This past week, SMMUSD was recognized among California’s best school districts by national academic ranking service Niche

The continued efforts of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District have captured national attention.

This past week, SMMUSD was recognized among California’s best school districts by national academic ranking service Niche, which ranked the district 16th out of 440 listed California school districts in its 2023 report. The ranking is derived from analysis of both key data statistics from the United States Department of Education, as well as reviews from students and parents.

Santa Monica High School was also given high marks from both the Niche rankings and a “2023 Best High Schools” ranking from U.S. News & World Report. In the best high schools ranking, Samohi ranked 736th out of the nearly 18,000 public schools considered, an improvement of nearly 100 spots from the 2022 ranking that put Samohi at 829. The U.S. News & World report rankings were determined by college readiness scores, based on demographics, state test scores and college prep exams.

Niche also awarded Samohi with an A+ grade in educational outcomes, which includes academic data like SAT and ACT scores, with special consideration given to schools where students land at high-ranked colleges and universities.

“Words cannot convey the immense pride I feel for our Santa Monica-Malibu community – our remarkable students, supportive parents, dedicated faculty, and hardworking staff – for this well-deserved recognition,” SMMUSD Superintendent Dr. Antonio Shelton said of the honor.

The Niche ranking “report card,” an A+ for the district as a whole, broke school districts down into nine distinct categories. Out of these categories, SMMUSD was graded an A- or better in six key sections: Academics, teachers, clubs & activities, diversity, college prep and administration. The district’s teachers were given extremely high marks, finishing 78th out of the 11,687 ranked schools in “districts with the best teachers in America.”

Out of 699 ranked districts in California, SMMUSD teachers were ranked 7th. In the Greater Los Angeles area, the only districts with better teaching units were La Cañada Unified School District, Laguna Beach Unified School District and San Marino Unified School District.

The Niche grades were favorable around the district, with John Adams Middle School, Lincoln Middle School and SMASH middle school all receiving an A or A+ grade. All SMMUSD elementary schools also earned an A+, A or A- grade.

The district-wide praise has Shelton determined to work in keeping up the high marks.

“Moving forward, we are steadfast in prioritizing our students’ well-being, academic success, and fostering a nurturing environment for their social-emotional growth,” Shelton said. “Additionally, our commitment to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion, while creating a sense of belonging and empowerment for all within SMMUSD, will continue to shape a thriving and inclusive school environment.”

In the U.S. News & World Report rankings, Samohi was named the 106th best high school in California, receiving praise for its college readiness and state assessment proficiency. The ranking took into account that at 69 percent of Samohi students took at least one AP exam during their high school years, with 55 percent passing at least one AP exam. For subject proficiency, based on AP-level coursework and state test results, Samohi finished 26 points above state average in mathematics, 21 points above state average in reading, and 18 points above state average in science.

Malibu High School was also graded favorably by both Niche and U.S. News & World Report, given an A grade by Niche for educational outcomes and ranked 93rd in the state (660 overall) by the World Report grading system. Malibu boosted their World Report ranking significantly from 2022, when the school ranked 176th in the state and 1,170th in the nation.


Thomas Leffler has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism from Penn State University and has been in the industry since 2015. Prior to working at SMDP, he was a writer for AccuWeather and managed...