Choosing schools in Wake County, North Carolina – charter, public, magnet including detailed review Southeast Raleigh High and Moore Square Middle

28 Jul

Which School Do You Choose and Why?  Exploris, Sterling Montessori, Carnage, Apex Middle, Lufkin, Moore Square, Holly Springs High, Apex High, Raleigh Charter High, Southeast Raleigh High, Turner Creek, Olive Chapel, Baucom, Davis Drive, Fuquay Elementary…. 


Come explore some Wake County Schools with us…


As an educator and a parent to kids who are academically gifted and who have learning struggles and need a 504 plan, I had to choose schools in Wake County for my children to attend.  I have 4 children, 2 have already graduated high school and my last two are in now in middle and high school.  Here is a review, it will be ongoing about some school options in Wake County and a detailed review as we go through the year of the two schools we ultimately chose for our children – Southeast Raleigh High School and Moore Square Museum Magnet Middle.

First, let me address Wake County public elementary schools.  My children have attended:  Turner Creek, Olive Chapel, and Baucom Elementary.

Wake County Elementary Schools:

In general, unless your kid needs an IEP, you will find that most elementary schools in Wake County will be decent and meet the needs of students.  When it comes to giving students IEP’s, however, you will find some schools much more willing to cooperate than others.  For example, Turner Creek is much more likely to give students in need of IEP’s the support they need while Olive Chapel and Fuquay Schools are not.  Many students I tutored who were getting further and further behind academically were not being given IEP’s at their elementary schools and were being given minimal “extra” help.  My own kids also attended Sterling Montessori Charter school and I found they got a very good education there and excellent help if they needed special education services.  From the 3 public schools my kids attended, I would rank Turner Creek the best, then Baucom, then Olive Chapel.

Wake County Middle Schools:

Once your child is ready to start middle school, you may want to consider being more picky about schools in Wake County.  They also solidify their friendship groups in middle school and might not want to their middle school friends (it can be hard enough to get them to leave their elementary school friends) to attend a better high school and this is when I feel making the right choice (think College) really matters.  My kids have attended Apex Middle School, Exploris, Sterling Montessori, and now I have one who just started Moore Square.

Davis Drive Middle is the one middle that I have found really stands out as a GOOD public middle school.  Families specifically buy houses so they get put in that district.  The kids I tutored that attend that school are very bright and I don’t get much in the way of teacher complaints, so Davis Drive gets a Thumbs Up.

Lufkin Road Middle does not have the best reputation.  I have had heard lots of complaints of not-so-great teachers at the school.  Apex Middle seems to be a little better than Lufkin.  My son did not like the school at all but he left a Charter school to attend so didn’t go in with a bunch of friends he had known since elementary school.  These public middle schools seem to have a lot of boy-girl focus so be prepared for that.  None of them are terrible but none of them are particularly great (outside Davis Drive) either.  One  problem is that they don’t do much for AG kids.  The base schools have very few electives and are just average schools – if we were to grade them, they would get a C.

The middle school at Sterling Montessori is NOT as good as the elementary school.  It is not that organized but I would still say it is probably better than a school like Apex Middle or Lufkin.


Exploris middle school is a good school overall.  I was very impressed with it in the 6th grade when Kevin was the director.  The new director has changed some things and seems to be putting much of her time into growing the school that it seems that the things that made it so good in 6th grade decreased, which is a shame.  Before, my son would go out to downtown Raleigh field trips and museum experiences ALL the time.  In seventh grade, he went significantly less.  In eighth grade, they piled on the work and I felt their academic choices were more obscure random things than core topics that would serve him well and prepare him for high school.  We chose to leave part way through 8th grade, in part since the program seemed to be lacking all the good things that it had, some bullying was going on that was not being addressed, and because his class was filled with so many kids with “issues” and he had some of his own that he didn’t feel connected with anyone after 2.5 years at the school.

I will review Moore Square below since this will be a review I will add to since my daughter just started there.

Wake County High Schools:

This is where I think parents really need to pay attention to where they send their kids.  Many of Wake County high schools are doing a poor job of educating kids.  Since I tutor mostly high school kids, I have worked with kids from many of the different schools and have just been appalled at what I have witnessed.  Here are a few examples:

