Top education towns 2011: Median home prices $100,000-$199,999

From small heartland hometowns to sun-kissed coastal enclaves, these top 10 cities offer families stellar public schools and median home prices between $100K and $200K.

By GreatSchools Staff

Pella, IA

Education quality score: 98.25
Median home value: $148.200
Population: 10,475

Hello Holland! Back in 1847, 800 Dutch immigrants established this town, bringing with them a distinctly Netherlandish flair that has been joyously maintained. A canal winds through Molengracht Plaza, a flotilla of tulips burst into bloom during the May Tulip Festival, the Historical Village features a drawbridge and waterwheel, their beloved Tulip Time Festival  showcases Dutch costumes and Dutch dancing (fun fact: the town just made the Guinness Book of World Records for the most people – 2605! — dancing in wooden clogs at one time); and the 124-foot tall Vermeer Windmill (from the 1850's) still grinds wheat into flour that's sold to Pella's bakeries and restaurants.

Students here also have their nose to the grindstone. The school district — three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school — is rated #5 academically by the Iowa IP Index. Pella High  in the highly-competitive Midwest is a Blue Ribbon school with college credit classes, an articulate speech team, a harmonious music program, a yearly mathematics competition, and solid sports contenders in football, basketball, swimming, and especially cross-county. The "Runnin' Dutch" are ranked in the state's Top Six teams. Pella Christian School (PreK-8) has also been named a "School of Excellence" by the U.S. Department of Education.

Learn more about schools in Pella, IA.

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St. John's, FL

Education quality score: 95.98
Median home value: $181,700
Population: 18,063

Get "teed off" easily? Not if you're in St. John's, a laid-back golfer's heaven and Jacksonsville suburb that's been ranked #1 in Florida for "Health Factors." Plus, this palm tree paradise is brimming over with sunshine, white-sand beaches, spectacular homes, and public school achievement. Although the neighborhoods have dreamy names — Fruit Cove, Julington Creek Plantation, Vilano Beach, Switzerland — students here aren't sleeping instead of going to school. Recent attendance was an astounding 95.3 percent.

Bartram Trail High School offers an advanced scholars program, plus Air Force ROTC, symphonic bands, and a wide-ranging curriculum that includes courses in fashion design, carpentry, interior design, financial services, and business management. Allen D. Nease Senior High School is even more accomplished. In 2007, Newsweek ranked Nease #81 in its best high schools nationally, and nine of its students were 2010 National Merit Scholarship finalists. Nease excels in theater and music, offers the renowned International Baccalaureate Program, and is no slouch in sports, either: Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow tossed the pigskin here.

Learn more about schools in St. John's, FL

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Niceville, FL

Education quality score: 89.00
Median home value: $190,700
Population: 12,602


"Come see us and enjoy paradise," proclaims this panhandle town's website, which promises luxuriating in 343 days of sunshine and swimming in Choctawhatchee Bay's balmy 80 degree Gulf water. Add in other homey pleasures — the Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival; the Easter Egg Dash; Cutest Baby contest; the Niceville Children's Park with bubble machine, rocking dinosaurs, and palm trees that spray water; the Skate Park with $2 helmet rental; and Turkey Creek Boardwalk with wildlife, canoeing, and tubing — and the temptation to join the population (as a Nicevillian?) gets mighty overwhelming. Plus, Niceville is governed by the esteemed and eternal Mayor Randall Wise, who's held office since 1971.

Is it fair that Niceville schools are also superb, ranked sixth in the Southern states?  C. W Ruckel Middle Schoois especially noteworthy — it's website reports that it has received a Florida "A" rating for 10 consecutive years. Nearly half of its pupils take a class in technology, with whiz kids regularly competing in the state's Science and Engineering Fair. Ruckel's student body is also physically fit — its teams captured 11 out of 18 possible regional championships and no squad had a losing record. Niceville Senior High School is also a star — three students there were recently recognized at the State Science Fair for their work in Medicine, Microbiology, and Engineering. 

Learn more about schools in Niceville, FL.

