The high school was opened in September 1973 as West Windsor-Plainsboro High School and was described by The New York Times as the state's first high school to be developed with an "open space" plan, with open areas that could be divided off for instructional space. The school, constructed at a cost of $8 million, initially served 700 students in grades 7 to 10, while the remaining students in grades 11 and 12 finished their schooling at Princeton High School. In 1997, the school was renamed by appending "South" to the school's name, because of the opening of West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North.
During the 1992-93 school year, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School was awarded the National Blue Ribbon School Award of Excellence by the United States Department of Education, the highest award an American school can receive.
In its 2013 report on "America's Best High Schools", The Daily Beast ranked the school 129th in the nation among participating public high schools and 8th overall (and second for non-magnet schools) among schools in New Jersey. In 2012, US News ranked the school 11th in the nation for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The school was ranked 132nd in the nation and seventh in New Jersey on the list of "America's Best High Schools 2012" prepared by The Daily Beast / Newsweek, with rankings based primarily on graduation rate, matriculation rate for college and number of Advanced Placement / International Baccalaureate courses taken per student, with lesser factors based on average scores on the SAT / ACT, average AP/IB scores and the number of AP/IB courses available to students. In August 2011, The Star-Ledger's Inside Jersey ranked the school 1st among the 330 public schools in the state of New Jersey. One notable feature of High School South is that it combines both AP Physics B and C courses into a single course known as Advanced Topics in Physics Honors. This required special permission from the College Board; this was approved when AP Courses were first made. It is the only school that offers such a course.
In the 2011 "Ranking America's High Schools" issue by The Washington Post, the school was ranked 9th in New Jersey and 407th nationwide.
The school was the 35th-ranked public high school in New Jersey out of 339 schools statewide in New Jersey Monthly magazine's September 2014 cover story on the state's "Top Public High Schools", using a new ranking methodology. The school had been ranked 62nd in the state of 328 schools in 2012, after being ranked 16th in 2010 out of 322 schools listed. The magazine ranked the school 21st in 2008 out of 316 schools. The school was ranked 9th in the magazine's September 2006 issue, which included 316 schools across the state. The school was ranked 5th in the 2004 issue, while West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North was ranked 1st during the same year.
Schooldigger.com ranked the school tied for 53rd out of 381 public high schools statewide in its 2011 rankings (a decrease of 29 positions from the 2010 ranking) which were based on the combined percentage of students classified as proficient or above proficient on the mathematics (93.1%) and language arts literacy (96.5%) components of the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA).
The school's 2010 graduating class had the second-highest SAT scores in rankings calculated by the New Jersey Department of Education, with West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South having a combined score of 1,843 on the three sections of the test, behind the 1,860 achieved by Princeton High School students.
In 2013, U.S. News & World Report ranked the school 8th in the state and first in New Jersey among non-magnet schools.
In 2014, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South's varsity debate team won the Colonial Valley Conference's championships, earning the team's first conference title since it became a member in 1973. High School South's debate team has also won a number of prestigious awards and recognition from debate competitions such as Princeton Moot Court, and Princeton Classic.
The school newspaper is called The Pirate's Eye, which won the Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Medal in both 2007 and 2008. The school's radio station is WWPH 107.9 FM, shared with West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North.
The West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South Pirates compete in the Colonial Valley Conference, which includes high schools from Mercer, Middlesex and Monmouth counties, operating under the supervision of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA). With 1,198 students in grades 10-12, the school was classified by the NJSIAA for the 2014-15 school year as Central Jersey, Group IV for most athletic competition purposes, which included schools with an enrollment of 1,083 to 2,230 students in that grade range.
The school mascot is the Pirate and the school colors are green and gold, with accents of black and white. From 1973 to 2003, the Pirate football team bore a "Golden Dome," or a yellow helmet, which for much of that time was blank without a decal. Now, the football team bears a green helmet with a yellow stripe down the middle. Some of South's historically dominant athletic teams include both Boys' and Girls' swimming and diving, tennis, golf, basketball, fencing and lacrosse.
The North-South high school rivalry is a heated affair, with the annual football game in 2007 drawing nearly 8,000 spectators from two towns with a combined population slightly larger than 40,000. North won the 2007 edition, 21-9, to even the all-time series at 3-3. The loss was the Pirates only defeat until they lost the sectional championship game to Howell High School. West Windsor South won in 2008 with a 49-13 victory over West Windsor North.
