Learning from Experience: One District's Story

By Dennis Cheesebrow

School boundary changes are an issue of effective operations for districts and an issue of image, identity, and culture for many communities and parents. The differing interests often result in a natural clash among the community, the superintendent, and the school board.

One rule of thumb is that the adjustment for students after a boundary change takes place over two weeks. For staff, the adjustment period is about two months, compared to two years for parents. Odds are 50-50 that someone -- either the superintendent or one or more board members -- will be out of a job if the process is not handled properly.

Over the past decade, Minnesota’s Wayzata Public Schools has made several boundary adjustments with results varying from effective to painful. In 2006, Superintendent Bob Ostlund and the board faced another boundary realignment because of growth in some areas of the district and decline in others. Board members and district staff wanted a better process and outcomes that were not characterized by public outcry and dissatisfaction.

A common approach to boundary changes involves several steps. Demographers research current projections of growth and/or decline. A task force of key staff, board members, parents, and the public is assembled to develop recommendations. The task force holds four to six months of biweekly work sessions and public comment meetings. Meanwhile, community and regional newspapers report on the process and print stories containing fact, rumor, and myth.

Wayzata wanted to take a different approach. In a two-month facilitated process, the district engaged in a data-informed and thoughtful process for establishing school boundaries. This process can be used by other districts facing similar situations.

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