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Oviedo, FL

Education quality score: 84.71
Median home value: $183,350
Population: 33,220

RelocateAmerica.com has named Oviedo one of "America's Top 100 Places to Live" for two consecutive years. Easy to see why. Originally populated by Seminoles, and later, Swedes who grew oranges and celery, this Orlando suburb on the Little Econlockhatchee River brims over with friendly, down-home charm. Enjoy biscuits and gravy at the diner, and search for 'gators, snapping turtles, and Sandhill Cranes in the nearby swamps. The most fantastical wildlife of all? A colorful population of feral chickens, which has roosted here for thirty years, nest and roam downtown, calmly strutting across intersections as they have the legal right-of-way. (And their own Facebook page!)

As for the town's small-statured primates (yes, the kids), they not only get to enjoy the plethora of local tourist attractions, but bang-up public schools as well. Hagerty High School and Oviedo High School offer top-quality academics, plus they're competitive rivals. Hagerty High ranks among Florida's best in its marching bands, girls volleyball, school newspaper, and theater department. Oviedo High has an equally literate school newspaper, plus fantastic choirs, bands, theater, girls soccer, boys wrestling, and its scholastics, notes the city website proudly, are consistently rated "A" by the State of Florida. Lawton Elementary School, Partin Elementary School, and Evans Elementary School are all highly praised for their staffs, students and parental involvement.

Learn more about schools in Oviedo, FL.

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Penfield, NY

Education quality score: 86.29
Median home value: $156,020
Population: 35,383


"Rah! Yaay! Rah!" Cheerleaders at Penfield Senior High School recently won the varsity national championship and they've got plenty of other reasons to be enthusiastic. First of all, they're well-situated as a congenial suburb of Rochester, a mid-size city of 210,000 on the shores of Lake Ontario that 2010 Forbes named as the third "Best Place to Raise a Family" in the U.S.  Rochester's supremely inventive residents include Xerox, Eastman Kodak, and Bausch & Lomb, plus Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Rochester — two of the nation's top research institutes.

This pretty, true-studded town doesn't just have prime job opportunity to recommend it: Residents can while away free time in an abundance of woodlands, with miles of walking and hiking trails. Self-described as "A Town of Planned Progress," Penfield clearly supports the progress of its children. Penfield Senior High School offers Latin, a robotics team that recently qualified for international competition, and sports squads that are perennial powerhouses, especially girls' basketball and tennis, and boys' baseball, wrestling, Ultimate Frisbee, volleyball, and soccer. Bay Trail Middle School was also honored as a 2010 "Essential Elements School-to-Watch," one of only 200 schools nation-wide. Its unique learner-focused, family-oriented environment — with emphasis on social equity — is a valuable educational model that Penfield can peppily cheer.

Learn more about schools in Penfield, NY.

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Haslett, MI

Education quality score: 85.91
Median home value: $123,950
Population: 10,962

The best for less! Not only are Haslett's homes a downright bargain, but residents here enjoy the delights of both suave urbanity and rustic ruralness. Culture, shopping, and dining can be consumed at nearby Lansing (the state capital) and East Lansing (home of Michigan State University). What's more, natural tranquility is right out the door with adjacent 500-acre Lake Lansing's boating, fishing, swimming, volleyball, and hiking pleasures.  

Haslett's schools boast a plethora of both fun and high-IQ, extra-curricular options. The Science Olympiad team of Haslett Middle School grabbed first place in regional competition, and electives of Spanish, band, and choir are available. Haslett High School offers seven choirs, plus inventively eclectic clubs that include writing, anime, French, Harry Potter, Japanese, film, fencing, and Quiz Bowl. Vera Ralya Elementary School also receives high marks from parents for its exceptional teachers and beloved principal.

Learn more about schools in Haslett, MI.

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Westlake, OH

Education quality score: 85.68
Median home value: $190,380
Population: 30,418

This affluent Cleveland bedroom community — presently celebrating its bicentennial anniversary with great fanfare — bespeaks the town's close-knit and family-friendly feel. Bicentennial aside, every year is filled with festivity, including the annual Pumpkin Festival, Christmas Tree Lighting, July 4th Parade and Liberty Fest, Summer Concerts in the Park, and "Westlake in Bloom" flower garden competition. Plus, it's got four golf courses and a vibrant community theater. Youthful brainpower is also present in the town's satellite campus of Cleveland State University.