  • Teachers allowing kids to cheat because their students are failing and the teachers need to kids to pass to make the teachers look good
  • Teachers who don’t bother to grade papers, just give a random grade and/or 100 – and throw the papers in the trash rather than return to student with feedback (since they weren’t graded)
  • Teachers who don’t get around to teaching most of the period, tell stories, go outside, etc. but still test students on material they haven’t taught
  • Teachers who assign homework but don’t clearly communicate to the students what it is so the students have no idea what to do
  • Teachers who give assignments that they know kids will and have cheated on and then count it as 2 test grades (F kid scores 100) so they can pass the kid
  • Schools that give diplomas to kids who have not met all the requirements to graduate or they “boost” them / falsify information to allow them to graduate rather than helping student learn and really earn diploma
  • Teachers who grade unfairly because they just don’t care
  • Teachers who don’t respond to parent emails and request for help with their child
  • Schools that ignore 504 plans and IEP’s
  • Schools that require students to meet requirements for graduation and then don’t offer those requirements so student can’t get diploma (special education)
  • Schools with no follow through on discipline so kids don’t have any consequences and just continue to do whatever they please
  • Schools who let their students knowingly smoke in a spot right near the school in plain sight of cars driving by
  • Teachers who give out passing grades to failing students just to move them forward and then the student is just further behind in the next class, especially in math
  • Students who are left alone for almost all period when subs don’t get there until the last 20 minutes of a 90 minute period and no teaching happens with any subs

If you want your kid to get good grades that are deserved, learn what they need to, and be prepared for college, you need to really consider what high school you send your child to.  The above examples, FYI, come from Apex High School (most of them), Holly Springs High, Athens Drive High, and Panther Creek High (although overall Panther Creek has a fairly good reputation compared to these other schools.)    Most of the teachers in these schools are burned out and are passionate people that care about your child’s learning.  I am sure this is happening in other schools across Wake County as well.

My kids have attended (for high schools) Apex High School, Raleigh Charter High School, and  Southeast Raleigh High School.

Apex High School – I will not send my kids to Apex High anymore.  My oldest only went there for 2 classes as he went to Raleigh Charter most of the time.  He had a decent teacher for AP Environmental Science (scored a 4 on AP exam and got college credit) and a not so great English 4 teacher.  I am so glad he did not have to take math there.  Most of the math teachers there are terrible.  My other son was in the OCS (Occupational Course of Study) so he was not in regular education classes much.  The school had a requirement that he do 360 work hours that they told us they would provide for him to graduate but then didn’t provide them.  We had to go to mediation and get them to provide a place for him to volunteer over the summer to get the rest of his hours in so he can get his diploma.  We told them it was like requiring English and then never offering it, not acceptable.

Raleigh Charter High School – is a great school if your kid is book smart, is willing to study a lot, and very academically minded.  It is not for the “average” kid.  Most of the kids there aren’t into dating boy/girl relationships, they focus on studies.  It was interesting to see the huge difference between a public MIDDLE school which had all this boy/girl dating focus vs. RCHS which was not that way and the kids were in high school.  My son liked it there but we also know he was the right “fit” for that school, some of my other kids would not be.

So, we decided to apply to two magnet schools for my youngest two kids for middle and high school.  With lots of experiences with schools from the older two and all the kids I tutor, it will be interesting to see how they compare.  I will start my review and add to as I go through the year.

Moore Square Museum Magnet Middle School – Parent Review – School Year 2014-2015

First impression – VERY GOOD!!  We first met Mr. Bass, the principal, at the magnet fair and I instantly liked him.  When we met other principals / students / teachers at other magnet schools, we just didn’t get impressed.  In fact Carnage didn’t even talk to us, I had to say, “hey, can you tell me about the school,” then I got a few simple statements from a student and she stopped talking… if they are going to send kids to represent the school, they need to send good ones!

Second impression – VERY GOOD!! – in fact, so far, every time we have been invited to learn about something with the school it has been amazing.  Their orientation was the most organized, intensive, educational orientation I have ever been to.  So much so, that I will probably write a letter to Mr. Bass letting him know that so he makes sure he keeps up the good work.  We went to Lufkin’s orientation one year when we though our son was going before he got into Exploris and it was so weak compared to what we got at Moore Square!  I hope all this organization and thoroughness that we see is a sign of how the school is run when kids are there!

The only negative to report was that we had to rate all my daughter’s elective choices and only one out of 58 was selected for her first two quarters!!!  I was not happy.  However, we will go with the flow, they did change her schedule when I put in a request saying that she did not want Dance or Pollution Solution and they changed her to Film and an Art class and she seems happy with that.  My daughter is now in quarter 3 of 6th grade.  The school provides VERY TIMELY reports on her grades, we get an interim every 3 weeks and things are put in powerschool daily.  Her teachers, overall, seem very good.  She has a decent amount of homework, but that is expected in middle school.  Her math teacher seems a little scattered and not that organized and although she is getting A’s, I hope she is learning everything she needs to since she will be taking High School level math in 7th grade.  There has been a great number of choices for electives that have been interesting and she has always gotten things that are decent and reasonably high on her choice list after the first semester and she did like her first semester electives.  One of those electives was a computer class that was required of all middle school students, anyway.  I think maybe there was a fight once but I have heard of more fights and issues from her friends at Apex Middle than she has had at Moore Square.  She is in classes with all other AG kids, except electives which is a mix of all grade levels but she usually has some friends in her class with her.

Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School – Parent Review – School Year 2014-2015

We weren’t really sure if this was going to be the right fit but we went and observed and I was very comfortable, felt safe, and really liked all the teachers.

