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Can you recommend the best elementary, middle, and high schools within Howard County?
First, HC (Howard County) does not have a direct feed system from elementary (ES), middle (MS) to high school (HS). ES students can go to 2 or 3 different MS and MS students can go to 2-3 different HS depending on where you live. Also, the county redistricts every 3-5 years at various levels to keep schools from being over crowded or under-utilized. Here are the boundary maps: http://www.hcpss.org/boundarylines/ Keep in mind, you may be able to "see" the school from your house, but that doesn't mean you'll go to school there. The boundaries are like congressional districts (and there's a community-based boundary committee whenever redistricting does happen.) So, the "best" in each category may not be in a particular feed system. That being said, arguably, River Hill and Centennial would be the best HS. Ellicott Mills is a blue ribbon MS. The test results for each school can be found: http://www.hcpss.org/academics/testscores.shtml I like to look at the % of students taking AP test as a gauge. http://www.hcpss.org/academics/report_ap2010.pdf The state test MSA (like the Texas TASK) has three levels (unlike the TASK I believe) - basic, proficient, and advanced. I'm not sure what greatschools.org or the other websites look at (probably just the "meets" part, but I look at the % of advanced in math. This document has the 2008 results for every school in HC http://www.hcpss.org/academics/results_msa2008.pdf (not sure where the 2009 data is - we got the report for our individual school in Sept). I also like to look at the Stanford Achievement Test, Grade 2 for the elementary schools. But all this really tells me is where the more educated/affluent families are sending their kiddos. (As a teacher/mom at my school said "The teachers here are so-so, but they don't have to be great because the parents are so involved in the kids learning. Children of PhD parents are going to be smart no matter where you put them - the question is what kind of work ethic they'll learn from home and at school. (off my soap box). For elementary schools, one could argue a 500 kid school is better than a 900 kid school. http://www.hcpss.org/schools/enroll_nov2010.pdf
What communities would you recommend to live? You can't go wrong with Clarksville, further out west (Glenelg, West Friendship, Tridelphia Ridge), Ellicott City is also a pretty safe bet (that's where I live). You'll pay a premium to live in the River Hill and Centennial districts (a Realtor could tell you for sure, but 3 yrs ago it seemed houses were $50-$75k more than other areas of Ellicott City.) There are parts of Columbia that are good as well and while older homes, definitely more reasonable in price. Columbia itself is a huge HOA with several pools, rec centers (indoor waterpark, ice rink, skating rink), golf courses, etc. It's all included if you live in Columbia or you can join. There aren't many Swim/Tennis communities, but there are pool clubs you can join in the summer. There are a few golf course communities (Cattail Creek out west).
What schools and neighborhoods should I avoid in Howard County? Sad to say, but the southeast corner of the county near the Ft. Meade army base. The homes are much more affordable and there are more rentals in this area because of the transient nature of the base. (There are no rental units in my elementary school area except for the over 55 crowd.) However, any place in Howard County is heads and shoulders above anywhere in Baltimore City or DC proper (or arguably Prince George's County). As a HCPSS employee (who lives in Columbia) told me "Each elementary school has 1 GT (gifted and talented) teacher for every 22/25 students. Do you want you child to be with one teacher and 20 other kids, or with 8 other kids?"
What are the homeowner association fees, state, local and county taxes in Howard County? Because we're moving to Dallas (so sad), I've researched this a bit. Income taxes are about 8% which is the state and county combined (no city municipalities in Maryland, the counties do everything). [Of course this all depends on your tax bracket and deductions.] The property taxes are lower, about 1.25% instead of 2 to 2.8% (in the DFW area), but, the housing prices are higher (ergo higher property taxes). HOA fees in Columbia I believe are around $300-$500. The swim/tennis community near me is $600. (We pay $700 to use the pool in the summer. Most pools are between $400 and $900 for the summer and they have swim teams.)
Any other helpful information about Howard County Schools will be appreciated. The county website has great information. There are no charter or magnet schools in HC and there won't be any. The county firmly believes in STEM education at the highest levels for all the high schools. There is collaboration with John Hopkins and the Applied Physics Lab. The cyber security command for the Army is based at Ft. Meade and the BRAC (base realignment and closure) has brought more officers to the area. The HS's are a great size - 1200 to 1600 kids, there are no "sport teams" at the junior high level at the school, instead there are community leagues (Elkridge Youth Organization (http://www.eyosports.org/) , Parks & Rec (http://www.hcrpsports.com/), and many others) until you get into 9th grade. All the schools are K-5, 6-8, and 9-12. Some of the schools have a PK program. Before and after school `care' is provided by either the Columbia Association (http://www.columbiaassociation.com/content/getinvolved/kids/school_care.cfm) or the Howard County Parks and Rec (http://www.co.ho.md.us/RAP/RAP_RLC.htm) depending on the school for elementary and some middle schools. They will be constructing another elementary school (to open for the 2013-14 school year) in northeastern HC, so that will cause a ripple effect on the schools at the ES level throughout the northeast. They are renovating Northfield ES and it will have a 'green' roof and solar panels, The county is installing a solar panel field on an adjacent closed landfill which will provide 90% of my schools energy this spring. 64435
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