There is an older rivalry with Hightstown High School called "The War of the Windsors", an annual football game in which the winner takes home "The Mayor's Trophy."
The South varsity boys' tennis squad has been consistently ranked in the top 10 of New Jersey high school tennis teams. The 2007 season was one of the more successful seasons in recent school history. Although the team did not capture the state title, it secured a #2 ranking in the state and was very close to defeating the #1 ranked team. This season also featured a South singles player to advance to the quarterfinals of the State Singles Tournament and the first doubles team to win the State Doubles Tournament. The 2007 boys' tennis team won the Central, Group IV state sectional championship with a 4-1 win against East Brunswick High School. The most dominant period displayed by the team was from 1996 to 2000, when they reached the Tournament of Champions finals for five consecutive years, and also featured singles players in the finals and semifinals of the State Singles Tournament in each of those years. The South Varsity Boys' tennis squad was ranked #2 in the state for five consecutive years during this span. In 1996 and 1997, four out of the seven players on the squad were nationally ranked tennis players. During this period, the team captured five consecutive Central New Jersey Group IV state titles, five consecutive Group IV state titles, and an unprecedented sweep, in which they did not lose one single match, of the Mercer County Tournament four years in a row. The 2000 Group IV title marked the fourth consecutive year in which the team had defeated Cherry Hill High School East for the group title. The 2011 team won the Mercer County Tournament for its second consecutive year.
The South varsity boys' golf team has been ranked consistently by The Star-Ledger among its Top 10 high school golf teams, in addition to success at the county, sectional, and state level. Notable seasons include the 2006 and 2007 seasons in which they captured the 2006 Cherry Valley Invitational, 2006 Mercer County Championship, placed 2nd at the 2006 South/Central Group III state sectional championship, placed 2nd in Group III at the 2006 state championship, placed 2nd at the 2007 Mercer County Championship and won the 2007 South/Central Group III state sectional championship. Over the last two years, the team has established an impeccable record: losing just 3 times and winning well over 30 matches. One of their greatest victories took place in the 2007 season against Princeton High School. These two historically bitter rivals battled for the title of dominating team in Mercer County and placed their respective state rankings of #2 and #4 on the line. At the end of the day, the South team prevailed with a victory of 186-187 that came down to the last putt of the last player of the last group. The Pirates put an end to the Tigers previous three-year unbeaten record in Mercer County matches. They finished the 2007 season as the #12 ranked team in the state.
The girls' swim team won the Central - A state sectional championship with a 97-73 win over Montgomery High School. The girls' swimming team also came in first place at the 2008 Mercer County Tournament, with Notre Dame in second. In the 2008-09 season saw an undefeated CVC season, and MCT first place, a sectional championship, and finally the state title, winning the Public A state championship against the top seeded Westfield High School Blue Devils with a score of 90-80. Both the girls' and boys' swim teams were the Colonial Valley Conference Champions for the 2007-08 season. The 2010 girls' team tied 85-85 with Westfield for the Public A title, only the second time that a tie occurred in the tournament final.
The girls' varsity cheerleading squad placed 1st in 2008 in the small division at the annual CVC cheerleading competition held at High School North. This is the first time South's cheerleaders have placed 1st in the CVC competition.
The boys' and girls' cross country teams have also had great success in recent years. South's own Brian Leung was the 2007 New Jersey Cross-Country Champion and the team finished 7th in the state, the program's best season to date. The boys' cross country team also won a state sectional title in 2008.
The year 2010 marked the Pirate Boys' best cross-country season to date. They won the Mercer County Championship (snapping rival WW-P North's four-year winning streak), won the Central Jersey Group IV title, finished second in Group IV, and a strong 3rd place at the state meet, before finishing 5th at the Nike Northeast Regional.
