2020 | Schools

Consultants unveil ‘interactive tool’ for MCPS boundary analysis

Online database has data about schools’ demographics, enrollment

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Consultants with WXY Studio discuss a new online database unveiled Tuesday night as part of the MCPS districtwide boundary analysis.

Screenshot via live stream

In kicking off the second phase of a countywide review of school boundaries on Tuesday, consultants unveiled an interactive online database that demonstrates how data vary by school.

In January 2019, MCPS launched the analysis, prompting strong reactions from people with varying opinions about what should be prioritized.

In March, after more than a year of work, consultants with WXY Studio released a 580-page mid-project report detailing data about MCPS schools’ demographics, enrollment and percentage of students who can walk to school.

On Tuesday, after a seven-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, consultants and MCPS hosted a webinar to debut the project’s “interactive boundary explorer,” a key component of the exercise.

The tool has much of the same data that’s in the interim report, as well as a breakdown by school. Using the online tool, people can look at a specific school or cluster’s data, compare to other schools and create charts to analyze the data.

Data about what percentage of a school’s students are eligible for free and reduced-priced meals and the average distance families live from their home school is also available.

WXY consultants demonstrated on Tuesday how to use the tool, and a similar meeting is scheduled for Thursday.

The tool is not intended to let people simulate boundary changes, consultants said.

“There are tons and tons of decisions that need to be made before thinking about boundary changes, and this is not intended for that purpose,” WXY consultant Kushan Dave said. “Its purpose is to make sure the depth and breadth of information you need to know about a school system before making a decision to change a boundary or not is available.”

The interactive tool is not mobile device friendly, Dave said. He said that the data used are from the current school year, and the tool has been developed so MCPS can update the data each year if it wants to.

“We want to create a foundation that can be updated continuously,” Dave said.

WXY said on Tuesday it’s final report will be released publicly “sometime in January or February of 2021.”

About 160 people attended Tuesday’s Zoom meeting, which was also streamed on the MCPS website and YouTube account, according to consultants.

About half of the people in the meeting were white and from the Bethesda area, according to a poll taken during the webinar. In MCPS, about 27% of students identify as white, according to school system data.

The poll showed that about 81% of attendees were MCPS parents and 9% were staff members.

WXY and MCPS will hold a meeting to gather feedback about the interactive tool on Oct. 28. There is also a survey on the tool’s web page, which is the “primary form for public feedback,” consultants said.

School board members and MCPS employees have been adamant that the analysis will not result in “surprise” boundary changes. Consultants can’t tell the board what boundaries to change.

If board members want to use the data to make changes, they have to initiate a separate time-intensive process, according to MCPS policy.

“This is a great data tool to understand our county,” MCPS Chief of Engagement, Innovation and Operations Derek Turner said Tuesday. “It’s a way for our community, our (school board) and our staff to visualize in a data-driven way how our county looks.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com