Once upon a time, Red Oaks School served only preschool-aged children in a small space leased on Martin Luther King Avenue.
How times have changed.
In 1968, the private school—then called The Montessori Children's House of Morristown—moved to its Cutler Street location, which the original structure had been built in 1799 by Joseph Cutler for Silas Condict, two very historical names in Morristown.
Over the years, the school, changing its name to "The Red Oaks School" in 2006, continued to grow. One-by-one new grades were added. The school now serves children through sixth-grade, with plans to ultimately reach eighth grade in two years.
Obviously, an expansion was in order.
Fifteen years in the making, The Red Oaks School opened its second location, at 340 Speedwell Ave., in September. Owned by The Morristown Columbian Club and once the former home of Unity Charter School , this 6,000 square foot space currently serves sixth graders and will eventually serve all three middle school grades.
If the last several years are any indication, there was definitely need for growth. Since 2010, enrollment at the school—where tuition can cost almost $20,000 a year, before any potential aid—rose from 167 to 183 in 2011, then to 203 in 2012.
"We've been looking for space since my son was in school, at least 15 years ago," said Cora Thomases, director of communications for Red Oaks. She said the school had looked all over the region for a viable second location, including an abandoned Buddhist monastary in Mendham. "This was the first one that was viable," she said, referring to the Columbian Club.
The complete gut and rehab project cost about $500,000.
Marilyn Stewart, Red Oaks' head of school since 1999, said the move for fifth graders into sixth grade at the new location reflects "young adolescence's need to enter a new world and be on their own."
And, it's not just fresh paint and new carpeting below a high ceiling that is part of 340 Speedwell Ave. Referring to their curriculum as "Montessori Plus—"growing and adapting with the times, the new building is packed with new technology including laptops and iPads and a plethora of charging stations to ensure no one is left with a dead computer when they need it most.
Thomases called the new space "personalized, yet communal. We believe everyone learns differently, but together," she said. "Middle schoolers need that so much."
Laura Gregoire, director of admissions, noted the Middle School's proximity to Speedwell Lake, where field tests are routinely performed by students. The information they gather is then entered into a state database for water bodies. "They can see how this is feeding global information," she said. "It's taking them outside of themselves."
One former student, Elizabeth Murphy of Morris Township, now is in her second year of teaching at Red Oaks. She said the new space was "designed for a middle school student. You feel much more grown up here."
Maureen Palmquist, art teacher at Red Oaks for 16 years, said she loves both spaces for their own reasons. "This one is well-lit, the other is cozy and homey," she said.
While all appears positive for the new space and continued growth in enrollment, Stewart said eighth grade is the absolute ceiling for Red Oaks. "Our niche is through eighth grade," she said, noting the many high schools in this area, both public and private.
Overall, the head of school was happy with the expansion and excited for its full potential to be realized over the next two years."We want the school experience to be different," Stewart said. "We want them to love to come to school."