The West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South Model United Nations program dates back to the late 1970s and consists of approximately 40 students. It is the most awarded team in the entirety of South's extracurricular program, and consistently ranks in the top 10 MUN teams in the nation. The South MUN team picks conference rosters based on open-session mocks held in the school prior to every conference. The club annually consists of two advisers and five elected officers. Typically, the mocks involve more than 100 students vying for a limited number of conference spots, with roster decisions being made by the elected officers. As opposed to other successful high school MUN teams, South delegates, once selected, conduct individual research outside of school. As a result, club meetings are almost nonexistent. South MUN consistently wins delegation awards at conferences hosted by universities such as Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania (Ivy League Model United Nations Conference), Georgetown University, George Washington University, Johns Hopkins University, and Cornell University. In 2011, SouthMUN won such an award at every attended conference, winning Best Small Delegation at RUMUN, Outstanding Large Delegation at PMUNC, Best Large Delegation at ILMUNC, Best Small Delegation at North American Invitational Model United Nations, and Outstanding Large Delegation at CMUNC. In 2014, SouthMUN performed very similarly to the 2011 season, winning delegation awards at 4 out of 5 of the conferences attended, winning Best Small at William and Mary High School Model United Nations (WMHSMUN), Best Large at PMUNC, Best Large at Washington Area Model United Nations Conference (WAMUNC) and Best Small at CMUNC. It was also recognized for hosting a one-day High School Conference named SouthMUNC.
The West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South Science Olympiad Team has been one of the best teams in the nation. In 2006 and 2007, they won 1st place in the regional and state competition, thereby earning spots in the national tournaments at Indiana University Bloomington and Wichita State University. They placed 11th in 2006 then 6th in 2007, out of more than 50 of the nation's most talented teams. In 2008, the team earned 3rd place in regionals, and 2nd at states, losing to rival team West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North. In 2009, the team placed 2nd at regionals, losing to North but came back at states to win 1st. They attended the Nationals competition at Augusta State University from May 15–16. At the tournament, the team placed 13th in the nation, and 1st place in Protein Modeling. Other events in which the team placed in the top 8 were Cell Biology, Chemistry Lab, Dynamic Planet, Environmental Chemistry, It's About Time, Junkyard Challenge, Picture This and Remote Sensing. In 2010, the school placed 1st in the state and 18th in the nation at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.
In 2011, the school once again placed 1st in the entire state beating out its sister school, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North. The High School South Science Olympiad team won Third Place at the National Tournament held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2011; this is the highest honor ever achieved by High School South in this competition. The team received a Gold Medal in Dynamic Planet; four Silver Medals in Microbe Mission, Ornithology, Protein Modeling, and Sumo Bots; a Bronze Medal in Chemistry Lab; a Fourth Place Medal in Helicopters; a Fifth Place Medal in Mission Possible; and two Sixth Place Medals in Ecology and Mousetrap Vehicle. In addition, the team received a Gold Medal in Materials Science, a trial event.
During the 2012 season South placed 1st in the state again for the 4th consecutive year and attended the national tournament at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, where they placed 9th overall. South again won the New Jersey competition in 2013 and competed in the national competition in Ohio with 1st places in Anatomy & Physiology and Fermi Questions.
In 2014, South won the State Tournament for the 6th year in a row and went on to finish in the top ten at Nationals. Medals were achieved in Materials Science (gold), Water Quality (gold), Astronomy (silver), Dynamic Planet (bronze), and three other events.
The award-winning music program at South has earned state acclaim. There are currently three orchestras, two of which are philharmonic, three choirs, and three bands. In the Spring of 2007, the Philharmonic Orchestra and the Concert Choir toured in Russia. Over the years this program has traveled to other venues such as the Azalea Festival in Norfolk, Virginia, Scotland, Austria, and Boston, Massachusetts. In 2009 the philharmonic orchestra and concert choir traveled to Austria where they performed in the famed Schloss Esterházy and the Mozarteum in Salzburg. In 2011 the orchestra traveled to Hawaii where they played to honor the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Other music programs including three a cappella groups, two jazz bands, and the award-winning Pirate Marching Band and Colorguard. The marching band/guard have won numerous awards in regional, state, and national competitions. They placed first in 2005 in the USSBA Group II Open category. The band finished third at the 2007 United States Scholastic Band Association National Championships, competing as a Group II band at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland on November 16, 2007. In 2011, the South Choir performed at Carnegie Hall.
In 2010, the team secured a first-place finish at the regionals held in the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. The team placed 9th in the nation. In the 2011 school year, the team placed 2nd in the regional competition to High Technology High School. In the 2011-12 school year, the team placed 2nd again in the regional competition, losing to Princeton High School. In the 2013 Competition the team again won first, defeating Bergen County Academies in the finals of the Winners' Bracket and the overall competition. The 2013 team went on to place in the Top 16 Nationally, winning a prize of $1000. In 2015 and 2016, the team once again qualified for the National Tournament and won a $1000 dollar prize for placing in the National Top 16. In 2016, the team also qualified for a $500 prize for winning the Division Team Challenge.
