North Carolina, nicknamed the Tar Heel State, often claims to have the oldest public university in the nation. While the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill was the second state to be chartered in 1789, it was the first to enroll students in 1795 and the only public university with graduates in the 18th century. The debate between UNC and the University of Georgia still lingers to date.
Today, North Carolina has a robust educational scene, with over 10,721 public and private schools serving students in K-12. Picking the right institution for your child can be challenging, as the ideal school should fit your child’s interests and learning needs.
We have come up with a comprehensive list of the ten best schools in North Carolina today. The ranking considered GreatSchools.org ratings and reviews, student experiences, faculty qualifications, class sizes, extracurricular activities, and graduation rates, among other factors.
Here are the ten top-rated elementary, middle, and high schools in North Carolina, ranked in ascending order.
Best Elementary Schools
6200 Bingham Avenue, Clemmons, NC 27012
Clemmons Elementary is a highly-rated public elementary school serving students in grades PK-5. The school has a student population of 798 and is under the Winston Salem & Forsyth County School District. Students at the school perform exceeding well in standardized tests, with averages higher than their peers across the state. GreatSchools.org gave the school an overall 10/10 rating.
The test scores that GreatSchools.org reviewed reflect the academic excellence at this school. 88% of the students attain proficiency in math, 82% in reading, and 91% in science. Besides the core units, the school also offers specialized programs such as art and music.
Clemmons Elementary features small classes with a student-teacher ratio of 12:1, similar to the state’s average. Additionally, the school has highly experienced faculty. 99% have over three years of experience, and 80% of the full-time instructors are certified.
Parent reviews are full of praise for the staff at the school, saying that they create an open and welcoming environment. The parent appreciated the school’s administration for being approachable and low-key. Clemmons Elementary is a perfect choice for families staying or moving to Clemmons, NC.
180 Union School Road NW, Shallotte, NC 28470
Union Elementary is a top-performing public elementary school in the Brunswick County School District. The school serves students from the Shallotte and Ocean Isle Beach communities and has an enrollment of roughly 575. The school was named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2019, one of the two in North Carolina. It’s not surprising that Great Schools.org gave Union Elementary a perfect 10/10 rating.
The state named the school a National Title 1 Distinguished School in 2017 for ‘Sustained High Performance’. The award is reinforced by the school’s performance on standardized tests, where 95% of students attain proficiency in science, 87% in math, and 80% in reading.
The school has a highly diverse and inclusive community. Union Elementary celebrates its diversity, with 65% of the student body being white, 18% Hispanic, 9% Black, and 5% identifying as two or more races.
Union Elementary’s academic performance can be attributed to the highly qualified staff. All teachers have at least three years of teaching experience, and 75% of the full-time teachers are certified. The students enjoy personalized attention, with the school having a student-teacher ratio of 12:1. Union Elementary also employs a part-time nurse.
Parents speak highly of the administration team and teachers, indicating that the school has a warm and welcoming feel. Union Elementary is a top pick for families living in Shallotte, NC.
Brush Creek Elementary School
265 Upper Brush Creek Road, Marshall, NC 28753
Brush Creek Elementary School is a public school located in the geographical center of Madison County, Western North Carolina. The school is under the Madison County School District and hosts 369 students in grades K-5 on a 30-acre campus. GreatSchools.org gave the school a 10/10 rating.
The school aims to create a positive learning environment that stimulates curiosity and imagination. The impact of the conducive environment is reflected in Brush Creek Elementary’s academic performance, with 80% of students attaining proficiency in math and reading. Additionally, 90% attain proficiency in science.
The school employs highly qualified faculty. 71% of full-time teachers are certified, and 98% of all instructors have over three years of experience. The teachers work in small classes, with the school having one teacher for every eight students. Brush Creek Elementary also has a full-time law enforcement officer stationed at the school to provide security to the students.
The school boasts of having the Brush Creek stream running through the campus, spacious classrooms near the stream, a walking trail with an apple orchard, a rain garden, and a weather station. Brush Creek Elementary is an excellent choice for families living in Marshall, NC.
Moravian Falls Elementary
2001 Moravian Falls Road, Moravian Falls, NC 28654
Moravian Falls Elementary is a public school under the Wilkes County School District that serves 255 students in PK-5. The school's small setting allows teachers to provide personalized attention to each child, with a student-teacher ratio of 11:1. Moravian Falls Elementary received a 10/10 rating from GreatSchools.org.
