Living the Life You Choose: Schools in WNC Shape Young Minds

One of the most important things to consider when you’re thinking about moving is the quality of the schools. The schools around a home affect its value and its appeal to potential future buyers. Even if you don’t have children or they are out of the nest, you want to be aware of the quality of education in your area.

Western North Carolina’s school systems and private schools consistently rank among the state’s best. We examine the highlights of schools in WNC below, but go into more depth in our annual Welcome to Western North Carolina magazine, including listing schools’ most recently available test results. Click here to read more online, or click here to order your own free copy.

Schools in WNC shape young minds.


Asheville City Schools enrolls more than 4,000 students, having experienced a significant increase in enrollment in recent years. Asheville High School, a four-year school of 1,042 students, occupies a stately stone building designed by Art Deco master Douglas Ellington. The number of students enrolled at Asheville Middle School is the highest it has been in a decade (714). Each of the five elementary schools in the district is a “magnet school,” meaning that parents may apply for admission to the school that best suits their child’s interests.


Reflecting the diverse nature of the area’s population, Buncombe County Schools serve children of many different ethnic backgrounds. In fact, students across the district speak more than 55 different languages. Buncombe County Schools is the 11th largest school system in the state (and largest in Western North Carolina with more than 25,500 students), and employs nearly 4,000 people, also making it the county’s second largest employer.

Buncombe County’s 42 schools include 23 elementary schools, three intermediate schools, seven middle schools, six regular high schools, one alternative high school, and two middle/early college schools. The “graduation initiative” begun in 2006 examines and puts into motion long-term changes to improve graduation rates. Since its inception, the program has decreased the dropout rate by 35% across the system.


Henderson County Schools’ vision is “that every student will achieve success and graduate as a life-long learner, globally competitive, prepared for career, college, and life.” The system has one of the highest graduation rates in the state. Its four middle schools have been nationally designated “Schools to Watch” because of their emphasis on strong academics and their sensitivity to their students.

Henderson County Schools owns Historic Johnson Farm, a heritage education center, making it one of only three school systems in the United States to own a farm. The farm, open to the public and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, teaches students about farm life on its 15 acres of farmland, forest, fields, and streams. The school system also has the Bullington Center, a 12-acre horticultural education center that holds workshops to teach children and adults about gardening and plant science.


The Transylvania County school system operates four elementary schools, two middle schools, two high schools, and one alternative school. It consistently ranks among the top few school systems in North Carolina in its students’ performances on the state ABC’s tests. Student attendance is also among the best in the state.

In conjunction with the Brevard Chamber Orchestra, the system implemented a strings program in its elementary schools. It also started a New Century Scholars program that provides support and college tuition for at-risk students. To help prepare its over 3,500 students for careers in the computer age, the school system offers classes in network engineering and webpage development. On their first attempt, more than 98% of its eighth graders met state standards for technology competency.

henderson county schools students


“Success for today, preparation for tomorrow, and learning for a lifetime” sums up the vision of Haywood County Schools. With schools far smaller than the state average, the system is able to offer its 7,700 students a great deal of personal attention. During a recent school year, all 16 of Haywood County’s schools made the state ABC program’s expected growth marks, with 14 of them achieving high growth. Less than a third of school districts in the state had 100% of its schools meet or exceed the academic growth standard, and Haywood County was the fourth largest district in the state to have done so.

In terms of recognition of student performance, Haywood was honored in the 2011 as having a “National Blue Ribbon School,” which was bestowed upon the Haywood Early College. Riverbend Elementary School and Haywood Early College were also recognized as “Honor Schools of Excellence” for having more than 90% of its students score at or above standard on mandated state tests. More than two thirds of the system’s schools were state-designated “Schools of Distinction,” compared with less than one third for all state school systems as a whole.


Madison County Schools’ 2,600 students attend two early childhood education centers, four elementary schools, one middle school, one high school, and one early college high school. With some of the best educational facilities in the state, the board of education has led an effort to rebuild and/or remodel all facilities over the last decade.

Madison Early College High School SAT scores were higher than state and national averages, possibly because a higher percentage of its middle school teachers than other teachers in the state have advanced degrees. Compared to state averages, Mars Hill Elementary had higher testing scores in almost all of its classroom testing. In 2012, the school was recognized as a “School of Progress” for its high academic growth numbers.


Tracing its history to the mid-1880s, Jackson County Schools have joined other county agencies in challenging its staff and 3,600 students to improve their health through fitness.

The system has nine schools, all configured to meet the needs of a large county with few concentrations of population: Smokey Mountain Elementary, which has students from pre-K to eighth grade; Blue Ridge, a pre-K–12 school (one of the few in the state); the K–8 schools of Fairview, Cullowhee, and Scotts Creek; the pre-K–12 School of Alternatives for students with special needs; Smoky Mountain High School; and Blue Ridge Early College and Jackson County Early College.


Polk County Schools serves about 2,500 students in a system that ranks high on state and federal lists of academic achievement. High school students can take advanced placement courses and earn college credits through several iSchool courses offered in conjunction with University of North Carolina–Greensboro.

Saluda was recognized in 2012 as a “National Blue Ribbon School,” becoming one of only 269 nationwide systems to receive the honor. For the 2011-2012 school year, Tryon, Saluda, Polk County Early College was named a “School of Excellence” by the North Carolina Department of Public Institution. U.S. News & World Report named Polk County High School a “Bronze Medal School” in its 2007 report on America’s best high schools. Sunny View and Tryon elementary schools were named “National Blue Ribbon Schools” by the U.S. Dept. of Education in previous years.




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