While some parents fork over thousands of dollars to send their children to private school, others are spending north of half a million to send kids to public school in Bellevue.
“I don’t always like the way it sounds, but the application process is your ability to buy a house or rent a house in the Bellevue School District,” said Interlake High School Principal Maria Frieboes-Gee. According to Zillow, an online real estate resource, the median price of a Bellevue home is about $599,900 and demand is growing. Bellevue home values shot up 13.9 percent in the past year.
With high test scores, a solidified curriculum and an overqualified teaching staff — more than 75 percent of Bellevue School District teachers hold a master’s degree — Bellevue public schools have gained a glowing reputation that’s traveled overseas.
“There’s no doubt that there’s an expectation of academic success for most of our families,” said Bellevue High School Principal Scott Powers. “People move here intentionally because they want their kids to get a good education … They’re looking for a place to send their students and then they’ll buy a home in that neighborhood to get there,” Powers added. He calls this “shopping schools.”
Frieboes-Gee says she’s heard of families finding websites or guides that promote the school district to out-of-towners.
“[Someone] said it had been published in a guide. That for families relocating to the area, these are some school districts you’re going to want to look into and Bellevue was listed, I guess at the top, or toward the top,” she said.
But the district’s international fame isn’t unwarranted. In 2013 the district had an adjusted 92 percent four-year cohort graduation rate. The state average is 77 percent. Also in 2013, the district AP exam pass rate was up for the third consecutive year at 73 percent.
Bellevue School District’s high schools also have been nationally ranked in The Washington Post, Newsweek and U.S. News. Not only have many of the high schools made each publication’s top American schools lists, they also consistently rank in the top five schools in Washington, only sometimes being surpassed by International Community School in Kirkland.
But the district’s popularity hasn’t been good for everyone. Some families who have lived in the area for years and were sending their kids to Interlake High School from outside the district lines no longer have the opportunity to do so.
“We used to take kids from outside of district, but the in-district draw is big enough now that everyone is from within the district,” said Frieboes-Gee. “So there’s a lot of families that are very heartbroken. They had older kids go through Interlake several years ago and they want their younger kids to go through Interlake. But … we’re pretty much closed.”
Interlake High School has developed a reputation for being a “neighborhood school” for Microsoft employees. It’s located a few blocks away from the Redmond campus. Frieboes-Gee says she often has to remind parents who have found jobs at Microsoft and are relocating to the Eastside to buy homes within the Bellevue School District and not Redmond if they hope to send their kids to Interlake.
“We’re right on the border [of Redmond and Bellevue] so we always have to coach families that if you really do want [your child] to go to Interlake, make sure you buy a house in the Bellevue School District because there are houses very close by that are in Redmond or Lake Washington School District.”