Planning a move to the Williamsburg VA area? It almost goes without saying that selecting a home and neighborhood that match your family’s needs will be important. For many newcomers with children, however, or for those planning to grow their families in the future, choosing the best schools is going to be a pretty big deal too.
From the perfect house to the ideal school, Williamsburg has something for everyone.
Where to start, though?
Many locals would agree that where schools are concerned, there really isn’t a wrong choice. All of the schools in the WJCC (Williamsburg/James City County) district are pretty competitive and each has its own strengths. If you look solely at statistics, one might have a slight academic edge over another, whereas another might be smaller and offer a more intimate experience. The internet is a great place to start your research but that’s just the starting point.
In recent years, there has been an uptick of people buying homes based exclusively on what they see online, which sometimes conveys information that is not vetted. It’s easy to fall in love with a home based on a virtual tour, and it’s also easy to find school ratings online. Bear in mind, however, that school statistics are typically averaged out across-the-board, offering little detail unless one is willing to drill down into those statistics.
Bottom line: buying a home is a sizeable investment and one size does not fit all. Each family is unique, and each child is unique. With his or her own set of talents, interests, and challenges, having a variety of options for your child’s education is of the utmost importance because what works well for one child may not work so well for another. As an example, one family’s success (“my daughter got into Harvard!”) will not be a mirror image of another family with a budding master electrician or master plumber whose path might be an apprenticeship before launching the career of his or her dreams.
The good news is that the schools in Williamsburg/James City County will welcome all sorts of students and will equip them for the futures they seek.
Naturally, there are those who prefer “newer” to “older” so the newer schools sometimes win the popularity contest. In fact, the county’s oldest high school, Lafayette High School (LHS) sometimes lags in popularity even though it is much-loved by the community it serves.
If there’s a perception that Jamestown High and Warhill High have the academic edge over Lafayette, look no farther than the area’s local newspapers. Last year, for example, the Daily Press and the Virginia Gazette reported that in 2021, Lafayette High School graduated a salutatorian with a 4.416 GPA who matriculated at the University of Virginia and a valedictorian with a 4.428 GPA who is attending Vanderbilt University. Both students graduated from The Governor’s School for Science and Technology.
Spoiler alert: Many families and alumni of the area’s inaugural high school are fiercely loyal to the place, including Williamsburg resident Suzanne “Suzie” Yeats.
Suzie and her husband Andy have three daughters, two of whom are proud alumni of Lafayette High. Their youngest will graduate from the school in June.
The couple moved their family from Phoenix, Arizona to Williamsburg 15 years ago. Suzie works as a Planner and Andy is an Information Technology Consultant. Prior to this, Suzie worked for WJCC public schools for about 12 years and is an ardent supporter of public education.
Prior to high school, the Yeats’ three daughters attended D.J. Montague Elementary School and Hornsby Middle School.
“We feel really lucky with where our kids have gone to school,” says Suzie. “We were very intentional when we moved to Williamsburg. We wanted to live in a place with strong public schools, and we feel very blessed with the girls’ schools. All three are doing exceedingly well.”
Their eldest, Emma, graduated from LHS in 2017 before going on to earn her undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia. She graduated from UVA with a double major in engineering sciences and physics and a minor in math. Today, she’s a Ph.D. student at the prestigious University of California at Berkeley where she is studying physics.
As a member of Lafayette’s Class of 2020, daughter Sydney was a pandemic graduate of the school. She is currently a student at Virginia Tech, majoring in landscape architecture. Arguably, hers was the class most affected by the quarantine in spring 2020. Despite not having a normal senior year with traditions like prom, senior week and other traditional rites of passage, Suzie says that her daughter’s class still managed to find ways to remain close.
“I’m sure each school had its own way of dealing with making connections throughout the quarantine,” she says. “But I have to say that at Lafayette we saw such a spectrum of how things were handled. Whether it was friends doing a drive-by parade for Sydney’s 18th birthday, the PTA providing drive-through senior breakfast, or the administrators and teachers reaching out to students, I was very impressed with how they handled things.”
Lafayette High not only strives for academic excellence, but has long been known for its sense of community and belonging, two qualities that have remained integral to success during pandemic.
