NJ State Report Card Narrative (2014-2015) 


    OCTOBER 2015

    We are pleased to provide you with the New Jersey School Report Card for Columbia High School, in the South Orange and Maplewood School District.  This report card is intended to provide you with a snapshot of our school’s progress in curricular and co-curricular areas.  Columbia High School is the district’s flagship learning institution and embodies a long-standing tradition of academic achievement, student achievement in arts, athletics, and other endeavors, and is a source of excellence and pride in our community.  During the 2015-2016 school year, our efforts continue to focus on ensuring that all students are prepared for the 21st century, both within our local communities and the larger global society they will enter as scholars and citizens upon graduation from CHS.

    This state report card includes important information in the following categories:  School Environment, Student Information, Student Performance Indicators, Staff Information, and District Financial Data.  There are numbers for some items, and percentages and ratios for others.  To that end, as you review this document, it will provide you with data that will keep you well-informed about and linked to your child’s school.

    In September 2014, Columbia High School implemented the fourth year of its Five-Year Strategic Plan.  This plan is a “living document” that is aligned with district goals and incorporates strategies that provide open access to higher-level classes for all students, increase rigor across the curriculum, and prepares them for college and career readiness.  In 2014-15, the CHS staff and larger community undertook the Middle States Association’s Excellence By Design Self-Study, a process which will culminate with a visit by a Middle States accreditation team scheduled for November 2015 and a high school plan for growth that will be acted upon over the next seven to ten years.  The high school is led by Principal Elizabeth Aaron and Assistant Principals Terry Woolard, Charles Ezell, and Cheryl Hewitt.

    A four-year high school with an enrollment of approximately 1,950 students, the racially diverse body had six (6) seniors named Outstanding Participants by the 2014 National Achievement Scholarship Program (part of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation) and referred to U.S. Colleges and Universities. Seventeen (17) CHS seniors were awarded Letters of Commendation in the 2014 Merit Program from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.  Eighteen (18) students were named Advanced Placement (AP) Scholars with Honors or Distinction, and one (1) was named National Hispanic Scholar. One (1) was named a National Achievement Semi-Finalist.  

    In the graduating class of 2015, seniors chose to attend (3) Ivy League Universities.  Acceptances were offered to seniors at (3) additional Ivy League Institutions.  Seniors chose to attend (23) different Tier One Colleges/Universities.  Two (2) seniors entered the military.  One (1) senior accepted programming at a Vocational School.  Of approximately 440 seniors who graduated, students reported choosing to attend 183 different colleges and universities.

    The district provides an opportunity in school each October for all sophomores and juniors to take a free PSAT. This allows all students access an early understanding of the college planning process as it relates to the PSAT and SAT, and to begin to have conversations with their families, teachers, and counselors about pathways to higher-level courses that will prepare them to be college- and career-ready upon graduation.

    CHS is a member of the national Minority Student Achievement Network, and a group of students attends MSAN’s annual student leadership conference to network with other diverse schools across the country and to bring back action plans, leadership, and best practices for increasing opportunity and closing the achievement gap in our school. Those students work with a faculty advisor and dedicated faculty and staff mentors to lead study groups, school programming, and an Advanced Placement Student-for-a-Day and informational one-day, student-led conference to expose more students to high levels of academic course work as they plan their four-year trajectory at CHS.

    Our Advanced Placement (AP) program fully prepares our students for higher education and career goals.  Columbia High School offers a full complement of 22 AP courses, which allow students to enter most colleges and universities with advanced standing. In May 2015, 424 students at CHS took a total of 796 AP exams.  85.6% of scores on those exams received scores of “3” or higher. This pass rate exceeded that of the state of New Jersey overall rate by 13% and is one of the highest pass rates in the nation.  The high school also administers AP examinations in courses not offered at the high school, including microeconomics, macroeconomics, and German.

    Our curriculum meets the varied needs of our student body and the diversity within our school’s local communities, and provides varied types of learning opportunities.  Our district has partnered with Apex, a company that offers K-12 online curricular programming.  Courses are offered at a nominal fee for enrichment as well as credit recovery.  The courses use a combination of video, audio, text, and interactive white boards to deliver the curricula.  In addition to the online programming opportunities, a diverse selection of elective courses are available to students in areas such as forensic science, television production, animation, filmmaking, computer graphics, and a variety of studio art courses, music technology, broadcast journalism, drama, sociology, computer technology and psychology. Students use participation in these courses to advance their coursework as well as to avail themselves of learning opportunities not offered in our regular curriculum.   Our content area supervisors have worked closely with national and state professional organizations to align our curriculum with the CCCS and to have our teachers and students and their families continue to be PARCC-ready in 2016. In 2014, a new, structured study hall for 9th graders was implemented to facilitate the transition of the class to high school, and an additional 5 hours of programming was added to summer school to increase student engagement around issues related to academic achievement.  Summer opportunities for acceleration and course rigor exist in our science and math programs for interested students.

