Website Judges SMHS to Be Among State’s Best High Schools

Neighborhood research aggregator Niche.com has awarded San Marino High School an A+ while ranking it as the No. 2 public high school in Los Angeles County and No. 8 in all of California.
SMHS earned A+ ratings in four of the 10 categories — academics, teachers, college prep and administration — on which the website based its rankings. The school also earned A’s in food and health and safety, an A-minus in diversity and a B+ in sports, clubs and activities, and resources and facilities.
In L.A. County, the ranking put SMHS only slightly behind Palos Verdes Peninsula High School in Rolling Hills Estates. Perennial competitor La Cañada High School checked in at No. 5 in the county and nearby South Pasadena High School came in at No. 7.
“Of course we’re excited,” SMHS Principal Issaic Gates said. “We’re excited whenever any organization recognizes or acknowledges the work that we’re doing to support our students. That work can’t be done without our community.”
Niche develops its school rankings on the basis of academic performance evaluations from the state, combined with parental assessments and reviews made directly to the website. For
SMHS, it noted — based on user responses — a 96% average
graduation rate, average ACT score of 31 and an average SAT score of 1360; it also listed USC, UCLA and UC Berkeley as the likeliest college of interest for graduates.
Citing state testing data, Niche also highlighted the finding that 81% of SMHS students are at minimum proficiency in math and 85% are at minimum proficiency in reading. The school also boasts a 20:1 student-teacher ratio, with 5.6% of teachers in their first or second year.
For nearly two decades, meanwhile, San Marino Unified School District has ranked No. 1 in California according to its performance in statewide exams.
Gates attributed his school’s success to a group effort by faculty and the community — teachers, counselors, the PTSA and administrators included. He noted that there are pros and cons to independent rankings, which will reflect public satisfaction with the institution but can’t always illustrate internal policies or decisions.

San Marino High School Principal Issaic Gates kicks off a previous Red Ribbon Week at the school.
Photo courtesy SMHS PTSA
San Marino High School Principal Issaic Gates kicks off a previous Red Ribbon Week at the school. The principal this week cited an engaged school community as a significant reason for SMHS’ success in outside evaluations.

“It’s great to be acknowledged, and they’re independent, so they have an outsider’s perspective,” Gates said of the Niche ranking. “I think we have our own internal values. I don’t know whether we’re very intentional and making or not making ‘the rankings.’”
Access to success comes at a price, Niche pointed out. With a median household income of more than $152,000, a median rent of $3,501 and a median home value of $1.55 million, the city gets a D grade in cost of living and a C in housing; that being said, in the “Good for families” classification, SMHS got a perfect A+ this year.
This all checks out, of course, for an affluent suburb whose parents often cite the school district as the reason they picked San Marino and whose homeowners cite the school district as propping up property values even through the Great Recession.
“We’re working to make learning better during the high school experience and beyond, and there’s a good spirit about it,” Gates said. “We’re really excited and pleased that someone values and acknowledges the work that we’re doing. We have a new superintendent, [Jeff] Wilson, who is extremely supportive of the work that we’re doing and so is our school board.”

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