Mapping School Boundary Changes

By Ann Flynn

I remember the wonderful mix of fear and excitement created in 1964 with the opening of Southwood Elementary School in Pine Bluff, Ark. I was among the lucky ones because my street was the new boundary line and my parents were able to choose whether I remained in my original school or if I would be part of the new school community. As a child, I was not exposed to what I know now must have been long debates about exactly where to place those boundary lines and who was exerting influence on those decisions.

The shifting demographics of a community’s school-age population creates an ongoing need for the expansion of new facilities, while declining numbers are often met with sadness and the painful recognition that building closures are inevitable. In either case, emotions can run deep. Today, unlike 1964, a district’s goals to support diversity are among the many factors that go into deciding where to set attendance boundaries.

While technology solutions cannot eliminate the emotional impact on students of making new friends, creating new traditions, and meeting new teachers, innovative technology applications have emerged to take some of the mystery away from how boundary decisions are made. Industries from defense to ecology have benefitted for years from geospatial analysis (the ability to layer two or more maps with a set of pre-defined rules) to see information in new ways to identify patterns, explore relationships, or communicate data.

Each June, thousands of educators gather for the annual technology conference hosted by the International Society for Technology in Education. While dozens of companies struggle to get the attention of educators to support the development of better literacy and math skills, offer more robust networks, or effectively engage students, few have solutions intended to support the work of school board members.

This year in San Diego, however, a new company specifically offered a solution that addresses one of the most challenging tasks facing school board members -- establishing school boundaries. GuideK12, currently the only geovisual analytics company serving the education sector, has adapted the technology engine used in its work with the U.S. Census Bureau. It created a product specifically designed for  K-12 decision-makers that had many of the country’s education technology leaders buzzing because they know what a painful process redistricting can be for their districts. The buzz was apparently well-deserved, since GuideK12 was named as one of the 10 “most innovative education technology products and services” by the Software & Information Industry Association’s Innovation Incubator for 2012.

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