*Note: From 2011-2013, 9 of our area schools made Newsweek’s “Top 500 High Schools in the US” -- 2 in Cary, 2 in Durham, 3 in Chapel Hill, 2 in Raleigh, and 1 in Apex.

Below are some generalizations on the main three county/city school systems:

Wake County (Apex, Cary, Raleigh)

Durham County

Chapel Hill/Carrboro City schools

Annual “Report Cards” on NC Schools

The state of NC issues a “report card” for each school every year based on standardized testing and statistics. To check the report card of a specific school,

- click here to access the Report Cards

- then choose the county the school is in from the right hand navigation column, then hit “GO”

- then chose the specific school

- scroll down to “School Report Card Snapshot” and click on “English” below that

Each report card has a lot of information — for help interpreting it, contact me.

Private Schools

For information on private schools in the NC Triangle area, please contact me directly (and click here for a list).

Wake County (Apex, Cary, Raleigh)

Quality - Wake County public schools are almost uniformly good, if not excellent, and many are brand new – a new school or two open almost every year to keep up with growth.

The Wake County school system is now one of the largest in the country, now serving about 150,000 students. In the last 10 years, Wake County has gone back and forth deciding how it wanted to district those students. Several years ago, the chance of a Wake County child being transferred to a different school within a year or two of enrolling in the district was very good. There are families in Wake County whose kids attended two or three schools in seven years of elementary school. The idea was to keep the schools uniformly good, and so the school board aggressively re-districted to keep up with growth, and to “leave no school behind.”

But that created a backlash, for obvious reasons, and the school board was turned over a couple of times, and the newest school board decided to keep the districts more stable. No doubt it will leave some schools “behind,” but the days of switching schools every few years seem to be over in Wake County.  Certainly, the general slow down in growth in the last several years that came with the downturn in the economy helped schools settle.

Going forward, every home will be given one traditional calendar school and one year-round school to choose from, with some limited options to opt out and transfer to a different school nearby.

Schedule - Year round schools are popular in Raleigh and Cary, as they allow the schools to accommodate more kids. This typically means a calendar with three separate 3-week break periods and six weeks off in the summer. The breaks are usually in September, December (over the holidays), and March, and then kids get about half of June and most of July off for “summer vacation.” It equals out to the same number of school days that a traditional school calendar has.

Many organizations provide camps and other day-long activities for the kids during these “track out” breaks, so you don’t have to worry about missing work. Click here for a sample of these programs.

Many people really like this schedule. The sticking point is – Wake County has three different calendars of year-round “tracks.” Which means you could end up with two (or more) kids who have slightly different 3 week breaks all year. But again, the school board is working to eliminate the number of tracks per school, make sure children in the same family are on the same tracks, and even switch some year round schools to the traditional calendar.

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Durham has excellent public magnet, Montessori, charter, and traditional elementary schools. It is also home to the much-heralded Durham School of the Arts, a 6 – 12 school that conducts a lottery to determine all admissions. The school is perennially named to Newsweek’s Top 100 US High Schools, as is the NC School of Math & Science in Durham, a free boarding school for the best 11th and 12th grade math and science students in the state.

But Durham has public schools that struggle as well. If you buy a home in the district of one of those schools, the good news is, Durham is very liberal about letting students cross district lines. The city is working very hard to make its schools as uniformly good as Chapel Hill’s and Wake County’s, and they know a good first step to making that happen is keeping as many kids as possible in the public school system.

Durham’s public schools have three year round elementary schools and two year round middle schools, but the rest are on the traditional calendar – and there is only one year-round track calendar, so if your kids do attend a year round school, they would all be on the same calendar of breaks (unlike Wake County).

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Chapel Hill/Carrboro

The best, most stable public school system in the Triangle, hands down. You don’t need private school when you’ve got public schools like this – every year since 2005, Newsweek names two Chapel Hill high schools in the top high schools in America (Chapel Hill High and East Chapel Hill)– and now a third, Woods Charter, makes the cut as well. Impressive, considering there are only three public high schools in Chapel Hill! The third opened in 2007, and it will probably be on the list before too long.

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