Montclair Public Schools Guide: Tips and Insight on Choosing a School for Your Family

Urban families seeking more space in the sprawling suburbs often eye Montclair, New Jersey for a myriad of reasons, with the highly regarded Montclair Public School System among those reasons.

Just 13 miles away from Manhattan, Montclair is described as an architecturally eclectic "railroad suburb” by New York Magazine. Because of its close proximity to the City and its abundance of train stations for commuters—seven to be exact—Montclair is a desirable town to settle down, especially for those who rely on public transportation. In addition to the schools and easy access to the city, many urban families are drawn to the Montclair neighborhoods that boast diversity, an active community and a thriving business district anchored by ample shops and restaurants.

As a business who also happens to have firsthand experience navigating the Montclair Public System, we wanted to shed light on the Montclair Public Schools and the magnet system.

In this guide, we're sharing tips on school selection and informal school profiles with parent insights to help you navigate Montclair’s public school offerings.

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What is a magnet school?

If you have kids and you’re considering moving to Montclair, the first thing you need to know is that the Montclair Public School System is a “magnet system.”

According to the NJ Department of Education Report Card Narrative:

The magnet system of integrated schools represents a strong, diverse and vibrant community of learners and serves nearly 6,700 students. A pioneer in the magnet school concept, Montclair has, for over 30 years, offered parents a choice of schools best suited to their child's individual interests and needs.

The magnet system takes into account families’ preferences; parents have some choice in their children’s school assignments. Each of the town’s 7 elementary schools and 3 middle schools has an educational theme, a “magnet” intended to draw students from different parts of town, so Montclair kids don’t necessarily go to the school in their neighborhood. The school system boasts an array of facilities and programs including a university collaboration; a gifted and talented program; a planetarium; a K to 12th Mandarin program; a hydroponic greenhouse; a drama program founded by dedicated parents, and so much more.

New residents registering children for grades K-8 will be asked to rank their school preferences. Montclair’s Board of Education uses an algorithm that takes into account the family’s preferences, their ward, and other factors to determine school placement. Most residents get one of their top choices, but not always. Find registration details from the Montclair Board of Education here.

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4 Tips on Making Your School Decision

Go on every school tour
Every year, the district offers school tours. In 2018, these tours occurred in March, but the timing can vary.
“The tours give you a real feeling for the culture of each school. Talk to as many parents, students and teachers as possible to get the vibe of the school and see if it is right for you,” says Metin Ozkuzey, President of Designer Appliances, and a parent of two Montclair Public School students. If you’re moving before you can take the tours, check out the virtual tours offered on the board of education website.

Know Which Middle School Your Elementary Will Feed Into
Each elementary school feeds to a specific middle school. Students are guaranteed a spot in the middle school their elementary school feeds into. Here is a graphic of the feeder system pattern. Says Metin Ozkuzey, “Not everyone gets into their first choice for middle school, so it’s important to consider which middle school your elementary school feeds to, especially if you are moving here with older elementary school kids.”

Feel Empowered to Make a Decision Based on Your Schedule
The Montclair schools have a radically different start and finish times to accommodate complicated bussing across town. Says Metin Ozkuzey, “The core curriculum is the same at every school, and all roads lead to the high school. If you have to pick a school around the start time that works for your job, feel ok about that.”

Remember a School is More Than Its Magnet
Metin Ozkuzey notes, “If you talk to Montclair parents, they’ll tell you they enjoy their school’s magnet, but what makes their school special is so much more than the magnet. The schools are quite balanced. You can find great arts programs at the science magnet, for example.”

Overview of the Elementary Schools with Parent Insights

The Bradford School
The Bradford School is the University Magnet, that is, the school has a partnership with Montclair State University. Part of what this means is that professors from the university come into the school to share their expertise with teachers and students, in subjects that range from philosophy to chemistry. The students also take field trips to MSU, “about once a month,” according to one parent. These field trips include visits to MSU’s forensics lab and opportunities to see the symphony. Says Montserrat Kim, the mother of both a Bradford graduate and a current student, “Every child in the school is exposed to a university setting from Kindergarten, and that’s powerful because it allows all the kids to envision themselves getting a higher education.” Kim reports that the principal’s BRADFORD C.A.R.E.S. program, a socio-emotional curriculum, permeates the teaching and the discipline. She says, “Bradford is in many ways a traditional school. It doesn’t have the electives some of the other schools have. However, it can give every child the individual attention they need.
Hours: 8:50am to 3:05pm

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Charles H. Bullock Elementary School was designed to follow LEED criteria, and Tetra Tech helped by delivering sustainable design elements such as a Photovoltaic system to support 25 percent of the building’s energy performance needs, 80-well geothermal field that provides efficient heating and cooling and recycled materials used in construction.

