Chattanooga suburb, Signal Mountain, rated best for raising children

Chattanooga suburb, Signal Mountain, rated best for raising children

December 27th, 2012 by Dave Flessner in Local Regional News

Signal Mountain Middle and High School

Photo by Allison Carter

Signal Mountain scores

* Population: 7,527

* GreatSchools city score: 10 (on 10-point scale)

* Median family income: $100,726

* Housing costs as a percent of income: 16.5 percent

* Hamilton County jobless rate: 7.3 percent

* Nearby city: Chattanooga

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Census, Bloomberg Business Week magazine

BEST SMALL TOWNS IN THE SOUTH

* Pelham, Ala.: This Birmingham suburb is home to the Alabama State Fair and boasts below-average unemployment and living costs and above-average income and schools.

* Peachtree City, Ga.: You don't need a car to get around Fayette County's largest city, which is cobwebbed with multi-use paths for pedestrians, bikes and golf carts. Named a Tree City USA, Peachtree boasts top-rated schools and is close to Atlanta.

* Holly Springs, N.C.: A suburb in North Carolina's Research Triangle, Holly Springs is near the area's best academic institutions but still maintains a slightly slower pace of life.

Signal Mountain is the best place in Tennessee to raise children, according to a new rating of small towns by Bloomberg Businessweek.

The mountaintop suburb of Chattanooga boasts top-rated schools, a median family income nearly twice the national average and a crime rate one-fifth the national average.

"I think this confirms what many of us have long known -- that this is a place where parents get involved in our schools and people care about their community," Signal Mountain Mayor Bill Lusk said.

"It's kind of like Mayberry," he said, referring to the fictitious North Carolina town popularized in "The Andy Griffith Show."

Businessweek identified the best small towns for families in each state after evaluating more than 3,200 places with populations between 5,000 and 50,000. Public school performance and safety were weighted most heavily, but the magazine also looked at the local job market, housing costs, commute time, poverty, adults' educational attainment, share of households with children, and diversity.

All three of Signal Mountain's public schools -- Nolan and Thrasher elementary schools and Signal Mountain Middle/High School -- got all A's in the state school report card for math, reading, social studies and science test results.

"I definitely think our schools are top-notch and are a drawing card for the mountain," said Dr. Jonathan Welch, a Signal Mountain native and dentist who was elected to the Hamilton County Board of Education last year.

The schools are aided by the Mountain Education Foundation, which raises private donations each year to pay for arts and enrichment programs, classroom technology, science materials and music programs. In the current year, the foundation is providing $119,919 to Signal Mountain Middle/High, $98,200 to Nolan Elementary and $86,380 to Thrasher Elementary. Thrasher's PTA also recently helped raise money to provide classroom iPads to each student.

"I do think that Signal Mountain is unique and magical and what makes it so special is that the parents are involved," said Jack Kruesi, a resident and developer who built the Fox Run subdivision over the past 30 years and is proposing the 199-lot Wild Ridge at Fox Run. "It's still small enough up here that people know their neighbors and there is a real sense of community."

Although it is only a 20-minute drive from downtown Chattanooga, Lusk said, Signal Mountain is "still a wilderness," with 70 percent of the land covered with tree canopy.

The community was typical of suburban towns close to major cities with good schools that topped the Businessweek list of best towns across the country.

The Businessweek list included communities with median family incomes up to $115,866, the lower limit for the wealthiest 20 percent of U.S. families.

The median family income on Signal is $100,726, almost twice the U.S. median of $52,762, census figures show.

For all of its attraction, however, Signal Mountain scored low for diversity. In the 2010 census, 97.5 percent of the residents on Signal Mountain were white -- the second highest of any city of more than 5,000 people in all of Tennessee. Only Tellico Village, which was 98.8 percent white in the 2010 census, was more racially segregated, according to Census Bureau figures.