Top public schools: $800,000 or more

From coastal hamlets to leafy burbs, these top 10 cities offer families exceptional public schools and median home prices upwards of $800K.

By GreatSchools Staff

Weston, Mass.

Weston, Mass.

Education quality score: 96.80
Median home price: $1,021,510
Population: 11,698

Weston is a beautiful little town that looks like something straight out of Currier & Ives. With the highest per capita income in the state (in fact, it’s one of the 100 most affluent towns with a thousand or more households in the entire country), it’s also the wealthiest suburb of Boston.

What do you get for all those clams? Your children will receive powerful one-on-one attention in the primary and secondary schools of Weston Public Schools. All five of its schools — three elementary, one middle, and one high — keep class sizes small and are committed to innovative approaches like team teaching with volunteer/parental support, “house” systems at the middle school level, and a college-style high school chockfull of electives and Advanced Placement classes. It’s not surprising this small district (less than 2,500 students) enjoys both SAT and college-placement stats near the top of Massachusetts’s public schools. Boston Magazine rated the district as the best in the state, while Weston High School was recently ranked as the nation's 60th-best public high school by U.S. News & World Report.

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Mercer Island, Wash.

Mercer Island, Wash.

Education quality score: 95.93
Median home price: $863,160
Population: 23,894

Situated in Lake Washington in the Seattle metro area, Mercer Island offers a stunning natural setting and a quick commute via floating bridge to the big caffeinated city. With acres of open parkland and abundant waterfront, the city boasts lots of family-friendly hot spots including a boat dock and fishing pier, a swimming beach, an amphitheater, tennis courts, and picnic facilities.

The school district has some of the highest performance scores in the state for primary and secondary students. Mercer Island High School produces national-level scholarship recipients and National Merit finalists virtually every year. At a time when public schools are struggling financially nationwide, how does Mercer Island pack its coffers? The key might very well be the $1 million a year the tiny district receives from the Mercer Island Schools Foundation, as well as the high income and visibility of its residents, including Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, Ford CEO Alan Mulally and financial analyst Colby Hanover (who rank among the richest people in the world), and a large contingent of Amazon and Microsoft execs.

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New Canaan, Conn.

Education quality score: 94.97
Median home price: $1,053,640
Population: 19,890

Drive just a few minutes north of Stamford, up to the Five Mile River, and you’ll find the charming community of New Canaan, one of the wealthiest townships in the country. In fact, CNN Money recently ranked New Canaan as the home of the highest median family income in the United States. Replete with elegant turn-of-the-century homes, the town also has a venerable tradition in modern architecture including midcentury homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and other luminaries.

For families settling in New Canaan, the schools are no doubt a major attraction. With a budget of more than $50 million, New Canaan Public Schools serves 4,000 students. Its commitment to excellence is well recognized: Connecticut Magazine, in its biannual “Rate the Towns” survey, put the school system first in its category, ahead of more than 25 equally well-heeled communities.

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Franklin Lakes, N.J.

Franklin Lakes, N.J.

Education quality score: 93.83
Median home price: $939,920
Population: 11,576

A tiny and tidy municipality of barely 10,000, with one of the 20-highest per capita incomes in the state and the nation, Franklin Lakes is home to some major corporations and their leadership — and has been since its founding almost 100 years ago. (It also has the dubious distinction of being home to the notorious reality TV show The Real Housewives of New Jersey.)

Franklin Lakes has two school districts that are just as successful as its residents — one for the three elementary schools and the middle school, and one (shared with nearby communities) for the high school, as part of the Ramapo Indian Hills High School District. Students also have the opportunity to attend the highly regarded magnet school Bergen Academies. The local educational foundation has helped to make the schools in this small district showcases of learning, including state-of-the art computer technology, fiber-optic hookups, and enrichment programs.

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Potomac, MD

Potomac, MD

Education quality score: 93.28
Median home price: $906,430
Population: 45,860

Potomac is not only one of the wealthiest U.S. communities (according to CNN Money and just about every demographic measurement), it’s also one of the “top education American small towns,” according to Forbes. Besides being home to many of the nation’s best-known political families, Potomac is horse country. Between the million-dollar homes that line the river, you’ll find stables, riding schools, breeders, and more, most notably the Potomac Horse Center, a public facility that offers programs for riders at every level.

