Talk to me about Chatham vs Chapel Hill Schools - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 23 Old 03-04-2009, 01:02 PM - Thread Starter
 
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So, we're looking into moving from upstate NY (outside of Albany) to the Chapel Hill/Carrboro area. There are a lot of wonderful houses for sale at great prices because the market is so depressed. However, even though some of those great houses say they are in CH, the school district is Chatham. Our agent said we need to really look into whether we want our girls (they will be 5 and 8 when we move) in the Chatham school district. I have been doing some poking online to look at test and aptitude scores, but those still don't tell me where Chatham schools are going or could be going. I know that many builders created a building explosion in that area, so with more people moving in things can/will change.

We are (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it!) coming from excellent schools here. Sure, we have the hit or miss teacher, but overall the schools are amazing.

So, give me the scoop. Those that know the area please give me your opinions. TIA for any info you can provide!

Michelle
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#2 of 23 Old 03-04-2009, 07:51 PM
 
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Chapel Hill schools have a much better rep than Chatham schools. You do have the option for some charter schools and private schools in Chatham and I know folks who are happy enough in Chatham schools. Of course, I also know folks who aren't happy and go elsewhere. My kids are in a private school in Chatham even though we live in Chapel Hill, so that may sound a little backward! It's a hippie crunchy private school, though, and very small. It's a good fit for us.

Chapel Hill schools have a rep, especially in high school, for being very academically competitive. There are usually multiple perfect scores on the SAT each year and lots of kids with A+++++ averages. Some folks feel like the average kids can slip through the cracks. I have heard some pretty good stuff about special needs kids, but can't say more than that. I don't think the CH/C schools are perfect and there's always going to be someone complaining no matter where you are, but generally speaking they do have an excellent reputation. Of course parents favor this elementary school over that one and all, but generally it's recognized as one of, if not the, best school systems in the state.

This wikipedia entry on Chapel Hill/Carrboro schools might be helpful.

We would have our kids there, but dd1 has some emotional/anxiety/personality issues that are better served by being in a smaller more family-like environment.

Personally, I obviously know a lot of folks who chose the private school where we are over the public schools in Chatham, but I know a lot of those kids go on to Woods Charter School after a few years. I have toured Woods and have mixed feelings about it. It runs on a Core Knowledge Curriculum. It is small which I like, but goes through high school (plus in my book) and is free (if you get in the lottery).

I know a few folks who have tried the local Chatham Elementary and pulled out, but I know folks who are happy there, too. I also know folks who have pulled out of CH/C elementary schools to go to private schools. It's all about the best fit for the individual kid and family, y'know?

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#3 of 23 Old 03-06-2009, 09:31 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for your response! I was looking at Woods Charter School, but having so few slots available for students I didn't want to move blindly into Chatham County thinking I could get my girls into there. We finally found some SAT scores to compare various districts to where we are now (NC scores were easy to obtain, it was our local school that was the challenge!) A friend from the area mentioned that we should look into the other side of Jordan Lake in Wake County, so we are thinking of looking in that area as well.

Thanks for your help
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#4 of 23 Old 03-06-2009, 11:48 PM
 
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Well, I think if you look in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro district you can probably find a house in your price range, too, since prices have fallen so much. Chatham might be fine for you, but the CH/C district will give you more options. You could go public or private or you could still go to Woods since you can go to a charter from any district. The downside of the CH/C district is the property taxes. You'll pay for the public schools whether you end up using them or not.

I have heard a lot of nice comments about Wake county on here and it might suit you fine, too. Raleigh's a little too big for me and Chapel Hill and Carrboro have everything I need and want (mostly) so I'm pretty happy here.

Happy Hunting!

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#5 of 23 Old 03-08-2009, 07:20 PM
 
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I thought that it was the reverse, lots of children in Chatham County are in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro school district. There are exceptions, though.

My son attends the Pre-K/Head Start program in Chapel Hill. I'm really happy with it, and I'm picky since I used to be a Head Start teacher in the other part of the county. He will attend kindergarten at the same school.

I don't know much about the Chatham County schools so I'm no help there. But I do know that Chatham closes a lot more for "snow" and ice than Chapel Hill. More delayed openings due to weather, though. Not a big deal but I really noticed it this winter.
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#6 of 23 Old 03-08-2009, 10:12 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BethNC View Post
I thought that it was the reverse, lots of children in Chatham County are in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro school district. There are exceptions, though.
No, it's definitely the other way around. You can have a Chapel Hill address, but be in Chatham or Durham county and you go to the county school system, not the town.

