How to Navigate the Wake County Public Schools System in Raleigh

If you are confused about the Wake County Public Schools System, we are grateful to have Libby Taylor, the founder of SchoolUpWake, an independent consulting business that helps families in Raleigh to navigate K-12 school choice for their children sharing her expert insights with us. You can listen to our helpful podcast episode with her at the bottom of this post!

Libby brings a wealth of knowledge to this endeavor, with a career in education that includes both teaching in the public schools and providing professional development to teachers. Let’s dive in!

In North Carolina, most of our school districts are set up as county wide systems, rather than smaller township or municipal systems.

The Wake County Public Schools System (WCPSS) is one of the largest, I believe we are now the 14th largest school district in the country, which is incredible. In 2022-23 we will have 198 schools under the WCPSS umbrella. And the number of schools in Raleigh will continue to grow as Raleigh-Durham ranks as one of the fastest growing areas in the US. 

Like most school districts, each address has an assigned school which we call your base school. You can find your assigned school by using the address look-up tool on the WCPSS website.

New families to Raleigh or families with rising kindergartners can enroll in Wake County schools online, but remember you will need to be closed on your home before finalizing enrollment!

I highly recommend using the NC State Report Cards for data on Wake County school outcomes, rather than Great Schools. You can also request a tour at most of our schools. Seeing a school in person is always the best way to confirm it’s a good fit. And don’t let all the anecdotal stories scare you, reassignment isn’t as common as the Facebook comments make you think.

WCPSS works hard to keep kids in their schools and keep families on the same schedule but as a fast growing area, redistricting does happen! Make sure you contact student assignment to know all your options for remaining in your current school. 

Traditional vs Year Round Calendars

One of the most confusing aspects of the Wake County Public Schools system is that not all schools operate on the same calendar. Some schools are on a traditional calendar which means they start in late August and end in early June.

But many elementary and some middle schools operate on a year-round calendar, and a select few operate on a modified calendar.

Year-round calendars mean that students have scheduled breaks throughout the year rather than a full summer off. Most operate with 4 tracks, and one track is always tracked out while the other three are in session. They follow a general pattern of 9 weeks in schools and then 3 weeks on vacation. 

Capped Schools

If you are moving to Raleigh you need to be aware that many of our most crowded Wake County schools have enrollment caps. This means that they cannot guarantee you a seat in your base school when you buy a house. The intention here is to offset the burden of overcrowding on the families relocating here rather than on current residents.

You can find a list of capped schools here. This list will remain the same until next year when the school board will reassess the options, so you don’t have to worry about a school becoming capped at any time.

My best tip is to call the school before you put an offer on a house. The data manager at the school can talk to you about the waiting list and the overflow assignment.

Magnet Schools in Raleigh

Lockers in the hallway of a school
Image credit: DepositPhotos.com

Magnet schools are public schools and are part of the WCPSS but have specialized themes that allow them to attract students from outside their base zone. Themes range from leadership to creative arts, language immersion programs, international baccalaureate, and more.

Magnet applications can be submitted in the fall and winter for entrance during the following academic year. It’s not first come first serve so take your time and tour schools you are interested in.

You can typically list up to five schools on your magnet application. Magnet schools in Raleigh still follow the same curriculum and state standards guiding public schools, but they can have varying instructional models depending on their theme!

Charter Schools in Raleigh

Charter schools are public schools that are not part of WCPSS but are independent. They still fall under the NC Department of Public Instruction, follow state education guidelines, accommodate special education needs, and are tuition-free!

Because charter schools are run independently, however, they can operate differently than most WCPSS schools. Many span additional grade levels, like K-8, and some require uniforms or even parent volunteer hours.

Admission into a charter school is done by general lottery (random selection). Typically they will have an open application period in the winter and then pull their lottery in March, but these times vary.

They are subject to the same state standards and their performance grades can be found alongside other public schools on the NC School Report Cards. You can apply to multiple charter schools and will get 7-10 days to accept or decline your seat if you are offered admission.

Private Schools in Raleigh (faith based & non-faith based?)

Private schools are, as you probably already know, tuition based schools. These are independent from the public system and don’t necessarily follow the same curriculum, testing, and education standards.

Here in Wake County we have a wide range of parochial, or religious based, schools as well as independent schools. The tuition can range from as low as $5,000 a year up to about $26k.

The admissions process for a competitive private school in Raleigh often starts in the fall and can include testing, interviews, recommendation letters and more.

Some start in preschool and have limited seats in kindergarten, but many expand as grade levels increase. Compared to other areas of the country, I don’t think our schools have particularly long wait lists.

I do keep an open seat report in the summer for families moving to the area and looking for availability in private schools. 

If you have any more questions about schools in Raleigh NC, and are looking for guidance in your school search, you can email Libby direct at [email protected]

Watch our podcast interview with Libby Taylor:

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There you go. We hope this blog post, and the above podcast interview with Libby, helped you get your head around Wake County Public schools. Be sure to contact Libby for more guidance in finding the right school in Raleigh for your kids!

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