st - 10/10, beautiful school that looked like a college campus, white picket fences on all the houses - but we ultimately went for our current 8/10 school. The 10/10 one is no doubt a good school, but it honestly can't fail to get good results - it has an intake of almost exclusively white/ Asian kids in a town with an average household salary of $185k and one of the highest per capita proportion of graduate degrees in the state. So the scores reflect the intake rather than what the school is doing. My son's school is actually adding much more value to its eclectic student mix, from households earning 1/3 of what the town up the road does.

You almost certainly won't be able to meet the teachers your kids would be having, who will define your kids' educational experience. And it's quite likely that even if you did choose a wonderful school, there wouldn't be a rental in the right boundary and you'd be heart-broken. Honestly, it'll likely be one of those leap of faith things. But it'll almost certainly turn out ok.
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Old Oct 21st 2015, 10:52 pm
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Default Re: School visits in NJ

In short: school assignment is rigidly linked to address (with very few exceptions). Until you have an address, no school has any interest in you.
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Old Oct 21st 2015, 11:47 pm
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Default Re: School visits in NJ

Originally Posted by Pulaski View Post
In short: school assignment is rigidly linked to address (with very few exceptions). Until you have an address, no school has any interest in you.
Excellent tl:dr interpretation by Pulaski

It's annoying, because of course you're thinking 'but I want to pick my school, THEN I'll plan to live there, and I'll find a house in their catchment!' (usually fine for high schools, nigh on impossible for elementaries). They don't care.

For this move, we had to live in a hotel for almost two months because we wanted the kids in Middle School X and High School Y, and they wouldn't consider us otherwise, however much we said 'but we're GOING to move into the neighborhood, honest!' Unless we had an address already, or a signed sales contract on a house (or rental lease), they didn't want to know.

The hotel was in catchment, whereas the fancypants short term corporate apartment we would otherwise have had would've been a mile or so out. The corporate apartment was instead zoned for a completely failing 1/10 sink high school with a terrible graduation rate (which is why the district was so protective about its boundaries and keeping out the non-eligible who aren't paying local taxes but try and sneak their kids in).

And we oddly got priority from being in a 'temporary precarious living situation' in a hotel - the Middle School was almost full and there was some talk of bussing overage kids to another one a few miles away, but the counselor told me it wouldn't apply for my daughter, and I actually could've placed my kids in any school in the entire district, if the ones up the road didn't suit me!

So be prepared to game the system slightly, if needs be.
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Old Oct 22nd 2015, 2:42 pm
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Default Re: School visits in NJ

In our area, NOBODY gets inside the school unless they have a child there or works for the school district. The parents all have to have ID and sign in on the "raptor" system that has a photo showing who that parent is. We wanted to take a look around the schools too before deciding where to live based on the school but there was absolutely no chance.

The schools do "gunman " drill so actually I'm glad that no random unidentified person can get into either of my kids schools. Welcome to the USA!
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Old Oct 22nd 2015, 6:59 pm
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Default Re: School visits in NJ

When we went over to Maryland to look at high schools earlier this year, we were told by the Education Department that we wouldn't be welcome to visit. This actually, on the whole, wasn't our experience and we were given tours of good schools by Principals who were keen to speak to us and, indeed, 'sell' the school to us.

We went to one where the teacher running the course that my son wants to do as part of his final 2 years, was so keen that he got out every piece of equipment that they use as part of the course!
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Old Oct 23rd 2015, 12:32 am
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Default Re: School visits in NJ

and do bear in mind - that even though the school is rigidly fixed to their addresses in their stated boundary - that periodically the school districts can change those boundaries at will to better balance all schools in the area.

so if you move to get near a particular school - the boundary could change and there is precious little you can do about it. And that sounds bizarre - but boundary lines are sometimes VERY weirdly drawn and you can have to go to another school even if there is a specific one closer - it all depends where they draw the lines. In our last house in Ohio - our sub division faced the entrance to the middle school driveway so our sudivision was allocated to the school. BUT the sub divisions either side of us - within half a mile both were allocated to totally different schools much further away.

typically if you are already at that school they will allow you to finish at that school but may refuse to do bus transportation etc and you can find that school friends who need transportation have to change etc - so it can get real difficult.
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Old Oct 23rd 2015, 3:11 am
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Default Re: School visits in NJ

Where we lived in Arizona had organized, logical school boundaries - major roads, canals, etc. Here in Ohio, some of the boundary maps look totally bizarre - weird little jagged bits zigging about to include one neighborhood but bypass another that looks closer, or to take an 'island' neighborhood in the middle of School A's boundary, and allocate it to School B.