Here's a link to a PDF with a map of the elementary school districts. You can find PDFs for the middle and high schools here - http://www2.chccs.k12.nc.us/educatio...sectionid=4445 .

hth

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#7 of 23 Old 03-08-2009, 10:27 PM
 
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I'll double check with my friend but I'm 99% sure her house is in Chatham County. And her kids attend Chapel Hill schools.
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#8 of 23 Old 03-08-2009, 11:29 PM
 
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I think you can put your name in a lottery for a spot in the CHCCS if you're not within the district. My mil lives in Chatham County yet has a CH address and her neighbor's kids are in the CHCCS.

My 2 older boys are in 2nd and 3rd grade in the CHCCS district. Up until this year we've been very pleased. Kindy was awesome, 1st was great, even 2nd is good. Once 3rd grade hit all bets were off. We've been having a really rough year with all the testing, and beanma is right...its easy for average kids to fall through the cracks or at least feel a lot of pressure. Ds's teacher was concerned at the beginning of the year (3rd grade) that he wasn't reading at or close to a 4th grade level. Umm, he just finished 2nd grade?!?: Then there's the homework. Tons of homework. Waaay more than 9 and 7 y/o kids should be doing in a night. I honestly believe that the schools are great, its just all the no child left behind crap that has influenced the way things are. My guess is that you'd run into that anywhere though.

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#9 of 23 Old 03-09-2009, 07:56 AM
 
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Didn't know about a lottery, but as I mentioned my kids aren't in the CHC schools so if y'all have friends and relations in another county, but in CHC schools I'll take your word for it. I looked on the map, though, and my brother's house (no kids) which is in Chapel Hill, but also Durham county is not in the CHC school district. The CHC school district also stops at Starpoint, so nothing in Chatham down 15/501. If there are Chatham kids going to CHC schools they must be the exception rather than the rule according to the school district's map.

OP, I wouldn't count on being able to get in a CHC school if you buy a house in Chatham.

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#10 of 23 Old 03-09-2009, 08:44 AM
 
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OK, I figured it out. I was right, but for the wrong reason. They do live in the Chatham part of Chapel Hill and their kids do attend CH/C schools. But, I forgot that he's a teacher in Chapel Hill and his kids can come to school here even though they don't live here.

(Figured this all out early this morning when I was trying to sleep.)
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#11 of 23 Old 03-09-2009, 02:41 PM
 
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Yes, we are in Chapel Hill but in Chatham County and we are in Chatham schools. I honestly did not want to be in the Chapel Hill school district because I didn't want the academic focus. I'm weird, though!

We're going to be homeschooling but I'm interested to see what happens to Chatham schools with Briar Chapel development. If my DD were not such a sensitive gal, I would probably be okay with Chatham schools. But, for now, no public school is right for her.

I'm just taking it year-by-year for now. Chatham County taxes are much less than Chapel Hill, house prices are less for what you get, etc. So, it's a matter of balancing all those issues.

Holli
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#12 of 23 Old 03-09-2009, 08:55 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks folks!

The problem we're having is that the Chapel Hill housing prices have not come down with the economic recession that the rest of the US seems to be hit with! Whereas with Chatham County the builders are selling houses at a loss because the area has been so hard hit by the economy.

It's hard to look at a house in Chatham at $X and see a very similar (acre, square footage, amenities, etc) house in CH/C School District and the price jumps up by $200k!

Online I have been searching for Chapel Hill and a lot of houses that are listed in Chapel Hill (areas like Governor's Club and the Preserve) are actually in Chatham County, so Chatham schools, not CH/C schools.
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#13 of 23 Old 03-12-2009, 11:05 AM
 
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I agree with Holli, that's it's all about balancing needs. If "good" schools are a high priority for you, though, really look at Chapel Hill/Carrboro. What are the things in your mind that make schools excellent and what are you looking for in schools and how important a factor is that in where you end up? Would "pretty good" schools and an "excellent" house be all right or would you rather have "excellent" schools and a "pretty good" house? There are many, many people who move to Chapel Hill or Carrboro specifically for the schools. Here's a link to one realtor's site with a list of accolades for the CH/C schools — http://www.liveinchapelhill.com/resources/schools.html .

For our family it turns out that right now the small crunchy private school is a better fit, but I hold out hope that one day the CH/C schools might be a good fit. There are so many opportunities there. Kids are doing amazing things and I wish that my kids could be some of the kids doing the amazing things, but I know that I have to be respectful of who my kids are and meet them where they are. And right now, although the CH/C schools are excellent (dual language program in our assigned elementary school), the public schools are just not where my kids are, especially dd1, so we're at the crunchy private school.

