Education Opinion

The Boundary-Change Game Plan

By Matthew Lynch & Kristin Tollison — March 07, 2016 4 min read
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A director of administrative services shares her best practices for putting together a committee, analyzing data, and engaging the community.

Before embarking on a boundary change, it is critical to have a Game Plan that ensures success. When Wayzata Public Schools needed to create new boundaries to account for growth and a new elementary school, we began by identifying the information we would need to gather, establishing consistent data points, and implementing a system to integrate and manipulate all the information.

The Game Plan all begins by identifying all the key “players” and how they will be engaged in the process. The players are: district experts, selected committee members, School Board members, community/parents, and an objective facilitator. Each of these groups have a strategic role to play at different points in the Game Plan. In the end, it is important that the community committee studies the issues and information and makes a recommendation. The final decision is made by the School Board. Community committee members were selected utilizing an application process that helped me pull together nineteen members with a wide range of expertise, geographically dispersed throughout the district with a minimum of two members per school. The district experts such as Principals and Transportation staff provide factual, unbiased information.

In order to have reproducible, transparent results, establishing foundational data is critical. It was important for us to verify building capacities, birth records, housing and enrollment trends, census data, and new housing development reports. We also chose to use a Geovisual Analytic software tool called GuideK12. GuideK12 allowed us to create unlimited real time scenarios, visualize and layer data for a fresh insight. The ability to overlay growth projections, boundary proposals and other data on our district map was incredibly valuable to our community members. Having a centralized platform that integrated and updated with our student information system was essential for a developing realistic and transparent scenarios.

The timeline is very important, it needs to meet the strategic goals, be short enough to have a sense of urgency but not so unrealistic that steps are not fully implemented. Pause to consider the timing for the information gathering, committee work, communication and public input. It is important to work backwards allowing sufficient time when setting the start date.

Next comes one of the most important steps of the Game Plan, defining the “rules”. Developing guiding principles ahead of time with the Board alleviates last minute course direction changes. The principles need to be clear, understood and defined to all so the interpretations are the same. There are many factors the School Board could consider:

  • Transportation costs and times
  • Socio-economic or racial balancing
  • Grandfathering of older students
  • Walk/bike areas
  • Future housing growth/decline
  • Neighborhoods with high density or unique socio-economic status
  • Location of special programs

Below is just a sampling of some of the Guiding Principles our School Board asked of the community committee:

  1. Attendance areas will serve the district for at least 3-5 years with a goal of 5-7 years
  2. Attendance areas should be largely contiguous
  3. Allow for initially smaller school populations in schools with higher anticipated growth rates
  4. Attendance areas will need to accommodate possible changes in school start times
  5. All children will be expected to attend their new school. The district’s intra-district process continues to be in place.
  6. Transportation routes should be as efficient as possible, giving consideration to minimizing ride times within acceptable parameters.
  7. Neighborhoods should be assigned to the same school whenever possible.
  8. Adhere to State and Federal laws and guidelines.

Once all of this groundwork is in place, the citizen committee can get to work creating and analyzing scenario after scenario until there are some agreed upon solutions. GuideK12 was invaluable allowing multiple teams the chance to run scenarios and instantly see the impact of the selection to determine feasibility. From spring break until late May 2015, the committee met, created scenarios and discussed. Once a consensus had been reached our recommendations were presented first to the School Board and then to the public for input.

Toward the end of the process or the “two minute warning” as I call it, it is easy to want to consider new data or change course in reaction to passionate community input. It is at this critical juncture that the leaders need to rely on the information and Game Plan. The facts and the work need to prevail and not let emotions cause a change in the process.

Anticipate and be prepared, that immediately following the approval announcement by the School Board, parents have a critical need for information. There will be inquiries for boundary maps, online address look up tools, and information on new school orientation activities.

In early June, Wayzata’s School Board approved a final plan. The combination of clear guiding principles, a diverse and knowledgeable citizen committee, strong and consistent data and a geovisual analytic tool led us to create a winning plan that allowed the district to evolve and adapt for growth.

Kristin Tollison is the director of administrative services at Wayzata Public Schools in Minnesota. She can be reached via email at tollison.kristin@gmail.com. She is hosting an upcoming webinar where she will dive deeper in to these topics and more. To register or get more information, click here.

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