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Best cities to live and learn 2010

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By GreatSchools Staff

Putting the “super” in superintendents

Talk about going beyond the call of duty: The top dogs of our top school districts often approach their work with unflagging intensity and creativity. Heath Burns, the recent superintendent of Angleton, Texas, devoted himself to helping the kids others give up on. He peppered his newsletter with impassioned pleas for parents to immerse their children in love and literacy.

“The most valuable gift you can give your babies (whatever their ages) is to love them fully and unconditionally ... Squeeze Em’, Kiss Em’, Play with Em’, Love Em’,” writes Burns, who encourages parents to “start reading with your babies early and don’t stop reading to them until they won’t fit in your lap.”

Superintendent John Williamson of Fort Thomas, Ky., challenged the mayor to a Biggest Loser-style weight-loss competition, then went on to reform the district’s lunch program and add exercise science to the curriculum. In Mason, Ohio, everyone from the superintendent to the principals teaches a class to keep in touch with the district’s educational values and vision. (They also do wacky things to stay in touch with the students, like hold a principal tricycle race.)

Money talks, but not always

Want a superior education? Follow the money. (Or simply go to affluent Massachusetts, home to 11 of the 90 best school districts.) Well-heeled, well-educated communities like Weston, Mass., and Potomac, Md., have districts with high test scores, college-bound student bodies, state of-the-art facilities, and enrichment opportunities. It’s no surprise that it costs a pretty penny to live in these communities, but it’s hardly doable for most of America, where the median home price is $178,000.

The good news is that a lack of affluence doesn’t translate to low-performing schools. In Bristol, Tenn., your child can attend a top-rated public school, and you can get a home for $85,850. Not too shabby.

How do such relatively modest cities succeed where others fail? They use their money very carefully, says Deputy Superintendent Linda Lane of Pittsburgh: “There’s been considerable effort here to make sure we efficiently use taxpayer resources.”

Fishers, Ind., spends its limited dollars in a few key areas, especially early-intervention programs that “catch [kids] while they’re young,” says Superintendent Brian Smith. It also pours funds into high school classes like aerodynamics and financial services to prepare graduates for 21st-century challenges.

Comments from readers

"I agree with this article. Mostly because, I have moved around a lot and I have went to bigger schools. In smaller schools, where the teacher student ratio is like 15-20 to 1 it helps the teacher stay focused and anwnser any questions to the problems related to the course work or other situations secenrios. I know that I like going to school in Arkansas a lot more than I like going to school in Henderson. Everything is big and cramped out here. The teacher student ratio is like 40-30 to 1 and everyone has an opinion out here, so that makes it really complicated for a teacher to see what problems the individual is having in the course work. I may have graduated from Basic but part of me wishes that I would have graduated from Oak Grove. When I was going there I had a g.p.a. of about 3.333 and I was ranked 13 out of the sophmores that attended the high school. I know this might sound crazy but I miss the school and I hope that I learn how to drive in time to see the school on! e last time before they knock it down or whatever they are going to do. I know I did a lot of growing up at that school more than I did at basic. "
"My son is in 7th grade and I'm considering home schooling for high school. I'm in the research stage and looking for feedback from parents who are presently home schooling their high school students."
"Unfortunately in some school districts, as in the case of my son when he was in 5th grade a few years ago, a class of 14 children meant more time for the teacher to play on facebook and yell at the kids. In a perfect world a small class SHOULD be a great learning experience for our children, but not in all cases."
"The Magic Formula? No it's not teachers, administrators, innovation... It's parents! Isn't it obvious? This is nothing but false advertising"
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