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Parents in Winston-Salem have a range of educational options for their children, including public schools, private schools, charter schools and even home schooling, which is legal in North Carolina.
But with so many choices, it can be tough to decide which is best for a child’s individual needs. The decision isn’t always as simple as choosing the school with the “best” test scores – a school’s size, philosophy, convenience, cost, extracurricular activities and leadership should all be considerations. And visiting the schools you are considering is extremely important before you make a final decision.
To help parents get started, here is an overview on educational options available in Winston-Salem, N.C.
The School District
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools is a combined school district for the city of Winston-Salem, the seven other municipalities in Forsyth County, and the county’s unincorporated areas.
For the 2009-10 school year, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools had an enrollment of just under 52,000 students. It is the fifth-largest school district in North Carolina, and the 84th-largest in the United States, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (2006-07 report).
The school district has a total of 42 elementary schools, 16 middle school and 11 high schools. There are 11 non-traditional schools that serve students with special needs, including those who have exceptional physical or mental disabilities or who have been given long-term suspensions.
The construction of new elementary schools in the Kernersville and Clemmons areas is planned as part of a bond package approved by voters in 2006. A combined middle school and high school is also planned for Walkertown.
Visit the Forsyth county school district’s website.
Each address in Forsyth County is assigned to a school and a school “zone” for elementary and middle school. Students are guaranteed a spot in the school to which their address in assigned, or they have the option to request another school in their residential zone. Transportation is provided to any school within a child’s residential zone.
To determine a school assignment for an address, visit the school locator.
The 15 magnet schools in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School district offer alternatives other than the schools in a student’s residentially assigned zone.
Each magnet school is unique in its curricula, but all are required to follow the North Carolina Standard Course of Study. Magnet programs are offered in the visual and performing arts, internationalism, language immersion, technology, multiple intelligences and the prestigious International Baccalaureate Programme.
Magnet schools are open to students from throughout Forsyth County with the exception of one school, The Downtown School. Transportation to each school is provided through magnet express buses.
There are five public charter schools in Winston-Salem. Like other public schools, charter schools cannot charge tuition. However, they have their own school boards and operate on their own budgets, which come from local and state tax money. They also are given more flexibility in hiring teachers, set their own calendars, decide whether to provide transportation, and provide their own school buildings. Students attending charter schools are required to take the same end-of-grade and end-of-course tests as other public school students.
Charter schools in Forsyth County are:
- Arts-Based Elementary School: Grades K-5
- Carter G. Woodson School of Challenge: Grades K-12
- The Downtown Middle School: Grades 5-8
- Forsyth Academies: Grades K-8
- The NC Leadership Academy: Grades 9-12
- Quality Education Academy: Grades K-10
Private schools are allowed to charge tuition, do not receive tax money for their operations or salaries (in almost all cases), and may be selective in the students they enroll.
According to the N.C. Division of Non-Public Education, “Since North Carolina’s non-public schools receive no state tax dollars and enroll only about 10% of the compulsory attendance age children living in North Carolina, the State of North Carolina does not attempt to regulate the religious philosophy, educational philosophy or the operational policies of non-public schools.”
That means that private schools set their own calendars, rules and promotion and graduation standards.
There were 28 private schools operating in Forsyth County during the 2008-09 school year, according to the division. Some schools are affiliated with churches; others are independent. Several schools specialize in teaching students with learning disabilities or a history of discipline problems.
Salem Academy, a boarding and day school for high school girls, is the oldest private school in Winston-Salem. The largest private school by enrollment is Forsyth Country Day School in Lewisville.
The division of non-public education has information on home and private schooling.
The University of North Carolina School of the Arts
No mention of educational options in Winston-Salem would be complete without the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA), which includes a high school program including grades 8 through 12. The program is open to students from throughout North Carolina with a few spaces reserved for out-of-state students. An audition and interview are required for admission to an arts program.
For more information, go to www.uncsa.edu.
North Carolina allows parents or guardians to educate their children at home. According to the N.C. Department of Administration, 1,321 home schools in Forsyth County were registered with the state for the 2008-09 school year.
More information and a complete list of state requirements for home schools is available here.
Academic Achievement – How to Compare
All public schools in North Carolina — including charter schools — are required to give their students end-of-grade tests in grades 3 through 8 and end-of-course tests in selected subjects at the high school level. Students take reading and math tests in grades 3 through 8; a science test is given in grades 5 and 8. These tests, along with the high school end-of-course tests, are commonly referred to as the ABCs tests. The ABCs tests also include a 10th-grade writing test.
Achievement Information for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School District
For the 2008-09 school year, 64.5 percent of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County students in grades 3 through 8 tested at or above grade level in reading on the ABCs tests. The state average was 67.6 percent.
In math, 78 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 tested at or above grade level, compared to a state average of 80 percent.
The school district scored below the state average on each of 11 subject tests given to high school students during the 2008-09 school year.
In addition to state accountability measures, the federal No Child Left Behind Act measures students’ yearly progress using state test scores to analyze data among subgroups of students. Subgroups include categories such as race, socioeconomic status, disability and students learning English.
Under the federal targets for No Child Left Behind, 64.1 percent of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools were deemed to have made Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP. That is a lower percentage than for several of North Carolina’s other large school districts.
Charter School Achievement
ABCs test scores for charter schools are usually listed under Forsyth County on most state reports. The scores included here are “composite” scores for the end-of-grade and high school end-of-course tests, where applicable.
- Arts-Based Elementary School: 73.8% of students scored at or above grade level on state tests. The school met AYP under No Child Left Behind.
- Carter G. Woodson School of Challenge: 56.1% of students at or above grade level on state tests. The school did not meet AYP under No Child Left Behind.
- The Downtown Middle School: 57.7% of students scored at or above grade level on state tests. The school met AYP under No Child Left Behind.
- Forsyth Academies: 68% of students scored at or above grade level on state tests. The school met AYP under No Child Left Behind.
- Quality Education Academy: 73% of students scored at or above grade level on state tests. The school met AYP under No Child Left Behind.
Achievement Information for Private Schools
Private schools aren’t required to take part in state ABCs tests. Instead, the state of North Carolina requires private schools to administer nationally standardized tests to students in grades 3, 6, 9 and 11.
The difference in testing requirements makes it difficult to compare student achievement among private and public schools. Many students at private high schools take the SAT®, as do students attending public high schools. However, the College Board testing service does not recommend that test scores be used to compare schools. Instead, the service says SAT scores are an indicator of how successful an individual will be in college.
Accreditation also can be an indicator of a private school’s rigor. Some parents also take into consideration college acceptance rates and the universities to which graduates are accepted.