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Best cities to live and learn 2010

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By GreatSchools Staff

Community, community, community

If the key to prime real estate is location, location, location, then the foundation of an exceptional education may be community, community, community.

“The secret to our success has to do with the parents and the community,” says Williamson of Fort Thomas, echoing every other superintendent interviewed for this story. With a median home price of just $176,960, Fort Thomas is a far cry from the verdant Massachusetts suburbs. But, says Williamson, an intensely committed parent body — the first line of fire when it comes to supporting a school — makes all the difference. So too does greater community involvement, like Fort Thomas’s dynamic partnerships with Western Kentucky University, Thomas Moore College, and the Cincinnati Ballet.

For some cities, community support happens in the voter booth: In Mesa, Ariz., residents consistently support their schools by passing educational bonds and taxes in local elections. “Education is a commodity everyone here values,” explains Mesa’s superintendent, Michael Cowan.

However, community support is not something you can simply purchase with high taxes or university partnerships. From parent involvement to committed teachers, an abiding focus on education suffuses the character of these cities.

The other American dream

In the end, the Utt-Grubbs chose Cary not only for its great schools but also its educational culture: three large universities; more PhDs than anywhere else in the nation; and Research Triangle Park, the country’s largest high-tech research park.

Granted, the family doesn’t own their home. They’re leasing for now, trading in one American dream (owning a home) for another (a bright future for their kids). But their gamble seems to be paying off. Sam landed a job as a wireless engineer with Verizon, and Kelly runs her creative media company from home. Perhaps even more important, 9-year-old Andrew and 7-year-old Christopher love their school, Carpenter Elementary.

What really matters when it comes to finding the right city to bring up your kids? That’s for you (and every other parent) to decide. But the Utt-Grubbs' story offers living proof that sometimes you can have it all.

Top Cities methodology

So how do you find the proverbial needle in the educational haystack? Our study of some 18,000 U.S. cities identifies the top places nationwide with the best public school districts by population (small, midsize, and large cities) and median home price (under $100K, $100K-199K, $200K-399K, $400K-599K, $600K-799K, and $800K or more).

We eliminated cities with fewer than five public schools and 10,000 people, and — for all but the largest cities in the country — those with too high an unemployment rate. School ratings are based on a combination of GreatSchools ratings and National Assessment of Educational Progress data.

For more information, check out our methodology for choosing the best districts.

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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