Winston Churchill High School was recently nominated as a Blue Ribbon School and recently rated one of the top 100 schools in the nation by U.S News & World Report. And for good reason: Winston Churchill High School reports a phenomenal 98 percent graduation rate, with almost 90 percent meeting university entrance standards for the state. This is absolutely a college prep school — more than 86 percent of students enroll in Advanced Placement classes, and nearly all of its graduates plan to continue on to college.

Learn more about schools in Potomac, MD.

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Westport, CT

Westport, Conn.

Education quality score: 92.70
Median home price: $993,190
Population: 26,827

Just 47 miles north of New York City on the Long Island Sound, this charming coastal town ranks as one of the most affluent communities in North America. Once an artists’ colony, Westport maintains this tradition with regional theater, art centers, and free concerts. Now it’s also a thriving business hub, with more than a dozen major corporations based there.

The district's only high school, Staples High, was ranked number one by Connecticut Magazine in 2009, while one of its two middle schools, Bedford, received a Blue Ribbon Award that same year. Its five elementary schools are not far behind. What’s Westport’s recipe for greatness? Surely ample funding helps. Though the district serves less than 5,500 students, it enjoys an annual budget of more than $82 million — amounting to a cool $15,000 per pupil.

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Darien, CT

Darien, Conn.

Education quality score: 91.99
Median home price: $1,004,910
Population: 20,679

Darien shares many of the same demographics and features as its neighbor, third-ranked New Caanan, including proximity to the “big town” of Stamford and high-powered, wealthy residents who work in New York. CNN recently listed it as one of the most expensive places to live in North America. By way of illustration: Darien is only 20,000 strong but has four country clubs, a hunt club, and two yacht clubs.

Darien Public Schools includes five elementary schools; a new middle school complex that was expanded and renovated less than 10 years ago; and an almost-new $73 million campus for Darien High School, completed in the fall of 2005. All that funding and attention have paid off: Darien consistently produces some of the highest SAT math and CAPT scores in the state, with a 100% pass rate on Advanced Placement math exams.

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Wellesley, Mass.

Wellesley, Mass.

Education quality score: 90.27
Median home price: $918,780
Population: 26,629

The families who founded Wellesley hundreds of years ago called it a “quiet and restful place,” and that’s still true. A wealthy but welcoming community, it’s one of the smartest small towns, with the highest number of college graduates per capita in the United States. It’s also a slowly growing, financially stable, and beautiful bedroom community that’s less than an hour from Boston, as well as the home of the world-renowned Wellesley College (and, no, it’s not just for women anymore).

The public school system benefits greatly from the intellectual culture of the community. Its 4,500 students, in seven elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school, are consistently ranked among the best in the state and the union. Wellesley High School was recently named one of U.S News & World Report’s 100 best high schools, and its extracurricular activities are top-drawer too, especially when it comes to the wide range of music and performing arts programs. The high school jazz band was recently a finalist in the Essentially Ellington national competition. The district takes advantage of its strong relationships with the college as well: High school students can take Wellesley classes without paying tuition.

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Scarsdale, N.Y.

Scarsdale, N.Y.

Education quality score: 88.35
Median home price: $979,570
Population: 17,751

This upscale bedroom community for New York City has long been the landing perch for professional families working in the Big Apple. Known for its Tudor and colonial mansions, the town offers a range of housing types — everything from 1950s-era ranch homes to century-old estates. Served by two train stops that speed commuters to Grand Central Station (the express train takes only 29 minutes), the town also boasts a pedestrian-friendly downtown, an open-air complex with four public pools, and ample parks.

Scarsdale Public Schools serves about 4,500 students through five elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. The primary schools offer popular arts programs along with strong academics, from a Young Writers Conference to a jazz band. The middle school uses a “house” program proven to enhance one-on-one and small-group participation (groups are never larger than 100 students). Scarsdale High School offers a collegiate atmosphere and curriculum, as well as students who outscore much of the country on every available metric. The secret? Generous per-pupil expenditure far above the national average.

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Warren, N.J.

Warren, N.J.

Education quality score: 88.17
Median home price: $823,560
Population: 15,895

Offering a popular combination of country living and big-city proximity, Warren and the surrounding communities of Somerset County are the real reason that New Jersey is still called the Garden State. Yes, the cost of living is substantially higher than the national average, but the economic hardship hasn’t hit Warren as hard as it has elsewhere.

The schools of Warren Township offer a good, solid education at every level. District per-pupil expenditures are nearly 50% higher than the national average, and the teacher-to-student ratio is enviable — as low as 10 to 1 at the primary level and 14 to 1 in secondary school.

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