I assumed it was to do with developers cutting deals with city planning offices that 'sure, we'll build these houses, but only if they're not allocated to Columbus School District otherwise we'll never sell the wretched things'.
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Old Oct 24th 2015, 2:23 pm
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Default Re: School visits in NJ

Thanks very much for all your replies and advice.

I think I just need to accept that the system is different and that I won't be allowed access to middle and high schools but need to just hope that it will all work out ok. It does seem strange knowing that my kids will attend a school that we haven't been able to see compared with all the open days/tours etc that we have back in the UK.

We are in NJ for the week so will visit our preferred areas to get a feel for where we think would work for us and then just go for it....
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Old Oct 26th 2015, 7:55 pm
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Post Re: School visits in NJ

Originally Posted by NJNewbie2015 View Post
My family are moving to NJ around Christmas time and we are travelling over next week during my kids half-term break to try and find a house and look at schools. We have narrowed our search down to Short Hills and Summit but are having problems gaining access to Middle or High Schools. (No problems with Elem schools). Apparently it is school policy?

Can anybody offer any info as to why we might be struggling to secure appointments to look round? We are finding it difficult to know how to choose a school for our boys if we can't visit them? The relocator has arranged an appointment with the Board of Education for those school districts but I would feel much happier if we could actually look at the schools for ourselves.

Any suggestions?
Thanks


NJNewbie
We have a house in Short Hills and my son went to the township schools (Millburn Middle and Millburn High). It is one of the top public school systems in NJ but in my opinion there is little diversity i.e. very few black, Hispanic or economically disadvantaged kids.

OTOH there are quite a few Asian pupils (Chinese/Korean and some Indians), all high achievers because of their familial traditions - and this is also the case for the sizeable Jewish community.....my son was invited to dozens of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs when he was in Middle school

It's a shame you can't tour the schools (only if you can show that you are renting or have purchased property in the township in the zip codes 07078 and 07041) but if you type in Short Hills on You Tube and also Millburn High School/Millburn Middle School there are various clips of sports games, concerts and realtors reports.

You won't go wrong if your children go to the schools in Millburn, Summit, Chatham or Madison (I guess you will be commuting by train to New York City?) as they are all traditional middle class suburbs. Summit is the largest town and there is more diversity amongst the student population.

Good luck!
Btw - my son is almost 27 and is engaged to his high school sweetheart...a Mexican Jewish girl
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Old Oct 27th 2015, 6:55 am
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Default Re: School visits in NJ

Are there not diverse schools available in NJ?
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Old Nov 1st 2015, 1:52 am
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Default Re: School visits in NJ

My two sons went to Millburn Middle and Millburn High and had a great time. As Englishmum mentioned very little diversity in Millburn. My boys played football (soccer) and I put them on a travel team that was like the United Nations so they could get some "diversity" away from the "Millburn bubble". All worked out fine.
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Old Nov 4th 2015, 11:37 am
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Default Re: School visits in NJ

Totally opposite experience in Frisco Texas. Both the Middle School and High School in the area we wanted to live showed us round and made us feel welcome. I was exchanging emails with them for some time though and making sure they felt valued, which does seem to make a big difference to the folks that greet you and show you round.
We went with a lot of paperwork and they were happy they had a chance to assess the kids before they arrived (I.e. not on their first day!).
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Old Nov 6th 2015, 10:46 am
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Default Re: School visits in NJ

Hi NJNewbie,

We are most likely about to move to NJ as well from the UK. I was wondering if I can pick your brain a bit regarding schools and areas to live. Which is the best area to live school wise and so on. I would be looking at Elementary schools.
Thanks,
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Old Nov 6th 2015, 8:55 pm
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Default Re: School visits in NJ

Hi Eventerone,

I'm not sure that I'm the best person to be offering you advice since we are not moving until December and I'm sure there are plenty of other people on here who know a lot more about NJ schools than me.

We started off by looking at great schools.org and niche to get some basic impressions. Towns that I believe have really great schools are Millburn, Chatham, Summit, Madison, Westfield, Mendham and Basking Ridge. Where you choose to live will also be influenced by where you need to be for work (I.e. If you need to commute into Manhatten or not, for example).

We spent last week in NJ and really liked Summit. We managed to secure a great house and looked at the local schools for my two boys, which we were very happy with. Unfortunately, on our return to the UK we have discovered that the house has fallen through since the owner has decided to sell rather than lease, so now we are trying to find an alternative property.

Good luck with your search - hope that others can offer you some more advice.
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