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Top 10 cities to live and learn 2011

From an island retreat to mid-western hamlet, our top 10 cities may not resemble one another at first glance. But each offers residents a priceless amenity: extraordinary public schools.

By GreatSchools Staff

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Mercer Island, WA

Educational quality score: 99.12
Median home value: $708,740
Population: 24,351


"Play hard, work hard" seems to be the motto on this 10-square mile speck floating in Lake Washington near Seattle. Ka-Boom!, a nonprofit organization that supports and fosters play, awarded Mercer Island "Playful City USA" for three straight years, praising its 50 miles of trails and 400 acres of parks and open space. Mercer Island High School (MIHS) has one of the top lacrosse teams in the nation, plus fearsome squads in tennis, swimming, water polo, and drill team. The marching band performed in London's 2011 New Year's Parade, and 25 percent of MIHS's students are making noise in the music program.

Studying still gets done though, with impressive results. MIHS is a Blue Ribbon School where 95 percent graduate, and the SAT average is an eye-popping 635 Math, 613 Verbal. At Islander Middle School, the extra-curriculars include chess, knitting, gaming, and robotics, and all three elementary schools have received special recognition by the state. Even "reluctant learners" and "high risk" youth get the best here - the Crest Learning Center offers an 11-months per year program, with integrated courses and outdoor activities like rock-climbing, horticulture, and ultimate Frisbee.

Learn more about schools in Mercer Island, WA.

Photo credit: papalars

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

05/24/2011:
"600-700 students is small. We have 1100+ in some K-5 St Johns, Fl Schools and still manage to be an A+ district."
05/19/2011:
"I am currently in High School in the Carroll school district, and I will say that the district is far behind when it comes to technology. They might have enough money to spend on computers and interactive whiteboards, but the teachers seem very uneducated for the most part. In the past couple of weeks there have been lots of network issues. Aside from the old computers, the computer programming classes teach old languages that are rarely used these days. Also, I should point out that students aren't allowed to use any electronic devices of their own, this includes a laptop to type a paper, e-book readers, and music players. I'm not sure if my expectations are too high, but I personally could be a lot more productive with a laptop at school, and I feel that the IT staff break more than they fix. It would be better to let students run some of the servers, like my friends do at other high schools."
05/3/2011:
"My only issue is that not one of these communities is a real CITY. Please change the name of your article to reflect the SUBURBAN nature of your choices (even 36K is not a city!). Perhaps the organization's name should be GREATSUBURBANSCHOOLS.org since you had to rule out many rural and urban schools. I would love to see a real assessment of great city schools."
05/2/2011:
"We have 3 children Southlake schools and the programs are wonderful. The parents are very involved and I don't know any who have a nanny. We love it here!"
04/27/2011:
"I can't speak for all, but I can tell you Manhattan Beach is not a small system. With a population of 36,000 and 5 elementary schools. The two elementary schools listed both have well over 600 students K-5."
04/27/2011:
"Responding to comment on small size of communities or schools listed. I can't speak for all, but I can say Manhattan Beach population is 36,000. NOT a small town. Pacific School has over 600 students K-5. Grandview has over 700 students K-5. Great schools and great kids overall!"
04/27/2011:
"I live near Southlake... and I work near Southlake. I know many who have worked in Southlake. The parents can't parent--they have nannies do it all for them. My suspicion is that the drop-out rate is probably hidden, or that it has to do with the generously high income of the parents, or both. But I'll tell you... those students sure are brats!"
04/27/2011:
"I notice all of these are very small systems...which probably means a limited number of problem kids. None of these are over a population of 25,000 people and so their school systems are very small."
04/26/2011:
"Where is the list???"
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