The Yeats’ youngest daughter, Lydia, is currently a senior at the school. According to her mom, she expects to be graduating near the top of her class, and like so many of her peers she is spending early February waiting to hear from the colleges to which she has applied. Even though the family is optimistic, it can be a nerve-wracking time. Still, they are enthusiastic about the paths that will open to their youngest daughter in the months and years to come because of the support received from family and Lafayette High School.
In addition to offering abundant academic opportunities, Suzie says that her daughters always felt at home at Lafayette and that all three would agree that they’ve felt it’s always been a place where they could simply be themselves.
“As a mom raising three independent girls, it’s been important for our daughters to be surrounded by people who don’t all look the same, walk the same, talk the same or act the same,” she says. “Because that brings a different perspective, something that is vital when you leave for college.”
Lafayette is the smallest of the WJCC’s high schools and has a strong reputation for helping every student reach their full potential and live their personal best life. Everyone looks out for everyone else.
“I think our girls have always felt safe there,” says Suzie. “It’s a tight-knit community where people know each other. If a student has an issue, they aren’t afraid to go to an authority figure to say that they need help, be it academic, social, or mental health related.”
Whether students leave LHS for colleges or apprenticeship programs, she school is turning out some very accomplished young adults. Lafayette is also widely known for its athletics and extra-curricular programs, which also brings kudos.
According to https://www.niche.com, the school has the strongest athletics program in WJCC.
“Our oldest played softball before switching to tennis,” says Suzie. “And the other two played tennis all four years. They all participated in Key Club and in many of the honor societies. Each of the girls volunteered in some capacity, and each worked as 4H camp counselors.”
Additionally, all three of the Yeats girls held part-times jobs while attending high school.
There are so many things that set Lafayette apart, including the longevity of many faculty and support staff members who make the school so special.
“There’s a nice balance,” says Suzie. “On the one hand there are those who have been here for a very long time, and I think that says something. They’ve ridden out the years, but they were also there for the kids during a pandemic. Everyone – teachers and students – has had to rise to the occasion of adapting during virtual learning. And then there are younger teachers who bring something new to the table and I think that’s also incredibly valuable.”
She also gives a shout-out to support staff, especially a special lady named Ms. Christine Trueblood.
“She is the first person you see when you enter the school. She’s so special, so helpful, and she knows everything. If there is something I don’t know – and I’ve been a LHS parent for a long time – I’m going to call Ms. Trueblood.”
Many Williamsburgers have lived here long enough to remember when there were four elementary schools, three middle schools and one high school. Today, there are nine elementary schools and four middle schools feeding three high schools in WJCC.
Over the past three decades, the population of Williamsburg and surrounding James City County has exploded. The secret is out. Williamsburg isn’t just a college town with the country’s largest living history museum at its center. It’s a great place to raise a family.
Come find the community and school district that fits yours.
What the locals have to say:
Recently, I posted a question on social media encouraging feedback from families about local schools. Here’s an excerpt of what they had to say:
“We moved out of another county specifically for our son to go to another school. Finding the right house was our challenge. Academically, all of the schools are on par with each other. They all have equitable programs. Some tend to excel more than others in a particular area (i.e. sports, band, and theater), but that being said they all offer the same opportunities. I’ve known people who love a particular school, while others didn’t have the same experience. It’s what you make of it and finding the right fit for what works for your family.”
“My kids are at Clara Byrd Baker Elementary and it is an excellent school. We just moved here last summer and it is my understanding that most all of the schools in WJCC are great.”
“I do not think you can go wrong with any school in this area.”
“My two kids attended James River Elementary (as magnet students in the IB program), then Toano Middle, then Warhill High. They had wonderful teachers, administrators, friends, and experiences at all three schools.”
“Lafayette High School has been the best educational experience that our children have had in all of their years of public school. The Lafayette staff is amazing and has created a culture of school pride and family that I have not witnessed in many years. The same can be said for D.J. Montague Elementary.”
“I’ve had the pleasure of having four children graduate from Lafayette High School. It is a wonderful school all around. Helps create successful adults.”
“My kids attended D.J. Montague Elementary and we LOVE that school. Couldn’t say enough about it. Had an exchange student at Lafayette High too and she absolutely loved it.”
“There really is no “better” school and you really cannot say that there is a wrong choice. The entire district is good and overall we have been pleased with our experience.”