    Particular and individualized curricular programming and supportive interventions are offered regular education students who have not been promoted to the next grade level in more than one academic year.  This programming is flexible, individualized, and personalized so students may have opportunities to recover credits and progress toward attainment of their diplomas in an accelerated and adaptable amount of time based on proficiency and portfolio assessment and learning.  Specific counseling supports for student and their families include the regular services of our Guidance and Counseling in as well as our LOFT and Family Connections and ESS (Effective School Solutions) which can connect our students with clinical supports and family counseling.

    The school’s Cougar Prep Program is a transitional, summer program that supports incoming ninth graders as they prepare for their high school careers. Students are recommended from our two middle schools for participation in this program. This initiative invites students to a five-week program that includes instructional, social, cultural, and recreational components. The program partners with Family Connections, an Essex County non-profit organization that supports diverse families in this area. At the completion of the Cougar Prep program, students are awarded 1.25 credits for their high school transcripts.

    Student Assistance Counselors (SACs) are specialists who work with students, parents, and staff to manage the challenges associated with substance use and abuse.  They provide confidential counseling services before, during, and after a student presents with a “crisis” that potentially inhibits his/her ability to effectively uphold the responsibilities expected of them as a student, friend, family member, and individual.  The Student Assistance Counselors at CHS also coordinate the Intervention and Referral Services Team, as well as the Peer Counseling Program.  SACs work closely with our full-time guidance and counseling staff of 12 counselors, three of whom are the counselors specifically for 9th graders, specializing in the transition for our middle schoolers as they enter 9th grade.

    Parent Programs are presented annually to each grade level by our Guidance and Counseling Departments.  Parents are welcomed to attend evening programming, scheduled within the first 6 weeks of school, sponsored by the Guidance Department, to address post-secondary planning, graduation requirements, school practices and procedures, as well as the management of the ever-evolving adolescent.  The department’s mission is partnership with students and families, and it provides on-going strategies and suggestions to all attendees about how to remain in touch and connected to school. Students may make appointments to see their counselors at any time, and counselors facilitate grade-level and small-group meetings for students at each grade throughout the year. At our annual Back to School night in early October, more than a thousand parents visit to receive an overview of course goals and expectations from the Principal and their students’ teachers.

    Students also have additional opportunities to participate in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Association and Peer Counseling classes, which serve students in the elementary and middle schools within the district. Our Reading Buddies programs allows high school students to offer one lunch period a week to visit our elementary schools and partner one-on-one with an elementary school student to support his or her reading growth and development.  Our student broadcasting television station provides curricular support to the morning announcements, as well as daily programming to our communities.  The Columbian has been named “Most Outstanding High School Newspaper” and has received the First Place with Special Merit Award from the American Scholastic Press Association as well as a Gold Medalist award from the Columbia University Press Association. Our annual literary and arts publication, Guildscript, highlights the talent of our artists and writers.

    Performing and visual artists from beginning to advanced cultivate their talents in a learning environment that values the arts and that is led by faculty music and art teachers who are also active in professional gallery showing and musical performances themselves. In the 2015-16 school year, over 1100 students are enrolled in art classes and over 400 in music classes. Our renowned theater arts programs include an annual spring musical production nominated for awards in the Paper Mill Theater’s Rising Star Awards, and a smaller fall theater production by the Parnassian Drama Group takes place over two weekends. Exceptional art exhibits showcased in our own Domareki Art Gallery highlight the work of our art teachers, students, and community residents who are artists.  Freshmen, sophomores, and juniors are eligible to audition for acceptance into our Special Dance Company, a two-period, year-long course that performs throughout New Jersey and culminates each year in a two-night performance. The course is a joint performance and academic course.  We have a marching band, two jazz bands, and an orchestra. Our district partners with the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School to provide access to Suzuki violin instruction that builds a feeder program for our middle and high school orchestras.  Choral, brass and string ensembles are also offered as options for our students that include a chamber orchestra and women’s select choir. Annually, our students are recognized at the national and state levels for their achievements in the fine and performing arts. Our a cappella group, Unaccompanied Minors, receives accolades locally and at competitions.

