Top public schools: $600,000-$799,999

From big-city bedroom communities to historic towns, these top 10 cities offer families stellar public schools and median home prices between $600K and $800K.

By GreatSchools Staff

Belmont, Mass.

Belmont, Ma.

Education quality score: 98.01
Median home price: $694,300
Population: 23,216

This bucolic Boston suburb, bordered by upscale towns like brainy Cambridge and beatific Arlington, has a surplus of stately manses (thus its moniker, “the town of homes”), verdant open spaces, and stellar schools offering a bounty of academic bells and whistles.

Of the schools — four elementary, one middle, and one high — Belmont High is the district’s all-star, winning the 2009 gold medal from U.S. News & World Report, which also named it the country’s 100th-best non-private high school and Massachusetts’s second best. Belmont High offers a stunning 16 Advanced Placement courses, has outstanding athletic departments, and boasts a nationally recognized music program, rated among the top 100 for public schools. High expectations for excellence begin early. From elementary school on, students receive stellar test scores and high marks. The district’s secret? Being an affluent town hardly hurts. But Belmont has a long-standing tradition of community service: Parents and town organizations contribute significant money and time to enhance the schools; in turn, kindergarten through 12th-grade students are expected to participate regularly in community service, from working in food banks to hosting relief fundraisers.

Learn more about schools in Belmont, MA.

Photo credit: Liz Bolton

Westwood, Mass.

Westwood, Mass.

Education quality score: 96.68
Median home price: $644,960
Population: 14,010

Norman Rockwell would have felt right at home in this picturesque New England hamlet that retains an old-fashioned feel. No wonder Westwood attracts so many families who want a more relaxed small-town life yet can easily commute — via two commuter rail lines — to Boston, located 12 miles away. What’s more, the town maintains a strong commitment to education. There’s a top-notch school system, and last year the independent-run Westwood Educational Foundation gave nearly $78,000 in grants, funding everything from spelling bees to math contests.

The school district consists of five elementary schools, Edmund W. Thurston Middle School, and state-of-the-art Westwood High, which was recently rebuilt for a cool $45 million. Year after year, Westwood students score in the top percentiles on national reading and math tests, and an overwhelming majority of high school graduates continue to college. But it’s not all work, no play: There’s an abundance of recreational areas, nature preserves, playgrounds, and ball fields. The downside to all this upside: Westwood notably lacks in diversity, with a nearly 95% white population.

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Winchester, Mass.

Winchester, Mass.

Education quality score: 96.14
Median home price: $718,950
Population: 21,362

A bedroom community populated primarily by well-educated, well-off professionals, this leafy, historic suburb is affluent with a capital A. There’s good reason families pay dearly to put down roots here: a top-performing school system, a wealth of recreational amenities, and a speedy eight-mile commute to Boston, where much of the white-collar population works. (Of note, however: Winchester prides itself on a large and thriving artistic community.)

From kindergartners through 12th-graders, the district’s public school students consistently test significantly higher than the national average — although some may not favor the intensive push to achieve top academic scores. Nor is there a paucity of grown-up high achievers: included in the plethora of academics who call Winchester home are former Harvard University president Edward Everett and current Boston University president Robert A. Brown. Academics aside, Winchester is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise: Aberjona River and Mystic Lake are among local favorites for swimming, sailing, and canoeing. There are two tony private clubs for tennis and golf, and in wintertime cross-country and — a short drive away — downhill skiing.

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Photo credit: Jed Sheehan

Sudbury, Mass.

Sudbury, Mass.

Education quality score: 95.47
Median home price: $738,200
Population: 17,159

True, Sudbury is yet another wealthy, residential Boston suburb to make our list. But don’t be fooled — this is no ho-hum town. Since its inception hundreds of years ago, Sudbury has been distinguished by a distinctive character committed to certain core values.

For starters, the township has managed mightily to stave off overdevelopment and retain a strong rural flavor, with acres of woods and scenic winding roads. All the same, there’s a plethora of single-family large homes, including scores of stately, centuries-old colonials and more recently built mansions. As well, the population is known for its allegiance to education. A sizable portion of the high real estate taxes goes toward maintaining the excellent schools, most notably Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High. While the student body scores high on standardized tests, the administration resists trends to teach only to tests and maintains a diverse curriculum to promote creative, individual thinking.

Of particular note: The original Sudbury Valley School in neighboring Framingham (falling within the Sudbury district) is acclaimed for its groundbreaking, progressive approach to schooling and has spawned nearly 40 Sudbury schools worldwide.

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Basking Ridge, N.J.