GreatSchools.org gave the school a 9/10 rating on test scores, with students at Moravian Falls performing exceedingly better than their peers across the state. 82% attain proficiency in math, 86% in science, and 68% in reading.
The school website indicates that the school embraces diversity, which is reflected in its student body. 47% of students are from a white background, 39% Hispanic, 4% Black, and 10% from two or more races.
The teachers at the school are highly experienced, with 88% having over three years of teaching experience. 83% of full-time faculty members are certified.
A parent at the school notes that their experience with the school has been positive. They appreciated the small class size and the staff for providing individualized attention and a personal atmosphere. The school’s small and inclusive community makes it one of the best elementary school options in NC.
Best Middle Schools
Hickory Ridge Middle
7336 Raging Ridge Road, Harrisburg, NC 28075
Hickory Ridge Middle is a public middle school in the Cabarrus County School District that serves kids in grades 6-8. The school opened its doors in May 2010. Beginning fall of 2022, the school had a total enrollment of around 930 students. Hickory Ridge Middle is well-known for its high academic performance, earning a 10/10 overall rating from GreatSchool.org.
The school indicates that it takes pride in developing students to be mavericks, doing it all while pursuing their bests in academics, extracurriculars, and interactions with others. The school’s vision is reflected in students' performance on standardized tests, with 93% attaining proficiency in science, 80% in math, and 78% in science.
Hickory Ridge Middle provides its students with numerous extracurricular activities that can help them develop their talents and interests. Your child may have the opportunity to join the band, Junior Beta Club, Quiz Bowl, coding club, MAVtv, or Battle of the Books, amongst other organizations.
Moreover, students can participate in various sports such as basketball, football, cheerleading, softball, baseball, track, and wrestling. One parent describes the school as “Absolutely phenomenal,” with the teachers truly invested in the student’s education.
Hickory Ridge Middle is an ideal pick for parents living within Harrisburg, NC.
Jay M. Robinson Middle
5925 Ballantyne Commons Parkway, Charlotte, NC 28277
Jay M. Robinson Middle is a public school under the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District named after one of the most influential educators in the state. Founded in 2002, the school serves students in grades 6-8 and has a population of 1,225. Jay M Robinson Middle does an excellent job preparing kids for high school and life beyond, with GreatSchools.org giving it an overall 10/10 rating.
The school’s focus on a high rate of growth for each student is reflected in its performance in state-mandated standardized tests. 95% of students are proficient in science, 91% in math, and 86% in reading for their respective grade levels.
The school received the National Blue Ribbon award in 2016. The school’s success is partially due to its highly qualified staff. 97% of teachers have taught for over three years, and 89% of full-time instructors are certified.
Your child can participate in a number of sports teams, including football, basketball, cheerleading, golf, soccer, or softball. Reviews from parents and current students are overwhelmingly positive. One current student says that the teachers are really supportive and helpful.
With its highly experienced faculty, outstanding academic performance, and numerous extracurricular opportunities, Jay M. Robinson Middle School is an excellent choice for families in Charlotte.
Harris Road Middle
1251 Patriot Plantation Boulevard, Concord, NC 28027
Harris Road Middle, popularly known as the ‘Home of the Patriots’, is a highly-rated public school in Concord, NC. The school opened its doors in August 2002 with 780 students and 56 certified instructors. Currently, Harris Road Middle serves approximately 1,425 students in grades 6-8.
The school has earned numerous accolades over the years, including being named a Global Ready School in 2017. Harris Road Middle earns a perfect 10/10 rating from GreatSchools.org. The school’s performance on standardized test scores justifies the high ranking, with 94% of students attaining proficiency in science and 79% in English and math.
All teaching staff at the school have at least three years of teaching experience. 90% of the full-time instructors are certified. The school also employs a part-time social worker to provide additional support for the students.
Kids can participate in numerous clubs and organizations such as science club, art club, newspaper club, beta club, robotics club, and Battle of the Books. Reviews from parents are more often positive than not, with one saying that their child is doing well in high school due in part to the quality of education they received in middle school.
Best High Schools
Highland School Of Technology
1600 North Morris Street, Gastonia, NC 28052
Founded in 2000, Highland School of Technology is a top-rated public magnet school in Gastonia, NC. It was the first magnet school available in the Gaston County School District. The school was named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2017. GreatSchools.org gave Highland School of Technology a 10/10 rating.
The school serves grades 9-12 and has a student population of 550. Highland School of Technology students complete courses in one of three academies: health sciences; business, legal, and information sciences; or manufacturing/engineering technology and graphics.
