The Best Towns in Massachusetts for Raising Kids

massachusetts state

by on June 24, 2013

Two thirds of Massachusetts may live and work in the Greater Boston area, but there’s plenty to love for young families beyond the city limits, too. Towns all around the state boast progressive schools and the economy’s about as stable as it gets – on the whole, the state’s maintained one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation.

Young families continue to thrive here, and NerdWallet sought to answer why. So, we asked the following questions as we tried to identify the best towns in the state for raising kids:

  1. Does the town have good public schools? We compiled scores from GreatSchools, an organization that rates a school’s standardized test scores against the state average, on a 1 to 10 scale. Higher ratings led to a higher overall score.
  2. Can you afford to live there? We looked at the cost of homeownership, including the median home value as well as ongoing, monthly homeowner costs like mortgage payments, real estate taxes, insurance costs, utilities, fuels and other bills. Lower costs led to a higher overall score.
  3. Is the town prospering? We evaluated the local economy with its median household income and income growth over the last decade. Higher average income and greater growth led to a higher overall score.

The Best Places for Raising Kids

1. Longmeadow

Surrounded by large parks and well-preserved green space, Longmeadow is the epitome of a quaint New England town. Bordering the Connecticut River, the town is south of Springfield and north of Hartford, CT. Not only is Longmeadow beautiful, but the education system remains stellar. Longmeadow High School students consistently outperform the national average in college entrance exams with over 96 percent of graduates matriculating to college. The high school’s music program performs all over the country and boasts several Grammy Awards for excellence. A multi-million dollar renovation to the high school is due for completion this fall, making Longmeadow an excellent bet for families that value education.

2. Wilmington

Wilmington has been at the center of American history since it was settled in the mid-1600s. At the start of the Revolutionary War, the town’s Minutemen united in Concord to fight the British. Later, in the 1800s, Wilmington became a hop-growing hub and a stop along the Underground Railroad. That history continues today in community events that commemorate the past and nurture future generations, like the week-long Fourth of July festivities on the town Common and a summer concert series. Wilmington High School is also receiving a welcomed renovation. This family-oriented town is only 16 miles northwest of Boston.

3. Winchester

The suburb of Winchester began receiving media recognition as a great town for families in the early 1970s and the town has upheld that distinction since. Settled in 1630, Winchester has a lored and exciting history. The local public schools remain among the top in Massachusetts while the town is within easy commute to Boston. The Mystic Lakes provide lots of activities for sailing, paddling, swimming and ice skating.

4. Lexington

While many towns that topped this list have played important roles in American history, Lexington is by far the most well known, as the site where the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired. Every year on the first Monday in April, festivities commence to reenact and commemorate the early days of fighting for American independence. In addition to preserving its rich history, Lexington maintains some of the top-ranked schools in the state and nation. Last year, Lexington High students won the US Department of Energy’s National Science Bowl.

5. Brookline

Just southwest of Boston lies the town of Brookline. It’s the largest town on our list and by far the most diverse – 30 percent of the school district’s students come from homes in which English is a second language. Students learn from each other in high-performing schools at every level. In spite of its proximity to Boston, Brookline has remained stubbornly independent of the growing city with its town meetings continuing to uphold town traditions and living standards that ensure its community feel. Transitioning from its reputation as an elite, wealthy suburb of Boston, Brookline is increasingly becoming a more diverse and eccumenical town.

6. Marblehead

Marblehead, situated just outside the historic city of Salem, began as a fishing village in the 1600s, but these days it’s better known for its strong academic record. The public schools in the area have a near-perfect score from GreatSchools, and it’s clear why – students here are given strong support from the surrounding community. A few weeks ago, for example, the booster club at Marblehead High School showed their commitment to achievements both on the field and off; the sports organization awarded $19,000 in academic scholarships to nineteen student-athletes, all to help them finance college in the coming year.