Westlake’s school district website reports that it is consistently in the top four percent state-wide, earning an “Excellent” rating on the Ohio State Report CardLee Burneson Middle School has an intimate 17:1 student-teacher ratio; a conference champion girls basketball team; and a Civil War Ball with authentic food, music, dances, and costumes. Westlake High School's music programs are top-ranked, most notably the symphonic wind ensemble that's captured state champions for seven consecutive years. Multiple clubs are offered, from the "League of Fine Dining" to S.A.D.D. (Students Against Destructive Decisions). Seeking a private school? There are two highly regarded religious institutes (Westside Christian Academy and St. Paul Lutheran School), one outstanding Montessori (Montessori Children's School), and the Westlake Christian Academy.

Learn more about schools in Westlake, OH.

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Mason, OH

Education quality score: 85.17
Median home value: $182.850
Population: 30,508

George Clooney is a native son of this fast-growing Cincinnati 'burb, which in 2010 ranked #81 on CNN Money's "Top 100 Places to Live in the United States." Residents enjoy the Lindner Family Tennis Center, two water parks, and Kings Island theme park (voted "Best Kids Area" in the U.S. for nine years by Amusement Today). A family town with 67.5 percent of its households containing married couples, Mason boasts a school district that earns a perfect score — 26 out of 26 — every year on its Ohio Report Card, earning a rating of 5th out of the state’s 613 districts. Classrooms are new and up-to-date, with a total of 28 computer labs that provide one computer for every three students.

With 3000-plus student, William Mason High School is without argument huge, but it is a Silver Medalist on Newsweek's 2008 list of the top public high schools nationwide. An impressive 85 percent of the students are enrolled in extra-curricular activities, obtaining state championships in multiple, diverse areas like math team, debate team, girls' basketball, and girls' track. The school newspaper, art department, and wind symphony are also among the state's best. Graduating students have entered numerous Ivy League schools and received athletic scholarships in a dozen sports. Contributing heavily to the success is a young, highly motivated faculty that includes Cindy Donnelly, recently honored by the University of Cincinnati as the “Financial Education Teacher of the Year.”

Learn more about schools in Mason, OH.

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North Royalton, OH

Education quality score: 84.90
Median home value: $142,760
Population: 29,363

Oompah-pah! Oompah! The marching band at North Royalton High School, one of the best in Ohio, has trumpeted at the Rose Bowl and Indianapolis 500, with almost 300 students enrolled in its ranks annually. Five choirs also chime in this second-suburb-near-Cleveland on this list. Academically, North Royalton makes the best of good teachers and high parent involvement, with 90 percent of its graduates entering college. A recent activity that exemplifies community support is the "Stuff the Bus" food drive, sponsored by school bus drivers. Albion Elementary School consistently earns an "Excellent" rating on its state report card, plus it offers student leadership positions and has earned Buckeye Best Healthy School awards for three years. This year, Royal View Elementary was named a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, too.

As for family life, North Royalton offers a relaxed, small-town pace just 15 miles from the bustling urbanism of Akron (population 200,000) and 18 minutes from Cleveland (population 400,000). Plus, it provides top-notch outdoor spaces, including a soon-to-be new 15-acre park with walking trails, a community garden, and natural springs in the heart of town.

Learn more about schools in North Royalton, OH.

Franklin, WI

Education quality score: 84.75
Median home value: $197,800
Population: 35,101

First it was a hardwood forest where Native Americans hunted deer, bear, rabbit, and wolves. Next, it was fertile farmland with Irish, Dutch, and German settlers. And now, Franklin in the breathtaking Root River Valley is the fastest-growing suburb of Milwaukee, included on Forbes 2009 list of 100 "Best Places to Live." Parks, bike trails, untouched wetlands, prairies, and timberland encircle the town, with urban lures like major sports teams, zoos, museums, concerts, and festivals just a few miles further.

Every academic level here is exemplary. Southwood Glen Elementary School has instituted the cutting edge innovation of "recess before lunch." Forest Park Middle School provides a Geography Bee, marine life excursions to Florida, and Washington D.C. history and heritage tours. Franklin High School maintains imaginative options with extra-curriculars like robotics, model United Nations, co-ed skiing, forensics, and parkour. Other academic institutes include St. Paul's Lutheran Church School, Franklin's St. Martin of Tours Parish School,and Indian Community School of Milwaukee, all K-8s with respectable reputations. 

Learn more about schools in Franklin, WI.

Photo credit: John Michlig