Photo credit: Sandfoot Photography
Photo credit: Sandfoot Photography
By GreatSchools Staff
An affordable home, a diverse community, and outstanding public schools. Is it too much for a family to ask? Maybe not. But that didn’t make it easy for Kelly and Sam Utt-Grubb to find their dream town.
After moving to five cities, the family finally settled in Cary, N.C., where they struck educational gold. The city’s school district ranks third in GreatSchools' top 10 midsize cities.
“I couldn’t ask for any more,” says Kelly Utt-Grubb, 33. “And I’m a picky customer.”
Every year millions of U.S. parents consider pulling up stakes to make a city and school upgrade. But not all families can follow in the Utt-Grubbs’ footsteps, moving from city to city in search of educational excellence and affordable living.
So what’s the magic formula that makes certain cities end up with stellar schools while others struggle to meet the most basic standards? Great teachers are the ubiquitous linchpin of any first-rate school system, as in Bainbridge, Wash., where three-fourths of them have master’s degrees.
How do some school districts manage to recruit and retain, motivate, and develop great teachers so the whole system shines? And how do others, like the school system in Sudbury, Mass., offer students an enriching environment of artistic, athletic, and musical extracurriculars? Our research of the country’s top districts uncovered some fascinating and, at times, downright surprising answers.
Small classrooms, particularly in the lower grades, seem to be crucial in helping kids thrive. Many of our top districts sustain remarkably low student-teacher ratios, like in Allison Park, Pa. (10.9 to 1), and Honolulu (14 to 1). What’s more, small cities with small districts tend to win out over larger ones — perhaps because they are easier to manage and hold accountable.
Some of our ranking school districts have received so many awards, they could easily rest on their laurels. Instead, they exhibit a passion for innovation, pushing teachers and students to excel beyond their comfort zone. Whether maintaining a commitment to cutting-edge technology, like in Franklin Lakes, N.J., or offering innovative programs, like Issaquah Middle School in Sammamish, Wash. (which teamed up with MIT to study garbage flow in cities), these districts approach education not as a static system but as evolving knowledge.
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