Basking Ridge, N.J.

Education quality score: 95.31
Median home price: $628,100
Population: 27,371

This predominately white-collar township retains an old-world charm, with virtually all of its downtown storefronts inhabiting converted 19th-century houses. Named for the ridge once said to attract wild animals for sunbathing, the town now boasts a number of outdoorsy amenities including riding stables, an environmental education center, an Olympic-size public pool, and 111-acre Pleasant Valley Park. Several large local corporations — including Verizon Wireless, Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, and Avaya — help make for a strong job market and relatively stable economy.

The three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school all get 10s on GreatScools. New Jersey has stratospheric ASK math and language arts literacy scores, and Basking Ridge’s schools manage to stay focused on strong academics while drawing out individual students’ strengths.

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Hinsdale, IL

Hinsdale, Ill.

Education quality score: 94.39
Median home price: $796,450
Population: 18,359

This upscale burb’s lucky residents have access to big-city pizzazz (Chicago is a 20-minute train ride away) and small-town coziness (a picture-postcard downtown and rolling, wooded hills). Recreational amenities abound, like a large town pool, golf and tennis courts, an amphitheater, and athletic fields and parks.

Hinsdale also seems to have plenty to boast about academically. Students in the four elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school are well supported, with an average of $15,114 spent per pupil. The investment seems to be paying off: 83% of students scored 3 or higher on Advanced Placement tests, and the district had 32 National Merit finalists in 2009. If that weren’t enough, 98% of graduates go on to attend two- or four-year colleges.

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Lexington, MA

Lexington, Mass.

Education quality score: 94.01
Median home price: $704,530
Population: 30,264

A mere scone’s throw from Boston (12 miles northwest), Lexington is a small metropolis with lots of high-tech industries to keep the local job market thriving. It’s also a popular tourist spot rich in U.S. history: the Battles of Lexington and Concord, where the American Revolution’s first shots were fired, took place here. Most of the town’s children — 93% to be precise — attend the excellent public schools. With a population of 2,000, Lexington High School is large but manages to sustain an outstanding academic reputation: Students choose from a wide array of college prep courses, extracurricular activities, and interscholastic sports. In the spirit of giving back, each pupil must put in 40 hours of community service.

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Ridgewood, NJ

Ridgewood, N.J.

Education quality score: 93.87
Median home price: $714,800
Population: 24,339

Small enough to call itself a village, Ridgewood is a distinctly upper-middle-class enclave that maintains a homey, residential feel. Within its five-square-mile radius, there’s an abundance of stately old homes in the tree-lined neighborhoods. There’s also a boisterous sense of community, with its allegiance to volunteerism and plethora of local organizations. Another plus: The local economy is strong, with a relatively low unemployment rate of 5.4% in 2009. Citizens pride themselves on their academically strong school district, made up of seven elementary, two middle, and two high schools. They’re particularly proud of the attention given to special-needs students, with many programs created to serve a diverse range of pupils.

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Concord, MA

Concord, Mass.

Education quality score: 92.65
Median home price: $764,480
Population: 16,840

In terms of intellectual wealth, this tony township is pure gold: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathanial Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau were Concordians. Today crime writer Patricia Cornwell and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin have settled here. (It’s also home to Walden Pond and the Old North Bridge.) Like so many well-to-do Massachusetts towns on our list, Concord skews white (91.6%) and is brimming over with exquisite old homes.

The small district — made up of three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school — does its literary foreparents proud. Concord Carlisle Regional High School is among Massachusetts’s top public high schools, providing the best in core subjects as well as a smorgasbord of creative electives and languages (including Latin, Chinese, and Swahili). Another unique source of pride: A 30-foot purple crayon graces the school courtyard.

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Photo credit: Jeanette Runyon

Berkeley Heights, NJ

Berkeley Heights, N.J.

Education quality score: 92.19
Median home price: $628,470
Population: 13,575

Tucked into the scenic Wachung Mountains, Berkeley Heights has just about everything for parents wanting to raise a family in a thriving small town: plenty of recreational amenities; well-appointed, spacious homes; a low crime rate; a top-rated school district; and a boisterous, tight-knit community. It also offers a relatively short train commute to New York City. On weekends, families unwind at one of the three swimming clubs, go for horseback rides on local trails, or relax at the large town watering hole, Lake Surprise.

The school district — composed of six schools serving the population of Berkeley Heights and neighboring Mountainside — provides a wide offering of athletics and extracurriculars. The Berkeley Heights Education Foundation gives grants to support a host of educational extras, like African music, poetry, and digital photography.

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