Are you happy with your realtor? I know several if you need a recommendation and I think that birthdancedoula's DH is one, too. I think now is a great time for folks to buy (providing they can sell a previous home if need be). I think part of the problem is that folks have bought in our area in the past 5 yrs or so when prices were high and they're trying to recoup those prices when they sell, especially if they improved the house. It's tough because they don't want to take a loss, but the prices some folks are asking are pretty high now, but would have been reasonable 2 yrs ago. I know in our neighborhood there are a couple of houses like that.

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#14 of 23 Old 03-17-2009, 03:04 PM
 
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I just wanted to pop back in here with a tidbit about the CH/C high schools.

In the sports section of the local bi-weekly free local newspaper they profile a local sportskid. The kid they featured this week is a senior baseball player (amongst other accomplishments). It mentioned in the profile that his grandfather is a retired law professor and his parents and other relatives are similarly accomplished, so this is a young guy who comes from a fairly privileged background. When asked what was one thing he would change about his high school, he said, "lessen the Advanced Placement courses. 'They create too much stress in a high school environment.'"

That may be good or bad depending on your interpretation, but I think it just backs up the notion that are a lot of really academically competitive kids and a lot of really challenging courses in the CH/C schools.

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#15 of 23 Old 03-17-2009, 04:55 PM
 
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Hmmm, my son will start kindergarten in the fall. I'm really nervous about it. I'd love to be able to consider homeschooling or a private school but neither is economically possible right now. Sigh...
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#16 of 23 Old 03-18-2009, 08:34 AM
 
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BethNC, I know a lot of folks who have been really happy in Kindy in CH/C schools. I don't think the academically competitive stuff starts too much before high school. And the high schools offer so many cool things that I hope my girls will be able to fit themselves in. If not we'll homeschool or private school, but I just think about so many opportunities in these schools that I didn't have. My high school was very basic, reading, writing 'rithmetic with a little history and chemistry thrown in, but there weren't very many cool courses. The sportskid I was quoting above said his favorite class was "videography"!

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#17 of 23 Old 03-18-2009, 04:10 PM
 
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Thanks Beanma. I don't know anyone that has had a child in kindergarten here. Orange County Schools, yes, Chapel Hill, no. It's just so hard. I love his Pre-K teachers and it just makes me sad that he won't get much time to learn through play once he gets to kindergarten. But, I have to remember that I'm his mom and we have lots of experiences outside of school hours.

But the row of paper "Louis Armstrongs" outside one of the K rooms just makes me laugh...sadly. I detest cookie cutter "art."
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#18 of 23 Old 03-18-2009, 04:31 PM
 
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Well, we're new to the CH/C district, but after 2 days of school, I have a few first impressions.

Just so you know what I have to compare it to-- our old district was a very high-achieving, high rated district, too, but very structured and organized and corporate. My kids are 12 (bookish and mellow, 7th grade), 8 (mellow and loves school, 3rd grade), and 7 (VERY hyper, energetic, doesn't like to be still, 1st grade.

One thing I noticed different about both our schools here is that they're MUCH more casual and laid back. In our old district, teachers wore dress casual outfits and fancy shoes; here, it's not unusual to see teachers in jeans. There, the rooms looked very Martha Stewart and orderly; here the rooms look LIVED in, but in a wonderful way. Don't get me wrong-- they're professional enough, but it seems they focus more on the learning experiences rather than the image (imagine that!).

One other thing I've noticed at both schools-- much of the homework is more thinking than practice. Example: Instead of multiplication table worksheets, my 3rd grade daughter brought home 2 pages of logic activities ("Which of these rectangles is divided in half?" with zig zag lines going through several of them). My 7th grade son's pre-algebra homework last night was an activity instead of exercises out of the book: find 6 items available for purchase online, spend as close to $300 as possible, purchases over $100 get a 20% discount, purchases 50-99 get a 15% discount, purchases under 50 get a 10% discount). I like that it's not all memorization. Plus the kids are telling me there is a LOT of hands-on learning, even at the middle school.

Elementary school: in our school here, the walls of the halls are COVERED in fun posters and kids' work. The rooms have lots of bins of manipulatives and learning things out. In our old primary school (1st grade), the kids came in early in the mornings and sat quietly in the halls until it was time for school to start. Here, the kids who get there early come to the room, where there is some activity set up for them to do until school starts. Example: our first day here, when I walked my son to class, they had weighing/measuring activities out. At one table, kids had two big scales and lots of items and were weighing to try to balance out the scales. At another table, popsicle sticks were taped sticking out from the table, and the kids then had to clip clothespins onto odd-shaped cardboard cutouts to balance them on the popsicle sticks.

All of that to say that while there is definitely an academic focus, it still seems to be (at least in the K-8 grades and at my schools) a very kid-friendly, hands-on environment (much more so than our last district), and I'm impressed.