In 2011, South's Academic Decathlon team was ranked 1st in their region and in state and represented New Jersey at the 2011 National Academic Decathlon competition in North Carolina. In 2012, South's Academic Decathlon team was ranked 2nd in the state and represented New Jersey at the National Academic Decathlon Online Competition. South's 2013 Academic Decathlon team was ranked 2nd in the state and will represent New Jersey at the 2013 National Academic Decathlon competition in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In 2014, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South's Varsity Debate team won the Colonial Valley Conference's championships, and became the top debate team in the conference. High School South's debate team has also won a number of prestigious awards and recognition from debate competitions such as Princeton Moot Court, and Princeton Classic. The School has participated in the CVC Debate league since 1973, and this is the first time South has become the champion.
Several students from the school have been recognized for their performance in international competitions.
The school opened in September 1973 for students in seventh through tenth grades as the first full open plan high school in the state, constructed at a cost of $8 million. Students in grades 11 and 12 as of the 1973-74 school year attended Princeton High School in Princeton through their graduation, with plans to have 1,300 students in the new high school after two years.
In the 1990s, population growth in the district necessitated an additional high school, and in 1997 West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North was built and "South" was added on to the end in order to help differentiate between the two.
The high school operates on a rotating class schedule from 7:40 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. daily. Classes are an hour long with a 5-minute passing period between classes. Lunch is at the same time for all students from 10:54 to 11:35 (because of this, seniors are given the privilege to leave school for lunch to reduce crowds ). There are three classes before lunch and three after lunch. The schedule cycle is 4 days. On an A-Day, classes 1, 4, 3, 5, 8, and 7 meet, with 2nd and 6th period missed. On a B-Day, classes 2, 1, 4, 6, 5, and 8 meet, with 3rd and 7th period missed. C and D Days follow the same pattern. If a science class requires lab time, 20 minutes of the lunch period are once or twice a week (depending on the rotating schedule of that week), following this cycle, allows for a six-credit course instead of the traditional five-credit course. AP Chemistry/Biology and AP Physics are seven-credit courses since the lab time extends into the full hour of study hall instead of lunch. This extension into study hall also occurs once or twice a week (which also depends on the rotating schedule for that week). Courses may be taken at Princeton University if a student has completed all possible courses in a particular subject (math, science, music,world language or English) and maintain a very high cumulative weighted GPA without any grade lower than a B in any class; Princeton University will provide a shuttle or a student may drive to campus (Princeton is only five minutes from the high school) the course can be taken during school or after.
There are also vocational programs offered at Mercer County Community College and other workshop programs in which a student would miss the first or second half of school on certain days.
A district-wide referendum was passed in January 2006, which resulted in many improvements for High School South that included a new gym, more parking spaces, a new cover for the pool, more classrooms, improvements on the HVAC system, and artificial turf for the football field. The improvements were done in stages starting with the 2006-07 school year, with completion at the end of the 2008 school year. The estimated cost of the projects included in the referendum was $23 million. As of January 2010, all projects had been completed including the new pool 'bubble' enclosure.
Core members of the school's administration are:Dennis J. Lepold - Principal
Paul Hamnett, Assistant Principal
Carla Royster, Assistant Principal
The following attended West Windsor-Plainsboro High School, renamed West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South in 1997:Kevin Barry (born 1978), right-handed relief pitcher for Atlanta Braves.
Aneesh Chopra (born 1972), former Chief Technology Officer of the United States.
Cary Guffey (born 1972), actor, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Ethan Hawke (born 1970), Academy Award-nominated actor.
Christopher McQuarrie (born 1968; class of 1986), Academy Award-winning screenwriter, The Usual Suspects .
James Murphy (born 1970), musician (LCD Soundsystem), producer (DFA Records), DJ.
Bill Schroeder (born 1958), former major league baseball player who is now a broadcaster for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Bryan Singer (born 1965; class of 1984), director of the films The Usual Suspects, X-Men and Superman Returns, and of the TV series House, set at the fictional Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in New Jersey.
Felicia Zhang (born 1993; class of 2011), United States figure skater in the 2014 Winter Olympics.