While Secaucus did not get into the prestigious top 75 list, a goal Principal Pat Impreveduto set when he first heard of the list in 1978, the improvement shows that Secaucus High School has made great strides.
"It was my goal to have the school finish within the top 75 in my first five years as principal, and we missed my a whisker," Impreveduto said.
The ratings are issued by New Jersey Monthly magazine every two years and are based on statistical data compiled from 307 college preparatory and comprehensive high schools from around the state. Most of the figures used came from the New Jersey Department of Education and the state Office on Student Assistance. The magazine used the professional firm Leflein Associates, Inc. of Ringwood to collect and calculate the rankings.
Among the standards used to evaluate a school's ranking, Leflein looked at Scholastic Assessment Tests (SATs) and the results of a school's New Jersey Grade 11 High School Proficiency Tests. Credit was given to schools that encourage students to continue their education by considering the number of students planning to attend college, with more points given for students who attend four-year colleges than those who attend two-year colleges.
New Jersey Monthly also gave credit for the number of Advanced Placement classes a high school provides. These are college level courses given at the high school level. A student who passes these with a sufficiently high grade may receive college credits.
Student awards also play a role in the ranking systems. Schools whose students won awards from the Edward J. Bloustein Distinquished Scholars and the Urban Scholars programs received points in the ranking system. New Jersey Monthly measured the number of hours students attend classes per day.
The latest rating is based on the 2000-2001 school year, and showed sharp positives in numerous areas, an improvement on the previous evaluation done on statistics from 1998-1999 school year.
"This progress didn't come about in one year," said Impreveduto during an interview done just after the news broke in earlier this month. "This was the result of work done over the last four or five years."
Second in county
Secaucus finished second in Hudson County behind Jersey City's Ronald McNair Academic High School - which finished first in the state for the second evaluation period in a row. Secaucus also finished near the top against schools of its own size and economic makeup.
"We were number seven in the state in our district factor group," Impreveduto said. This includes schools such as Woodridge and Rutherford. Secaucus finished second among the Bergen County sports league in which its sports teams compete.
Secaucus High School students showed a marked improvement in their SAT scores with the average rising from 552 to 575. The percentage of students passing HSPT test rose from 83.3 to 92.6. While graduates going to two-year colleges declined from 19 to 15, those who attended four-year colleges rose from 58 to 77. Awards to Secaucus graduates more than doubled from 3.08 to 6.84 percent.
Oddly enough, Secaucus High School's average hours dropped. Secaucus adopted block scheduling in the interim, which could explain the slight drop from six hours and 47 minutes per day to six and half.
Impreveduto, however, credited the change to block scheduling with helping improve grades and student focus on education.
"More Secaucus High School students are on the honor roll than ever before," Impreveduto said, "and students are taking on more challenging assignments."
Even freshmen are required to take on special writing projects.
One of the key areas of improvement was in the Advanced Placement classes. The school's classes jumped from less than 1 percent to almost 7 percent of the student population taking them during that time period. Secaucus currently has 13 Advanced Placement classes subject areas that include English, mathematics, social studies, since and world languages. One student did so well in AP classes two years ago that he graduated high school with 15 college credits already accumulated.
"We have more AP classes than any other group one high school," Impreveduto said, "And we intend to add more in the future."
Art will be one area Impreveduto intends to provide AP studies.
"These are not easy courses," he said, noting that the more competitive colleges such as Princeton or Harvard check to see how many AP courses an applying student took. "If they haven't taken any AP classes, they can forget getting into those colleges."
Despite the new ranking in the state, Impreveduto said there is always room for improvement.
"We're going to continue to strive by adding programs that benefit students," he said. While he had several ideas, he could not share them until he brought them before the Board of Education for approval.
New Jersey Monthly didn't notify the school to tell them about the change, but a local real estate agent did.
Catherine Murray, who had a child in Clarendon elementary school, said the ranking means good things for those with kids in the schools as well as people moving to Secaucus.
"Not only does this make Secaucus a more attractive place to live for the parents of students in the schools, but for anybody else living or wishing to live here," she said.