Orientation – was terrible for parents – they did not tell us anything important and just asked for money – art boosters, athletic boosters, pta – they need some lessons from Moore Square!!  My son had a good time at his orientation though.

We did need to meet ahead of time with my son’s counselor to make a 504 plan and all of my son’s new teachers were at the meeting.  It was a great meeting and we were very impressed.  They were very accommodating to his needs (even more than Exploris – although that was again from the new director, Summer, the previous director had been very accommodating.)  It was the best 504 meeting we have ever had.  His PE and Engineering teachers were very lively and fun and full of support and information regarding everything.

First day of school went very well for him.  He made friends easily, the student leaders from his orientation remembered him by name and said hi.  Everything was very positive.

Freshmen have to take World History / English as a combined class that lasts a full year and the rest of their classes they take as regular block classes.  They also usually try to put freshman in Healthful Living and get that out of the way Freshman year.  Kids who are magnet kids are often in the academies:  Engineering, Biotech, or Information Technology (Computers).  Those in the academies must also be in New Tech (project based learning) or if you are not in an academy, you can still sign up for new tech classes if you want.  They do put all the academy kids in the same classes but not necessarily all the engineering kids in the same class – mostly because these are the new tech classes they have set aside and you must do new tech if you are in the academies.  I think the new tech classes are great anyway, it takes the focus on just putting all the focus on content knowledge for your grade.  Kids do both tests and projects and get points for handing in work, working well with their group, creativity, grades on tests/quizzes/projects, etc. but only half of their grade comes from actual content knowledge (scores from the test grade or content knowledge from project grade) – so kids have a lot of ways to score points in a variety of ways and this helps give a more realistic picture of their ability as a whole and is graded more like a work environment than just, “can you memorize facts.”

Overall, the teachers I have met at the school have been excellent.  Some are better than others and some are off the charts, amazing!  In general the quality of teachers that I have met up to this point, far exceed the quality of teachers I saw at Apex High School.  They seem to want to be here, willing to work with parents / communicate with parents, and help children learn and excel.

The amount of technology this school has is also incredible.  In the new tech classes, each room has a computer for each student.  In the some of the specialty classrooms, like Digital Arts, the room is filled with Macs with huge screens and the latest Adobe Suite for learning, they are not behind in their software like other schools (at most they are one version behind).  The type of electives the school offers if your child is interested in engineering, biotech, computers, digital arts, etc. is amazing.

They have great clubs and teachers that support those clubs.  They have a wonderful Robotics Team and the Theater director is the most enthusiastic, fun, encouraging person you will ever meet!  My son has blossomed at this school.  The big question, everyone is worried about, is it SAFE?  The answer is YES.  There may be some “bad” kids, I don’t know, we haven’t met any!  I am sure there are “bad” kids at every school but the fact that they don’t stand out in anyway or anymore than any other school shows that this school is no different.  There are not fights, the kids seem respectful and nice.  My son is involved with so many activities that keep him at school until 9:00 pm at night and gone to football games – there has never been a problem.


Express Bus for Magnet Schools in Wake County

One of the downsides to magnets is the lack of neighborhood busing.  We were going to drive our kids to school the first day but the transportation and school personnel suggested that letting them ride as soon as possible is best since that is when they will help students learn which bus they need to take, etc.  We also know that they will be shutting down some of the highway soon for repaving, so riding the bus will optimal.  I was pleased that our bus doesn’t seem to leave too early.  I didn’t really want to have to put them on a bus at 5:45 and I know some people do.  I think if we did, we would drive to a later stop or drive.  Our bus doesn’t come until 6:20-6:25 and the stop is only 5 minutes from our house.  Right now, we are planning on leaving at 6:05, maybe later we will see if 6:10 will work once things get more predictable.  The kids are on the bus for only 30 minutes and there is only 1 other stop.  All the kids on the bus seem like nice kids.  There is a mix of middle and high school kids but they have the high school kids in the back and middle school up front.  Most high school kids are only 9th and 10th graders since after that, they can drive.  I guess putting my 6th grader on a bus with 9th and 10th graders doesn’t bother me since her brother is a 9th grader and on the same bus.  They take the bus to Southeast Raleigh HS, then my son gets off and goes into school.  He is there on the early side since the buses have to get there early enough to get the rest of the kids off to their schools.  They usually arrive by 6:45.  This will give him time to listen to music or visit with friends (which is probably going to be what happens).  My daughter catches another bus to Moore Square.  They had no trouble at all.  They didn’t get home until 3:38 today (first day) but they have to make sure they have all the kids in the first week or so, therefore it takes longer.  Later, they should leave SE Raleigh by 2:40 and be back by 3:10.  We feel good about the bus and our plan is to keep the kids on the bus.


Do you have a Review of a School you would like to do?  Send it to me and I will include other family reviews for any schools located in Wake County.

Try to include what you like about them and what you don’t like about them.

If you have any questions about the schools we have reviewed or mentioned, please ask,.






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