“There is SO much misleading info, on the internet, about our schools! The misleading information stating that that Matoaka Elementary, Hornsby Middle and Jamestown High are the best schools is just flatly WRONG. All of our schools are great! My children went to D.J. Montague Elementary, Toano Middle, Providence Classical School (a private), Williamsburg Christian Academy (a private) and Lafayette High. ALL of my three children got into fantastic colleges and were offered thousands of dollars in scholarships. Our town is special and each neighborhood and each school has its special fit. My advice is to always look for the special place that works for you and yours.”
“I’ve worked in five different school divisions in Virginia. I have never seen teachers who care as deeply for their students as my colleagues at Berkeley Middle. My own children went there and graduated from Lafayette High. They both have graduated from college and are currently considered essential employees in a nationwide company.”
“My kids are at Matthew Whaley Elementary and Lafayette High and both schools have been great. Matthew Whaley is uniquely situated in the historic area and its proximity to downtown and William & Mary is a significant advantage. It has a diverse student population and wonderful, dedicated teachers.”
“I believe any school is as good as the parents that support it. You must participate in your child’s education, if you look at “good schools” look at the parent participation. It matters what happens at home. WJCC schools are all good.”
“We moved here about three miles from Jamestown High, assuming we would be zoned for that school. My son is an academic student and I was really hoping to get the benefits of their reputation. Well, turns out we were zoned for Lafayette High. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at the atmosphere there. Coming from Florida, there was a lot of violence, bullying, etc. My son is going into his senior year at Lafayette and he has gotten a great education, lots of AP classes and he’s on track for the early College program. The teachers and administrators have been great and I have been quite happy with his years there.”
“My son attended Rawls Byrd (now Laurel Lane Elementary), Berkeley Middle and graduated from Lafayette High. He graduated from college last year and is employed as an engineer. We could not have asked for more attentive and dedicated teachers and administration. Very pleased. My stepchildren attended Walsingham Academy (private), Hornsby Middle and Jamestown High. Again, same experience. You can’t go wrong in WJCC schools. They just need to move to Williamsburg, regardless of the school district. They won’t be sorry!”
“I was born and raised in Williamsburg. My siblings and I went to Norge Elementary, Bruton Heights (which is now defunct), James Blair Middle and Lafayette High. I enjoyed them all. My girls went to Williamsburg Christian Academy (private), Stonehouse Elementary, Toano Middle and Warhill High. I was pleased with the level of education they have received. We loved Stonehouse!”
“Our kids went to Stonehouse Elementary, Toano Middle and Warhill High. We have had great experiences at all of them. I also don’t think other schools are ‘superior’.”
“We were deciding between two houses, and visiting what is now Laurel Lane Elementary sealed it for us. We loved Laurel Lane, Berkeley Middle, and Lafayette High.”
“Any parent that cares enough about their child’s education to choose a home that has good schools clearly cares about their child’s education. That itself will result in a successful education for the child, regardless of which school in WJCC they attend.”
“We have/had great experiences with Matthew Whaley Elementary, Berkeley Middle and Jamestown High! I think you can’t go wrong with any WJCC school. We have friends in all of them and hear great things from them.”
“I say all the time, in EVERY school there are amazing teachers teaching right next door to not so great teachers! My two kids have attended at least 15 different schools so far, and we have ALWAYS found this to be the case, no matter what rating/reputation the school has had…I say go for a home that fits your needs and your price range and that any WJCC school will fit the bill.”
Psssst! I wanted to let you in on a little secret. While I am a real estate agent…I am a different kind of real estate agent. I am creating a revolution in realty by combining everything you love about this area all into one place. Known around town as Mr. Williamsburg, I combine my extensive knowledge of the Williamsburg, Richmond, Northern Neck and Hampton Roads areas with my expertise in helping buyers and sellers navigate the ever-changing local real estate market to create a top-notch experience that checks all of your boxes.
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Your real estate journey is just that…yours. I get that it’ll be unique. It needs a marketing plan and a committed real estate professional to guide you every step of the way. To talk further, you can reach me via phone or text at 757-254-8136 or through email at [email protected].
I look forward to serving your real estate needs and welcoming you to this place that I’m lucky enough to call home!
John Womeldorf, Mr. Williamsburg