Moving to Raleigh and trying to navigate Wake County schools can be an intimidating experience. Public schools vs. charter schools? Year-round vs. traditional calendar? Magnet schools? We can help you decode the school system as you make choices of where to send your kids to school. Raleigh is such a great place to raise a family and the schools are just one of the reasons why. There’s so many great schools to choose from. Let’s go over how to make that choice.
Wake County Schools: Public Schools v. Charter schools
Once you move into your home, you have the option to enroll your children at your base public school based on your address–and there is usually both a traditional calendar option (August-June) and year-round option (a shortened summer break and time off scattered throughout the year.)
You also have the option to instead try for a charter school. You can enroll in any charter school, no matter where you live (as long as you’re within the same county boundaries.) Charter school applications are usually due between January-March and have limited enrollment, so the schools use a lottery system to randomly select applicants. Many parents will submit applications for all the charter schools they’re interested in, with the hope that they will at least be admitted into one. Applications are easy–they usually just require your name, child’s name and grade, and your address. If you are not one of the lucky few to be admitted, don’t fret–North Carolina’s public schools are great options and you can still enroll your child after the lottery results are released before school starts in the fall.
How to decide between a public and charter school? Schools are open for tours so you can get a feel for the school and let your child observe the classrooms as well. Many parents try for a charter school for the smaller class sizes and increased parental involvement in the school, as well as immersing their children in the focus the charter school offers. Each charter school has a unique area and method they focus on. For example, Endeavor Charter School is focused on the arts and hands-on learning, Envision Science Academy on STEAM and hands-on science experiments–the list goes on.
Others prefer the public schools–there are more sports offered for students and if their kids play on the school team they do not need to travel far to play a competing school. With charter schools, parents have to drive far at times to play games with other charter schools. Some parents also prefer their base school because of the close proximity to their home and having their children’s classmates be their neighbors as well.
Wake County Schools: Year-round vs. Traditional Calendar
Both calendar options have positive aspects. The year-round calendar option means that children are in school all year, with an abbreviated summer break usually between the middle of June to July. With that break, they would usually have during a long summer spread throughout the year in week-long “track-out” breaks. Some parents prefer this schedule because their children get a break throughout the year and the summer regression from learning is not as prevalent because the break is not as long. Parents also like being able to take family vacations in the off-season when flight and hotel rates are cheaper. It can be tricky if you have one child admitted in a year-round school, and another on a traditional calendar—but thankfully, charter schools often admit children’s siblings once the child has been an existing student for a year. Parents often make the choice to juggle two different carpool lines for a year until they can have their kids all at one school.
Other parents prefer the traditional calendar for a variety of reasons. They don’t have to worry about arranging child care throughout the year for track-outs, and they have a longer summer break to enjoy with their kids. They also don’t have to worry about keeping a ‘track’ straight–to stagger student numbers in year-round schools, families are put on different schedules, or tracks, which can have a different impact on scheduled school breaks. Some tracks are more popular than others–but parents do not always get their first choice in which track they want. Some schools offer a modified year-round calendar, in which tracks are eliminated and all students are on the same schedule, but with an abbreviated summer break.
There are quite a few charter schools in Raleigh, but we’ll highlight a few of our favorites here and tell you why they’re at the top of our list.
Endeavor Charter School
With a brand new expansion of facilities opening this summer, Endeavor offers hands-on learning for grades K-8 (so your children can be at one school!) They offer smaller class sizes, with a focus on the performing arts. Children have many opportunities to practice public speaking, drama performances, art shows, and science projects. The parents are involved and the facilities are beautiful, with a brand-new gym, middle school building, and sports fields.
Envision Science Academy
With fun science projects, an opportunity to learn Mandarin Chinese, and a thriving sports program, Envision Science Academy is a popular choice for many parents of K-8th grade parents. It focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM).
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Wake Forest Charter Academy
This K-8 school provides a great education and experience for children to prepare them for high school and beyond. With a Moral Focus program, different morals are focused on each month and recognized in students who make special efforts to exhibit them.
Franklin Academy provides a rigorous K-12 educational experience and is a popular choice for parents because students can know where they will be at school from kindergarten through high school.
Thales is a private K-12 school that offers an excellent education. With tuition ranging from $4,800 to $6000, it’s a popular choice for many. Using the Direct Instruction (DI) method, students are grouped by skill level and taught with rapid pacing that has shown to be effective.
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North Raleigh Christian Academy
NRCA is a private Christian K-12 school that integrates Christianity into the classroom curriculum and offers Bible discussions. Tuition ranges from $6,120 to $11,460 depending on grade.
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Magnet schools, like charter schools, have different specializations they focus on, but they receive more funding to achieve those focuses. Magnet schools can focus on different subjects ranging from Spanish immersion at Hodge Road Elementary, to Gifted and Talented/AIG curriculum at Hunter Elementary. Other examples of magnet focuses are Design and Computer Science at Bugg Magnet Elementary, Leadership at Combs Elementary—the list goes on. Applications are reviewed based on the socioeconomic area from which the student lives and the projected socioeconomic status of the school—and the reason for that is magnet schools aim at having a diverse population at their schools and opportunities for all, regardless of socioeconomic status or lack of resources.
There are so many great options for education in Raleigh. Parents can come to Raleigh knowing they can give their children a wonderful learning experience, whether it’s at a public, private, charter or magnet school.
“Magnet Schools / Application Process.” Wake County Public School System. Accessed 12 May 2021.
“Tuition Information – North Raleigh Christian Academy.” North Raleigh Christian Academy. Accessed 12 May 2021.
“Thales Academy – Curriculum Overview.” Thales Academy. Accessed 12 May 2021.