The Jets and the Sharks?

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There is a somewhat inspiring piece in The Record today regarding two north Bergen County high schools, Indian Hills High School and Ramapo High School. Back in the late 1990’s, parents of children from Franklin Lakes were given the choice of sending their kids to either one, and a survey revealed that Ramapo was vastly more popular, boasting slightly higher test scores and students from wealthier families. In fact, Franklin Lakes parents said that they would choose Ramapo over Indian Hills by a margin of 12-to-1.

It looked bad for Indian Hills, in spite of $53 million of construction poured in, the movement of the board offices from Ramapo to Indian Hills, and a careful equalizing of the curricular opportunities. A few years later, the result has been a pretty equal distribution between the two schools.

Money quote:

Scott Belsky, who grew up in Franklin Lakes and graduated from Indian Hills last year, said he believes the district has moved away from the old model of two schools that draw students from separate and distinct towns and tax brackets.

“The old prejudices of geography and socioeconomics won’t matter anymore,” he predicted.

It’s a story with a happy ending: two high schools separated by class, socio-economics, and different tax rates find an acceptable balance. Everyone wins! Is this our panacea for New Jersey’s inequitable school system writ small?

Let’s not get carried away. The Record piece describes the class struggle in this way:

The parking lots told part of the story: Cars at Ramapo tended toward the high end, while students at Indian Hills had mid-range rides.

Well, okay, this is not exactly Daddy Warbucks and Orphan Annie. It’s one thing to offer a choice between two highly performing high schools in a wealthy part of New Jersey as opposed to offering a choice within a far more disparate model. Indian Hills vs. Ramapo is not quite the same choice as, say, Trenton vs. Princeton or Willingboro vs. Moorestown. Still, it may be that we’re too dismissive of the possibilities. Can we queue up the soundtrack from “West Side Story,” please?

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