    Columbia High School has a World Class Robotics Program, now in its 5th year.  The robotics team went to the World Championships in St. Louis two out of three consecutive three years, placing second in the world once and rising to the Semifinal round another (one of the top 12 teams in the world).  The team now mentors another team from a nearby town, and has supported the development of middle school teams and elementary school Lego and robotics programming in after school elementary programs throughout the district.  A Robotics class was added to the CHS curriculum for the 2014-2015 school year and some underused district space has been converted for classroom and club robotics space.  A three-year, selective science research that pairs high school students with university professors and allows for a course for students to work toward submission of projects in competitions such as the Google and Siemens science contests each year was added to the CHS curriculum in the 2014-2015 school year. In the 2015-2016 school year, 16 students have moved to the program’s second year, and 26 are enrolled in the first of three years of coursework.

    Columbia High School offers more than 50 club activities for students across all grade levels that run throughout the school year.  They include diverse offerings such as Astronomy, Chess, Cougar Nation (student sports boosters), Guitar, Piano Guild, Magic, Math, P.O.W.E.R. (womens’ rights and equality issues), SPECTRUM (LGBT issues and activism), the West Point Bridge Design club, a Programming Club, Student Tour Guides, full Class and Student Councils, golf, Future Medical Students of America, and Ultimate Frisbee. The CHS Student Council is an active member of the State Student Council organization and the SOMSD allows for a Student Representative to the Board of Education, who serves as a non-voting member and fulfills a two-year term after being elected by the high school student body.  Columbia High School offers 8 service clubs such as Key Club or Amnesty International that run throughout the school year that participate in both local and school service activities. Students serve as role models, coaches, and peer leaders in events such as the Maplewood Green Day festival and elementary school musical theater productions.  Columbia High School added 5 new clubs in 2013-2014 that included Ceramics, Girls Who Code, Literacy and Gaming, Medical Club, and the O-Ambassadors, who raise money for a school in Uganda.

    Columbia High School is well-respected in the state for its championship athletic programs. Dedicated staff members and community partners serve as coaches to sports such as lacrosse, outdoor and indoor track, field hockey, soccer, cross country, fencing, basketball, swimming, tennis, baseball and football. In total, there are 24 different sports offered and 45 levels (teams).   In the 2014-2015 sports seasons, the womens’ volleyball team finished the season as the SEC Conference Champions for the Colonial Division.  The Boys’ varsity basketball team reached the NJSIAA State Sectional Semi-Finals. The Girls’ Fencing Team finished as the #1 team in the state.  They won the NJSIAA State Title and prestigious Santelli Tournament Title and finished the season with only 1 loss, garnering their 12th state title. The Boys’ Fencing Team finished as the #2 team in the state, their only loss coming in the NJSIAA State Title match.  They were the winners of the   prestigious Cetrulo Tournament Title. The Girls’ Outdoor Track Team won the Essex County Relays for the 7th consecutive year, the Essex County Championships, and finished 2nd at the NJSIAA Group IV Sectionals.  The varsity baseball team finished with a 22-3 record and were SEC Conference Champions for the Liberty Division.  The mens’ tennis team finished undefeated and were champions of the SEC Conference Liberty Division.   Columbia High School placed 26 athletes on Star Ledger All-Conference Teams, 48 athletes on SEC (Super Essex Conference) All-Conference Teams, and 14 athletes on Star Ledger All-State Teams.  Columbia High School was awarded the 2014-2015 NJSIAA Sportsmanship Award as no athlete or coach was disqualified for an athletic event during the calendar year.

    Parents play a vital role in the school community. They are involved in the Cougar Booster Club, the Achieve Foundation, the Columbia High School Music Parents’ Association (CHSMPA), the Home and School Association (HSA), and other organizations to raise funds and organize events that enhance the curricular and extracurricular opportunities for all students.  Grade-level parent volunteers facilitate communications between home and school, and all are welcomed at school events and programs as partners in their children’s education.

    The district provides parents with information about their child’s schooling and academic progress through the PowerSchool Parent Portal.

    We urge all parents and guardians to study the report card and to explore additional information by visiting the district’s website at www.somsd.k12.nj.us.  You may obtain the State Report Card for any school in our district on the State of New Jersey Department of Education’s website or by calling Suzanne Turner, District Director for Strategic Communications, at (973) 762-5600, extension 1834.


    Elizabeth M. Aaron, MAT, M. Ed., Principal

     (973) 762-5600,  Extension 1012







Last Modified on February 8, 2016