SOMA Schools

Hello SOMA Community,

Potential resident here that was hoping this community could indulge me during this time of quarantine. 

My family has considered moving to Maplewood for years now. We’ve been drawn by the strong sense of community and worldly view that many residents seem to have. However, one consideration always has been and continues to be the school system. We have two small children; a kindergartener that is in a wonderful public school here in nyc and a pre-schooler in private school. 

Our questions about the school system were largely satisfied, until we learned of the new plan to bus kids across the city. My knowledge is based solely on the posts here and The NY Times article (and comments), but the impression I get is that the majority are against it and it runs the risk of compromising standards for the kids. 

So I’m reaching out here to see if that’s a fair or unfair concern, and whether people have thoughts to provide on the system as a whole. 

I’d also be specifically curious to hear about what the remote learning has been for kindergartners since that’s my best basis for comparison. Is there strong participation amongst the students? Have assignments been lacking/manageable/challenging/other? Are teachers able to stay engaged and provide feedback? 

Thanks for making it through this lengthy post. Appreciate any thoughts. 

My kids are older, but still in school, and I adore these towns. I believe a school system that is fully integrated (not just after 6th grade) would make us stronger, more equitable, help students of color and white students, and help us live up to who we say we are. We can't portray ourselves as towns that welcome diversity when one elementary school has 25% white kids and others have ~60%. And it's a small enough district that busing won't be onerous. Hope you decide to come, the towns really grown on you. 

You may have the impression we are talking about large distances ("bus kids across the city").  Maplewood/South Orange is a relatively compact residential area.  Students in the Jefferson and Marshall elementary schools already take the bus and and students that opt in to Seth Boyden take the bus as well (if they live past a certain distance).  While most kids in the district walk (or get driven) to school, busing already exists to some extent.

UWSExplorer said:

... but the impression I get is that the majority are against it ...

I’d caution against drawing this conclusion based on news articles or MOL comments. No matter how representative people like addiemoose may or may not be, opposition tends to be more vocal than support.

... and it runs the risk of compromising standards for the kids.

Just an observation from someone who has lived here only eight years and whose child graduated three years ago: The extent to which that issue worries you may portend the extent to which some district policies would frustrate you. It’s a new administration, but past ones have been criticized for falling short in tracking the results of changes like the elimination or reduction of tiered classes and like open enrollment in high school AP classes. (Personally, we weren’t worried, and were happy with our student’s experience.)

Hi! I’m a current parent of a kindergartner and our experience has been great. My daughter loves her teachers (she is in an inclusion class so has 2 teachers), and really misses being in school.

While definitely not perfect, we have been pretty happy with the remote learning. Each day they have recorded videos from the teachers for reading, writing, phonics, math and science/social studies. They also have paper and online assignments for each, and a variety of other “special” projects including art and music. We have found the attitude to be appropriately balanced to offer lots of good things to learn, but don’t feel pressured to fully complete everything every day. We’ve also had a couple of one-on-one zoom calls with her teachers. And one morning we found that they had chalked a hi on our front walk, which made our day.

My sense is that the district is being pretty thoughtful about how they are approaching the integration goal, but there may be a few bumps in the road as they implement.

We have been here 9 years and have an eighth grader.  We volunteer a good bit around his school and are very happy.  Nothing is perfect.  There is always room for improvement.  But the fact that people are vocal and do care, even if I disagree with them, means that very little gets swept under the carpet.  If you move here I encourage you to volunteer once a month to read to a class, or help with a staff luncheon, or shelve books in the library.  Then you can directly interact with teachers and come to your own conclusions.  But we are happy.

Thank you everyone for the thoughtful responses. It's helpful to hear more feedback from experienced locals. It honestly feels disingenuous of us to worry about the integration plan when diversity and inclusion are some of the factors that makes SOMA so appealing to us. But at the same time we wondered if it could come at the cost of academic achievement. I do get the strong impression that this community cares though, FilmCarp's line about "very little gets swept under the carpet." was particularly encouraging. 

Very helpful again, thank you all. 

20 year resident with 2 kids at the high school.  Our experience with the schools has been a real mix of good and dysfunction.  Some of the highlights have been the outstanding music education at the high school, the incredible Broadway-caliber musicals and a lot of AP class choices.  Some of the low points have been the elimination of labs for science classes at the high school so kids take chemistry without ever doing one experiment, teacher terminations with zero communication from the district, and one middle school student who brought a loaded gun to the school, causing kids like mine to spend an hour and a half under a desk in a fetal position.  Would I buy a house here again?  I don’t know.  It is extremely politically correct.  Too much so for me.

I have a daughter in kindergarten and a son in 3rd grade. So far we have had excellent experiences. The remote learning has been going relatively well. The teachers have all been good and the kindergarten teachers even came by one morning and wrote on the sidewalk that they miss her. My concerns are some of the stories I hear about the middle school and high school, but we have been happy with the grammar school and love the town. 

My kid had her entire schooling here from Seth Boyden Elementary, Maplewood Middle thru Columbia HS.  The overall picture was excellent with a few glitches along the way.  Her preparation enabled her to enroll in the Honors Program at UAlbany where she graduated summa cum laude with a double major.  The main factor involved in academic success for most children without learning disabilities is parental involvement (not hovering!)  I'd repeat our experience any day.

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