The Bullock School
The Bullock School, which opened in 2010, is the newest of Montclair’s schools. Parents describe its facilities as light, energy efficient, and cutting edge. The school’s magnet is environmental science. Teachers collaborate across disciplines to teach children about the natural world, recycling, energy efficiency and more. Educating the whole child—teaching children to be caring, empathetic, responsible stewards of the Earth—is a focus, as is differentiated instruction for every child. Parents report that the reading and writing instruction at the school is strong, and that they love to attend class “publishing parties.” Says, Melissa Strome, a parent with two children at the school, “Small details like circular tables in the cafeteria reinforce the philosophy of caring and community. I love the artists-in-residence program, which brings Montclair artists into the school to work with children over the course of an entire grade.”
Hours: 8:50am to 3:05pm

The Edgemont School
Edgemont is the smallest elementary school in the district. One Edgemont parent calls it, “a very cozy school with a warm intimate feeling.” The school’s magnet theme is Montessori. What this means for a K through 5 learning environment is an approach that stresses hands-on, project-based, experiential learning in all grades. As such, the school has facilities that get kids up out of their seats and into the world, including a children’s garden, a nature trail, an outdoor learning environment, and a “cosmic studies” lab.
Hours: 8:20am to 2:35pm

The Hillside School
Hillside is the gifted & talented magnet and the sister-school of Nishuane. It starts in 3rd grade and goes to 5th. Parents report there is a “big-kid” feeling at this big school, and a climate that encourages independence and academic agency. The first weeks of school, the 3rd graders tour the school and sample the many electives the school has to offer. The electives include accelerated “Creative I” programs for students who test one grade level above the average in academic subjects or perform outstandingly in an arts screening. Kids can pour their passion into gymnastics, algebra, STEM courses, drumming, the school paper. Hillside offers Mandarin and Spanish. There is a dedicated science specialist who works with all of the teachers on the STEM curriculum and electives. Hillside has some renowned arts programs: Travelling Troupe theater group; Drums of Thunder drumming corps; play productions; an orchestra; and a chorus. Says Harriet Salem, whose son just graduated from Hillside and participated in the Drums of Thunder, “These kids performed at the Eagles’ stadium in front of 60 thousand people. The confidence and discipline the kids took from the experience will stay with them forever.”
Hours: 9:20 am to 3:35 pm

The Nishuane School
Nishuane is the gifted & talented magnet for grades K to 3. This means the school is run like a university for very little people. For first and second grades, parents get to help their children choose from the school’s more than 70 elective courses. Some are pure fun, like Paws & Claws. Others are academic, like Shakespeare’s Book Club or Kitchen Chemistry. Children who test more than one grade above level have the opportunity to take accelerated “Creative I” courses. The 8th grade electives period is also used to give kids who are struggling with a subject a boost. The school offers Mandarin that can be continued at Hillside, Glenfield, and the high school, so that a child can take the language K-12. The idea that there are multiple intelligences, and that giftedness is not static, but about a “growth mindset,” permeates the school. The school employs a special education teacher who has a specialty in giftedness. The arts are strong at Nishuane. Every child, in every grade, participates in a play. David Moon, a parent who had two kids graduate from Nishuane, says, “The perception is that Nishuane is the arts school, and the arts are strong there, but both of my kids took advanced math electives at Nishuane that reinforced a love of math.” This is the one school in the system that serves only grades K-3, so the tone of the school is “warm-fuzzy,” according to Moon. The school feeds to Hillside after 2nd grade.
Hours: 9:20 am to 3:35 pm

The Northeast School
Northeast’s magnet is global studies, and a dedicated global studies teacher interfaces with all of the teachers to weave an understanding of geography, current events, political science, leadership, economics, and other skills into the curriculum. Says Marci Clark, a former PTA president, and Northeast parent, “The teachers infuse everyday learning with global studies. The related arts teachers are fantastic, and they use art and music to inspire our kids to do cultural projects that reach into the community. The music program is stellar.” Parents report that Northeast’s PTA is very passionate and involved in funding assemblies and organizing extracurricular activities for the school, helping to pull off annual events like the Geography Bee, the Talent Show, the Global Bazaar and Cultural Heritage Dinner, and the NE Global Soccerathon. Clark’s take on the school is that “In many ways, it’s a traditional learning environment that allows the teachers to know the children and focus on their individual learning styles. The best thing about the school is the teachers.”
Hours: 8:20 am to 2:35 pm

The Watchung School
Watchung’s magnet is science & technology, and it has a state of the art science lab and greenhouse with a hydroponic system that enables students to learn about growing plants without soil. Critical thinking and problem-solving are woven into all of the disciplines, and a robust week-long science fair and science summit are highlights of the curriculum. Says Watchung parent Idil Bilgin-Ozkuzey, “I love the cozy, caring sense of community that Watchung provides as a result of the dedication and passion of the teachers, staff, and families. Watchung has an active and inclusive PTA. Students, there are driven and encouraged to work to their full potential in a nurturing, loving and respectful environment. Bilgin-Ozkuzey points out that while Watchung is known as the science and technology magnet, it also provides students with a strong exposure to the arts and humanities with its popular Drama Club, strong music program and Wake Up Watchung broadcast news show. Watchung’s afterschool program also offers a rich selection of afterschool electives.
Hours: 8:50 am to 3:05 pm

