Rockdale County embodies the new South

Rockdale County boasts model schools, friendly people, and "peace and solitude." People in this quaint Atlanta suburb say shopowners still greet their customers by name.

But along with the annual cherry blossom festival and equestrian facilities, the area is attracting more and more industry - already Rockdale is home to three dozen Fortune 500 firms.

In essence, the area is fertile ground for the new suburban towns of the South, complete with upper-class desires and traditional values.

It boasts the best of two worlds: "Where else can a person raise horses on an affordable 40-acre farm while commuting only a half hour to work in a major city?" says a local chamber of commerce Web site. "Where else can a family build a home in a lakeside subdivision and buy fresh bread baked by monks at the state's only working monastery?"

While it is one of the smallest metro-Atlanta counties, home to 73,500 residents, it is also rapidly growing. It projects an increase to 124,000 in 10 years.

Rockdale's population is young - with a median age of 33 - and the magnolia-lined streets are filled with $100,000 homes. The county claims its "safe, rural environment is ideal for raising children."

Schools are, in fact, one of the major draws. Consistently, the 10 elementary, three middle, and three high schools rank at the top nationally.

Students scores in reading, math, and language on standardized tests are significantly higher than the national average. In addition, 85 percent of graduates go on to some kind of post-secondary education.

In January, U.S. News & World Report listed Heritage High School, the scene of yesterday's shooting, as one of the best schools in the nation.

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