7. Reading

Just ten miles north of Boston, in Reading, the adults commute to the big city for work while the kids attend some of the best public schools in the nation, right within the town’s nine square miles. Reading’s schools are strong both in the classroom and at play. On standardized tests, in Math, Science and English, the students of Reading Memorial High School consistently score a good 10 to 15 percent higher than the state average. The athletics program has just as much success. Last year, the girls’ basketball team won the state championship — and, during the regular season, they remained undefeated after 25 games. This year, the girls made it to the semifinals and, again, maintained a perfect record in the regular season.

8. Needham

Needham is a commuter town just outside Boston, and it’s home to some of the best schools around. It’s no surprise why the school district rates so high, because its curriculum is so progressive. The school system’s organized a strong Chinese exchange program – the superintendent and elementary school principal even visited the country to tighten their relationship with Daxing School District – and high-school leaders have launched an interdisciplinary program, combining different academic fields like history and English to give students a more sophisticated and coordinated education.

9. Somerset

Somerset may be a half-hour drive from Providence, but it maintains a rural, family-friendly feel as a suburb of the larger Fall River area. A new inter-town high school opened just two years ago, and its hit the ground running: 93 percent of the first graduating class went on to higher education at a four- or two-year college.

10. Milton

Boston, just north of Milton, may claim its rights to the Irish-American throne, but it’s this town that has the most to boast: Milton has the highest percentage per-capita of Americans of Irish descent and it’s the birthplace of a member of the Dropkick Murphys. More than a melting pot, the town’s recognized for its fantastic schools, too. The school system offers a language-immersion program for first and second graders, where every class is taught in French. High-school education in Milton is just as strong. Enrollment in the AP program continues to grow, but not at the cost of student-teacher interaction. High scores have gone up by over 10 percent even as the classrooms fill up.

Rank City Nearest big city GreatSchools rating Median home value Monthly owner costs Median household income Growth,’99-’11 Overall score for young families
1 Longmeadow Springfield 9 $351,500 $2,371 $100,092 32.64% 68.74
2 Wilmington Boston 7 $389,200 $2,240 $100,861 42.76% 65.47
3 Winchester Boston 10 $690,600 $3,307 $127,665 35.74% 65.28
4 Lexington Boston 9 $687,100 $3,355 $136,610 41.09% 64.46
5 Brookline Boston 9 $681,200 $3,052 $97,250 45.78% 64.39
6 Marblehead Salem 9 $569,600 $2,745 $99,574 34.62% 63.24
7 Reading Boston 9 $448,500 $2,648 $99,131 28.64% 63.22
8 Needham Boston 9 $646,000 $3,191 $121,080 37.47% 62.81
9 Somerset Fall River 7 $290,500 $1,905 $69,449 34.15% 61.84
10 Milton Boston 8 $483,400 $2,845 $104,713 32.57% 59.75

Methodology

The overall score for each city was derived from the following measures:

  1. GreatSchools city rating. GreatSchools city ratings are calculated by averaging the weighted overall rating for each school in the city (weighted by the number of students enrolled at the school)
  2. Median home value from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  3. Monthly homeowner costs from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  4. Median household income from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP03, half-weighted)
  5. Income change between 1999 and 2011 from the from the U.S. Census (data sets P053 and DP03, half-weighted)

75 Massachusetts cities and towns designated as places by the U.S. Census were included in this analysis. Only places with a population greater than 15,000 were considered.

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  • Jean D

    I love my town of Wilmington and everything it has to offer. The school system, mainly the HS math department is left to be desired. I guess that’s why it got rated 7, lower than all the others except Fall River.

  • muffkingkat

    It is par for the course the mayor of new york’s wife went to Longmeadow high and rated it a terrible experience in her life. It shows you her values (and the mayor’s) are not part of main stream America!

    • David Ernst

      To be fair, as someone who grew up in Longmeadow, it definitely had some racial tension issues (though steadily improving), and I imagine that it was worse back when the mayor’s wife lived there.

      As far as the facilities growing up, the school buildings physically were dumps to put it mildly, but the teaching staff and curriculum was always top notch. I’ve seen the new High School building and it’s beautiful.