Top High Schools in Pinellas County

Top High Schools in Pinellas County cover picture shows the front of St Petersburg High School and Palm Harbor University High School.

Top High Schools in Pinellas County


Pinellas County in Florida is home to some of the top-ranking high schools in the state. In particular, three high schools stand out for their excellent academics, extracurricular activities, and college preparedness programs. These three high schools are Palm Harbor University High in Palm Harbor, East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs, and St. Petersburg High School in St. Petersburg.

Top High Schools in Pinellas County:  Palm Harbor University High

Firstly, Palm Harbor University High is consistently ranked as one of the best high schools in Florida. Located in Palm Harbor, a suburb of Tampa, this public magnet school focuses on rigorous academics. Specifically, Palm Harbor University High offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) program to prepare students for college. For example, 100% of Palm Harbor graduates continue onto higher education, with many attending top universities around the country.

In addition to academics, Palm Harbor provides students with diverse extracurricular offerings. These include over 60 clubs ranging from robotics to debate team. Equally important, the school fields over 25 varsity athletic teams. As a result, Palm Harbor University High engages students’ minds, interests, and bodies.

Moreover, the school culture fosters critical thinking and global awareness. Notably, the racial diversity of the 2,300 student body leads to an appreciation of different cultures. Given these qualities, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognized Palm Harbor University High as an Exemplary High Performing School in 2021.

Top High Schools in Pinellas County:  East Lake High School

Secondly, East Lake High School is a highly-acclaimed public school located in Tarpon Springs. Specifically, East Lake High School is ranked among the top 100 public high schools in the U.S. by Newsweek. Significantly, it was ranked #17 in Florida by U.S. News and World Report’s annual Best High Schools rankings in 2022.

Additionally, East Lake High School is distinguished for its STEM-focused curriculum. For instance, it offers specialized coursework in subjects like biomedical science, coding, engineering, and more. Consequently, many East Lake High School graduates pursue STEM degrees at top colleges. To demonstrate, over 150 students took 432 AP Exams in 2021, with 87% earning college credit.

Besides academics, East Lake High School provides rich athletic and extracurricular programming. For example, the school has received state and national recognition for its music program. Likewise, its athletic program has won multiple state championships in recent years. By inspiring excellence in academics, arts, and athletics, East Lake High School nurtures well-rounded students.

Top High Schools in Pinellas County:  St. Petersburg High School

Additionally, St. Petersburg High School is the oldest secondary school in Pinellas County, established in 1898. Located in downtown St. Petersburg, this public school promotes history and tradition while delivering a 21st century education. As an example, St. Petersburg High School offers the rigorous Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) curriculum. Moreover, students can enroll in career pathways in fields like healthcare, information technology, and more to prepare for college and careers after graduation.

Furthermore, St. Petersburg High School celebrates diversity in its student population and provides extensive support services for disadvantaged students. Specifically, 65% of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Additionally, the school population represents over 40 countries with students speaking 25 languages. As a result, St. Petersburg High School fosters cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Finally, St. Petersburg High School enjoys strong partnerships with nearby colleges and universities. These partnerships allow students to earn college credits while in high school. In summary, St. Petersburg provides academic challenge blended with real-world experiences.

Top High Schools in Pinellas County:  Comparisons Between the Schools

Without a doubt, Palm Harbor, East Lake, and St. Petersburg High Schools are exceptional. Though differing in location, history, and approach, they share common traits of academic rigor, diverse programming, and committed faculty. Each school culture also promotes critical thinking, leadership, and community service.

Admittedly, Palm Harbor University High leads in accolades from ranking organizations like U.S. News and World Report. However, East Lake frequently outperforms Palm Harbor in math and science assessments. And while East Lake exceeds in STEM programming, St. Petersburg High School surpasses both schools in career pathways offerings.

Regarding extracurricular activities and athletics, it’s a balanced contest. All three schools have numerous academic and hobby clubs plus award-winning music programs. Between the three, they’ve captured multiple state championships in sports like football, soccer, basketball, golf, and more.

Ultimately, Pinellas County students can’t go wrong with any of these outstanding public schools. The most important factors are matching a school’s offerings to individual academic interests, goals, and learning preferences.

Top High Schools in Pinellas County:  Key Takeaways

In conclusion, Pinellas County’s Palm Harbor University High, East Lake High, and St. Petersburg High schools all deliver exceptional college preparatory education. Students at these schools gain academic knowledge plus life skills like leadership, critical thinking, and cross-cultural relations.

While the three schools take somewhat different approaches, they all foster well-rounded student growth. So students should identify the school whose learning environment best fits their needs and aspirations. Without question, graduates of any of these high schools gain admission to top colleges year after year.

In Florida and nationally, these three Pinellas County public high schools rank among the best. They achieve excellence through rigorous curricula, outstanding teachers, diverse programming, and cultures promoting achievement. So it’s no surprise many education experts regard Pinellas County high schools as national models. For these reasons, Palm Harbor, East Lake, and St. Petersburg high schools lead the pack.


Top High Schools in Pinellas County:  Ranking Factors and Methodologies

For background, several national publications like U.S. News and World Report and Newsweek rank high schools using various factors and weighting systems. In short, they employ slightly different methodologies, but some common characteristics include assessing:

  • College readiness as measured by Advanced Placement classes, International Baccalaureate programs, and dual enrollment with local colleges. Significantly, all three Pinellas County high schools excel in these measures.
  • Graduation rate, which indexes how many students complete and graduate high school. In this measure, the three schools perform well. While there is some yearly variance, their average graduation rates over 2019-2023 were Palm Harbor (93.2%), East Lake (95.3%), St. Petersburg (92.1%).
  • Food services, special education, and counseling support as surrogates for student wellness and support programs. Again, all three schools supply ample support staff and services to help students thrive.
  • Student survey results gauging student engagement with school and the overall leaning climate. Across the board, Pinellas County students report higher satisfaction and engagement than state averages.

Applying these factors and academic outcomes, it is clear why all three schools earn top ratings nationwide. Though East Lake High School may edge out the other two in science and math assessments, as noted earlier, all three deliver outstanding college and career preparation.

Again, a decisive tie-breaker of which high school is “best” is difficult. Relative strengths and areas for potential improvement in each school can be found. Pinellas County Public Schools are addressing expanding career technical education in Palm Harbor and strengthening humanities programs in East Lake. But in aggregate, few counties in Florida (or the U.S.) can claim three nationally ranked high schools like Pinellas. Students attending any of these schools gain admission to top colleges every year.

Top High Schools in Pinellas County:  The Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

Finally, it may be an overused metaphor, but “a rising tide lifts all boats” applies to these high schools achieving national recognition. Faculty and staff share best practices across schools, creating healthy competition. But the culture remains more cooperative than combative. Educators want to see all Pinellas County schools advancing together. This cooperative mentality, plus responsive district leadership, stimulates positive growth trends across high schools. Ultimately, the desire is for every student to gain sufficient knowledge, skills, confidence and agency to chart their own course after graduation. On this aim, Palm Harbor, East Lake and St. Petersburg High Schools are guiding lights for Pinellas County and beyond.

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Rob Johnson
Realtor, St. Petersburg FL