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Overview of the Montclair Middle Schools with Parent Insights

Glenfield Middle School
Glenfield is the visual and performing arts magnet. From the orchestra to the jazz band to the dance company, Glenfield's expansive offerings are plentiful for students who have an interest in the arts. Yet, parents in the know say that prospective families should not think of Glenfield solely as an arts school. Eileen Lundberg, a mother of a 6th grader and an 8th graders, says, “One of the most attractive things about the school is that it gives students the freedom to pursue challenging academics, such as the Science Olympiad or the Human Rights and Violations course. At the same time, it lets them tap into their kid side and take fun courses like the Hogwarts for Muggles literature elective. Middle school is a time of self-discovery, and the school lets students feel ownership over their interests.” The school has a planetarium and an attractively renovated 400-seat theater. French, Mandarin, and Spanish are offered. Glenfield has a “learning community” system that keeps students in the same house, with the same teachers, for 3 years.
Hours: 7:50 am to 2:09 pm

Buzz Aldrin Middle School
Buzz Aldrin’s namesake is the second man to land on the moon. The astronaut and aerospace engineer attended the school in his youth when it was called Mount Hebron. So perhaps, it’s fitting that the school’s magnet is now STEM. The school's STEM curriculum runs the gamut. There’s an outpost of the girls’ technology program and competition ProjectCSGIRLS, as well as extensive robotics offerings, the Science Olympiad, an Innovation Faire, a STEM career day, and more. Even the art room is equipped for STEM exploration, with digital printers and other equipment. French and Spanish are offered. Says Idil Bilgin, whose son attends the school, “I just love this school. They encourage and foster independence, but it’s still a place where they provide much-needed security and support. The teachers are focused, dedicated and the force behind so many offerings and opportunities.” This school also has a “learning community” system that keeps students in the same house, with the same teachers, for 3 years.
Hours: 7:50 am to 2:09 pm

Renaissance @ Rand
The Renaissance School has an entirely different school structure than the two other middle schools. Each grade has 4 core academic teachers, and students also take courses in music, art, physical education and technology. Monday to Thursday, there is an extended day and students take courses in 80-minute blocks. On Fridays, short days, students go out into the community, and the world, to do field trips, conduct research, take electives, and participate in community service activities, working with organizations like The Montclair Public Library, The Great Swamp, and the African Burial Ground National Monument.
Hours: 8:20 am to 4:05 pm Mon-Thurs; 8:20 am to 2:35 pm, Friday only

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Transportation

Since students don’t necessarily attend the school closest to their home, transportation can be a deciding factor when it comes to choosing a school. The Montclair Public School District provides bus service for students in elementary and middle schools who live one mile or further from their school. To be eligible for busing, high Schools students must live more than 2.5 miles away from the school.

Information for signing up for subscription bus services, including forms and deadlines, the Montclair School District’s provides a lot of information.

Afterschool and Enrichment Programs

The YMCA of Montclair works in partnership with the Montclair School District to provide SACC Before and Afterschool Care Program. The SACC Before and Afterschool Care Program is available is offered in all of the district’s elementary schools: Bradford, Edgemont, Hillside, Nishuane, Northeast, The Charles H. Bullock School, and Watchung. More information on fees and registration can be found on the YMCA's website.

This Extended Day Program is geared toward middle-school-age students in the Montclair School District. Students can participate in afterschool enrichment activities, as well as receive homework support, sports & fitness, arts & humanities and service learning. The Extended Day Program will be offered at Mt. Hebron, Glenfield and Renaissance Middle Schools. The program begins at school dismissal and children are to be picked up by 6:30 p.m.

A Brief Note on the High School

All Montclair students who stay in the public school system eventually wind up at Montclair High School. The school is known for its AP/honors program, its small learning communities (in which students can choose themes like STEM, social justice, or civics and government). Montclair High School is also known for its diversity and for producing young adults who are experienced in communicating across cultures.

Conclusion - Montclair is Our Home

What differentiates our hometown store from a national chain is how we embrace the community with support and involvement. As members of the community, we have insight that can help navigate your move to town and can be a resource to help find a home, provide information on schools, as well as help with your home renovation process.

We use our showroom to host panels that can help you get connected and find the best Realtors, contractors, and designers. Though we’re not education experts, we’re Montclair residents with deep roots in town and friends with kids at many of the public schools.


Many thanks to Jennifer Dorr-Moon for her valuable contributions on this article.