The school does a thorough job of preparing kids for college, with an ACT college preparation rate of 40%. The average ACT score at Highland School of Technology is 23. 81% of students sit for the SAT, with the school recording an average score of 1177.
Highland School of Technology also provides numerous opportunities for students to earn college credits while in high school. The school offers over ten advanced placement courses with an average participation rate of 28%. 14% of the students also participate in dual enrollment programs.
A current student at the school says the faculty is helpful and cares so much about the students. Highland School of Technology is an excellent pick for students who have an interest in STEM careers.
In the News
On February 22, 2023, WBTV reported that Highland School of Technology was in mourning after the loss of a senior at their school in a fatal car accident. Walker Hayes, 17, was killed after his truck rear-ended a tractor trailer. Hayes was on the school's basketball and football teams. A vigil was held in Hayes's hometown of Dallas, where friends, classmates, and others who knew Hayes expressed their thoughts on him. Many indicated that he was a wonderful soul, and that he'd be dearly missed.
Raleigh Charter High School
1307 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27605
Raleigh Charter High School is a public charter school established in 1999 by grade 8 parents of the Magellan Charter School. The school currently serves 563 students in grades 9-12. Raleigh Charter School challenges its students in a creative and supportive learning environment to become knowledgeable and contributing citizens. GreatSchools.org gives the school an overall 10/10 rating.
Raleigh Charter High School students excel in college entrance exams. 90% of students sit for the SAT, with the average score at the school at an impressive 1308. The average ACT score at Raleigh Charter High School is 29.
The school offers over 20 advanced placement courses, allowing students to earn college credits while in school. AP participation rate at Raleigh Charter High School is 55%. Students can also enroll in programs such as world languages, performance arts, music, and arts.
Raleigh Charter High School is a member of the 1A/2A Super Six Conference in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. It fields teams such as cross-country, basketball, swimming, golf, tennis, track, and soccer.
The school’s excellent academic performance, alongside numerous extracurricular activities, make it an excellent choice for families in Raleigh, NC.
In the News
On February 7, 2023, Spectrum News 1 interviewed Raleigh Charter High teacher Kenny Felder on students' use of ChatGPT, an AI software that can write responses to essays and other similar assignments. Felder stated that he thinks banning ChatGPT alone isn't sufficient, as students will find other ways to access the service. He suggested that teachers eliminate homework as a way to work around ChatGPT, requiring students to always complete work in front of the teacher. He stated that he isn't willing to do that, however. Rather, Felder believes that teachers need to learn how to work around AI tools, and how to utilize them to improve their own teaching.
If you'd like to read another story about this school, check out this article from May 2023.
648 Flaherty Avenue, Wake Forest, NC 27587
Franklin Academy is a K-12 public charter school in Wake Forest, NC serving approximately 1,650 students. The school receives a 10/10 rating from GreatSchools.org, reinforcing the school’s commitment to academic excellence and providing multiple extracurricular opportunities.
The school records a 79% SAT participation rate, with an average score of 1200. Additionally, the average ACT score is 23. According to GreatSchools.org, the ACT college readiness rate stands at 35%, making Franklin Academy a good institution to prepare your child for college and life beyond.
Your child can undertake advanced placement classes, with over 20 programs on offer. Franklin Academy also supports dual enrollment programs through the College and Career Promise state program, allowing students to earn college credits while still in college.
The school has a teacher for every thirteen students, allowing the faculty to provide personalized instruction to the students. 95% of the instructors have over three years of experience, and all full-time teachers are certified.
Parents are full of praise for the school’s teachers, coursework, leadership, and overall school management. The school is an excellent choice for parents in Wake Forest, NC.
In the News
On May 30, 2023, Wake Weekly reported that Franklin Academy senior Gabriel Sawyer signed with Methodist University's cross country and track team. Sawyer said that he picked the school because he felt the community was caring. Their coach kept in close communication with him throughout the whole process. He's been involved in track and cross country since the seventh grade; this year, Sawyer was captain of Franklin Academy's cross country team.
If you'd like to read another story about Franklin Academy, check out this one from May 2023.
Finding the Right School for Your Child
Picking a school for your children requires careful consideration of multiple factors, from academic performance and teacher experience to student experience and college preparation. The list above provides a detailed summary of the best schools in the state.
From small, rural elementary schools to large, STEM-focused high schools, we hope this list will help you choose the right school for your child.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Oksana Kuzmina/Shutterstock.com.