Once you have identified a home that meets your needs, take the time to drive the neighborhood during the day (on the weekend) and see who is out in the yards playing. Neighbors outside are a wealth of information and love to talk about their area. I have had clients knock on doors and interview the neighbors.
I also encourage my clients to talk with local Churches and Temples and get the feedback from the administrative staff. You also have the right to go to the local Police Department and ask them for the safety of the neighborhood that you are considering.
Coworkers are also a wealth of information and will give you an honest opinion of a town or neighborhood.
This site gives school data and has a pretty nice online community forum of parents where you can ask any and all questions about neighborhood activities, kid-friendly neighborhoods, etc. Here is the link to the community part: http://community.greatschools.net/
The website is pretty fabulous.
Good Luck :)