Top education towns 2011: Median home prices $600,000-$799,999

Location, location, location: Homes in these cities aren't cheap, but they offer a wonderful lifestyle and top-flight schools.

By GreatSchools Staff

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

Moraga, CA

Educational quality score: 97.69
Median home value: 722,010
Population: 16,465

This pastoral suburb in the East Bay hills has fields and woodlands with cows, deer, squirrels, foxes, coyote, bobcats, quail, and wild turkeys that occasionally strut on the downtown sidewalks. There's nothing "fowl" about the schools however. The district's API score of 945 placed them in the top 2 percent statewide, with Campolindo High School (CHS) ranking #86 nationally in US News & World Report. CHS offers video production and digital photography classes, as well as great sports opportunities. The 2010 girls volleyball team was tops in the Golden State, and Olympic star Matt Biondi grew his fins on the school's buoyant swim team.

The middle school, Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School, also offers unusual extracurriculars, like golf, badminton, journalism club, writing contests, and spelling and geography bees. All this, in a Northern California setting that enables you to hike, bike, or run your dog off leash. Moraga even has a liberal arts ivory tower: St. Mary's College with 3,840 students.

Learn more about schools in Moraga, CA.

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Basking Ridge, NJ

Educational quality score: 94.17
Median home value: $685,300
Population: 24,600

Speech! Speech! The Ridge High School Forensics Team (speech and debate) has defeated all opponents for the state championship for 10 consecutive years, plus it dominated a national tournament by out-arguing 105 rival schools from 30 states. One assertion that isn’t debatable? That Basking Ridge has exceptional schools. Ridge High is a Blue Ribbon School, ranked #2 in New Jersey by Newsweek in 2010, with enrichment activities that range from a marching band to a ski squad.

William Annin Middle School
has one of the best athletic departments in New Jersey, plus loads of intriguing electives including Latin, computer game design, and international cooking. All this in a lovely place blessed with both high -ech industry and rich tradition: Verizon Wireless resides here, but there's also a historic district with preserved colonial buildings and a 600-year-old oak tree, under which George Washington is said to have enjoyed a picnic. There's even an ominous "Devil Tree," a gnarled oak that, according to lore, will curse and kill anyone who dares cut it down. Word is the local kids are far too wise to try.

Learn more about schools in Basking Ridge, NJ.

Photo credit: RickyNJ


Jericho, NY

Educational quality index: 94.17
Median home value: $644,890
Population: 12,812

This Long Island hamlet was originally settled by Quakers who opposed slavery by working in the Underground Railroad. Social conscience and humanitarianism are now local traditions, carried forth in the local schools. Jericho Middle School offers a discussion class that examines “privilege, discrimination, and oppression,” and has created its own Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund, and Salvation Army Clothing Drive. Jericho Senior High School celebrates "Diversity Day" and is also spearheading charity projects: a "Bowl-A-Thon" for Habitat for Humanity, and a basketball tournament called "Alley-Oop for Autism."

All this altruism doesn't seem to distract students from studying. Jericho High placed #2 in New York, and #32 in the U.S. in Newsweek's 2010 list. An impressive 83 percent of the 2010 graduating class completed advanced placement courses, with 95 percent eventually packing their luggage for four-year colleges and universities. Where are they going? Twenty-three Jericho grads are headed to Cornell, 20 to New York University, and seven to Penn State; others will attend MIT, Yale, Harvard, and Cal Tech. Brilliance with a heart – isn't that what every parent hopes for his or her child?

Learn more about schools in Jericho, NY.

Photo credits: gailf548


Hinsdale, IL

Educational quality index: 92.25
Median home value: $651,220
Population: 16,723

Beautiful buildings abound here: Queen Annes, Italianates, Georgians, Craftsmen, Prairies. Everywhere you look there's architectural eye candy –- from the train station and the library, to the town hall, police station, post office and movie theater. Even the gas station is a Renaissance Revival. This suburb of Chicago (just 20 minutes away by train) also offers plenty of natural entertainment including parks, sledding hills and untouched woodlands.

Scholastics here are as breath-taking as the architecture and the environment. Math testing in grades 3 and 4 revealed that 98 percent of the children exceeded state standards. Hinsdale Middle School is a Blue Ribbon winner, with healthy eating served in its cafeteria: whole grains, organic milk, and 100 percent fruit juices. Hinsdale Central High School has 100 clubs and was ranked 5th by the Chicago Sun-Times in its list of "Top 100 High Schools in Illiniois," but its real forte is athletics. Girls lacrosse, boys gymnastics, plus tennis and swimming for both genders have garnered dozens of state titles.

Learn more about schools in Hinsdale, IL.

Photo credit: ChicagoGeek

Winchester, MA

Educational quality score: 90.36
Median home value: $601,920
Population: 21.117

Take a short train ride out of Boston and you'll find yourself in a recreation wonderland of ponds, lakes, rivers, and forests. Winchester offers canoeing, sailing, cross-country skiing, fishing, ice-skating, bicycling, and horseback riding at its Mystic Lakes, Winter Pond, Winchester Trails, and Middlesex Falls Reservation. Plus, Winchester is one of the best school districts in arguably the very best education state.