Even my 1st grader, who while he is academically bright is also VERY high energy and gets in trouble a lot, enjoys it, and says they spend MUCH less time sitting at the tables than he's used to. He says most of their day in 1st grade is spent at activity centers or floor time when they're not at lunch/music/art/etc.

Anyway, I'm sure that as we're here longer, situations will come up that we will need to address. But for now, we're happy.

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#19 of 23 Old 03-18-2009, 04:58 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for your rundown of your past few days christyc! What you described sounds a lot like our current school, so I had a sigh of relief when I read your post I'm still not sure where we will land on where we buy a house, but at least I know more about the options.

We head down in a few weeks to do our first look at the areas/neighborhoods and then we'll get a real feel for what our gut says.

And everyone feel free to add more as you think of things! I'm open to any comments you all have about the areas (schools, neighborhoods, etc).
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#20 of 23 Old 03-18-2009, 06:03 PM
 
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Thanks Christy, that is so very helpful. If you get a minute, and feel comfortable sharing, would you PM me the name of your kids elementary school. I'm a former teacher and your descriptions are helping me to relax a bit.

I've lived in Chapel Hill for 6 1/2 years but have only been a mom for about 2 1/2. I'm still building a community here. That's why MDC has been so wonderful.
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#21 of 23 Old 04-14-2009, 11:40 PM
 
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Not sure if you are still looking for info but thought I would give my two cents. Before the birth of my son I worked as a TA in CHCCS. I thought it was one of the most progressive school districts I have seen. I really enjoy the use of literacy and math centers. They also have a very strong EC program for disabled students. Most of the teachers were genuinely there because they loved teaching and want to help students. I was really impressed with the quality of the education in CHCCS and the fact that most students enjoyed school. There are lots of events and activities at the schools and ample after school care.

I have to disagree with the notion that there is a lot of homework in CHCCS schools. My niece lived with us in Chatham county and attended Pittsboro Elementary school. She had over an hour of homework per night. In CHCCS she had way less homework. Chatham county schools were not a good fit for her, and probably would not be for a very active child or one with any type of behavior, emotional or personality need, even a small one. The teachers seemed burned out and when I needed to go to the school to get my nieces books, they were closed and locked up within 30 minutes of the school day ending. If I called right after school ended I still could not get her teacher on the phone.

Personally if I had the choice, I would move to Chapel Hill, the schools are a world different than the schools in Chatham county. You can always schedule a tour of the schools to see which ones you like. We only live in Chatham county because we did not have children when we bought our house and planned to sell it and move to a better school district when our kids were school aged.
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#22 of 23 Old 04-15-2009, 09:43 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by loewymartin View Post
Thanks folks!

The problem we're having is that the Chapel Hill housing prices have not come down with the economic recession that the rest of the US seems to be hit with! Whereas with Chatham County the builders are selling houses at a loss because the area has been so hard hit by the economy.

It's hard to look at a house in Chatham at $X and see a very similar (acre, square footage, amenities, etc) house in CH/C School District and the price jumps up by $200k!

Online I have been searching for Chapel Hill and a lot of houses that are listed in Chapel Hill (areas like Governor's Club and the Preserve) are actually in Chatham County, so Chatham schools, not CH/C schools.
From someone who used to work in local government, you might want to look into the factors behind *why* CH home prices are still stable and Chatham's aren't (role of UNC, more walkable communities, free public transportation, more stable employment, etc). These factors may be important to you or not, but knowing might help your decision making. A more stable property and sales tax base certainly provides more money for education long term.

There are some great reasons houses in Chapel Hill and Carrboro cost more than some other parts of the Triangle. Just depends on whether they matter to you.

Also, the recommendation to look on the other side of Jordan Lake in Wake County would put you over in my 'hood (Cary/Apex/Holly Springs/Western Wake). We also have great schools, but a very different vibe than CH. Also, Wake is a consolidated school district, which results in much more busing.

If I had my choice and DH's employment wasn't an issue, we would be living in the crunchier, cheaper Carrboro in a heart beat.

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#23 of 23 Old 04-15-2009, 08:01 PM
 
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Regarding homework, in our old district (a top-rated district in SC), our homework was:

7th grade: about an hour a night (he did most of it in free time at school)
3rd grade: about an hour a night
1st grade: about 45 min to an hour each night M-Th

Since we've been in CH/C district:

7th grade: about 30-60 minutes
3rd grade: about 30-45 minutes a day
1st grade: only has homework 2 or 3 days a week, usually takes about 15 minutes

We've been happy with the lighter homework load.

Wife of one and mom of five, including my HBAC twins!
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