Looking for an elementary school?  Muraco Elementary School — named after a local veteran who died in Vietnam — offers a Multicultural Fair and outdoor exploratory classes. McCall Middle School has an enviable 15.9 to one student-teacher ratio to maintain the focus of hormone-hassled teens and tweeners. Winchester High School provides "Family Dinners" for pupils and parents at downtown restaurants, plus an exceptionally active music department. Indeed, if the Winchester air seems particularly harmonious, it may be because cellist Yo-Yo Ma lives here with his family.

Learn more about schools in Winchester, MA.

Photo credit: Jed Sheehan

Potomac, MD

Educational quality score: 89.60
Median home value: $749,630
Population: 44,924

Living here is a "capitol" idea for brainy bureaucrats, with the D.C. area just 17 miles away. Selected by Forbes as the 7th best-educated small town in the U.S., the apples here don't fall far from the trees. Winston Churchill High School is a Blue Ribbon School, one of the nation's Top 100 (US News & World Report), with mind-boggling stats: 98.4 percent graduation rate, and 96.0 percent attendance rate. But academic statistics don’t tell the whole story. The performing arts program is considered exceptional. And the golf, ice hockey, and girls' swimming and diving teams have all competed in state championships.

Cold Spring Elementary has been #1 in Maryland for eight consecutive years in achieving advanced proficiency score, undoubtedly aided by its center for highly-gifted children. Cabin John Middle School, located in a new LEED-certified geothermal building, offers its students Mandarin as well as extra-curriculars like hip-hop, cartooning, and fashion design. And when you need a break from managing the nation, you can horse around with equestrian activities, enjoy water-sports in the Potomac (President John Quincy Adams skinny-dipped here), and nightlife in Washington D.C.

Learn more about schools in Potomac, MD.

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Concord, MA

Educational quality index: 89.56
Median home value: $611,320
Population: 16,846

Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Alcott. "The biggest little place in America," is Henry James' nickname for this scribblers' history town, where literary giants now rest on Author's Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Only 19 miles from Boston, Concord boasts 26 registered historical buildings and its own Revolutionary War skirmish, when Yankee guerillas routed the Redcoats. Walden Pond offers the perfect picnic spot for reading the musings of local luminaries, while nibbling on Concord grapes (naturally), developed by a local grower.

Not surprisingly, Concord-Carlisle High School carries on the town’s tradition of thinking, writing, and speaking out. Rated #1 in cost-efficiency among high schools in eastern Massachusetts, the high school offers dozens of intriguing extra-curriculars like a political journal, literary review, radio station, Amnesty International chapter, Gay/Straight Alliance group, two environmental clubs, and Bass fishing club. In sports, the boys' soccer team was ranked #16 nationally in 2010, with football and ski squads also of championship caliber.

Learn more about schools in Concord, MA.

Photo credit: Sebastià Giralt

Wilton, CT

Educational quality score: 88.48
Median home price: $683,300
Population: 17,684

"It's Greek to me." In many towns, this phrase might be a jokey slogan you'd hear at the local gyros stand. In Wilton, it refers to the classic tongue of Plato and Homer so rarely taught in public schools these days. At Wilton High School (WHS) however, 30 plus students study Greek, taught by award-winning teacher Max Gabrielson. Five other languages are also available: French, Spanish, German, Latin and Russian. Students at WHS also compete in lacrosse, skiing, and girls gymnastics. The local middle school, Middlebrook School, maintains a cozy 13 to 1 student teacher ratio.

The Wilton area boasts 500 restored 17th, 18th, and 19th century buildings.  Ambler Farm, a 200-year old farm now owned by the town and undergoing historic restoration, offers classes in maple syrup making, sheep-shearing and bee hiving, among other educational programs. Surrounded by 375 acres of open land where bow-hunters stalk deer, Wilton has its own celebrity “Dear Hunter:” Academy Award-winning actor Christopher Walken.

Learn more about schools in Wilton, CT.

Piedmont, CA

Educational quality index: 87.96
Median home value: $730,620
Population: 10,596

A suburban oasis surrounded by Oakland, tiny Piedmont has received "Best Place to Live" recognition from both CNN Money and Forbes. Long a Mecca for Bay Area parents seeking excellent schools without entering a lottery (required for enrollment in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland school districts), Piedmont is a little town with famously high performing schools. Piedmont Middle School boasts teachers with an average 15 years experience, a chess club, film club, and athletics that include rock climbing and kayaking on the Bay.

Piedmont High School is a Blue Ribbon School, a California Distinguished School, and the host of a bizarre Bird-Calling Contest that often wings its winner to a guest slot on Late Night with David Lettermen. The Scottish-themed school calls its yearbook the "Clan-O-Log," and its mascot is a tartan-kilted Highlander, but the school has moved beyond its European traditions, offering Mandarin to a student body that is now 22 percent Asian. An impressive 98 percent of the student body attends four-year colleges and universities, over one-third to the University of California system, and many others to Ivy Leagues.

All this success, wrapped in a mild climate, just minutes away from the distracting pleasures of San Francisco, makes Piedmont a natural choice for families that can afford it.

Learn more about schools in Piedmont, CA.