MCPS boundary analysis tool gets praise, criticism at public meeting

Residents share concerns, praise about MCPS boundary analysis tool

Final report due in early 2021

| Published:
boundary map

A map of existing MCPS boundaries.

Via MCPS

Montgomery County residents on Wednesday told consultants conducting a countywide review of school boundaries that a tool they developed to visualize enrollment data is helpful, but could be improved.

Last week, WXY Studio, the firm hired by MCPS for the project, released an “interactive boundary explorer” that allows people to analyze and compare schools’ data. The data include information about MCPS schools’ demographics, enrollment and percentage of students who can walk to school.

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 are also available.

During a Zoom meeting Wednesday night, attended by about 100 people, some residents said they are thankful to have the data available in an interactive format.

“It’s a very good way to look at data,” Wendy Calhoun said. “It’s not new data — it’s been available through MCPS if you hunted for it — (but) this is packaged in a way people can see and understand it.”

Dan Reed, a community activist from Silver Spring, agreed, and added that most data from MCPS are presented in PDFs, so it’s difficult to work with.

Reed, who has advocated in favor of the boundary analysis, and for changing boundaries to promote study body diversity, said, “It’s nice to be able to have different schools’ information at your fingertips.”

But, with the praise also came concerns.

Some people said the data are difficult to interpret because the information does not account for this year’s decrease in enrollment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, nor does it include recently completed building additions and boundary changes.

Wendy Fink, a mother of two, said the tool has a “fundamental flaw” because it only captures one year of data.

“The actual, underlying metrics and data are not living and breathing. It’s just a snapshot in time,” Fink said. “I have a credibility [concern] as we move forward, that it’s only caught one brief moment.”

Consultants said they will take all of the feedback into account as they develop a final report, expected to be presented to the school board early next year.

The meeting was largely conducted in small groups, in which participants were tasked with answering an assortment of questions about what they have noticed about specific schools or clusters while testing the interactive tool.

At the end of the meeting, consultants summarized for all participants some of the feedback shared in small groups.

Like the two meetings last week unveiling the tool, about half of the attendees of Wednesday’s meeting were white and from the Bethesda area, according to a survey of participants.

Twenty percent of participants declined to share their race, while 13% of participants were Black and 5% were Hispanic, according to the survey.

MCPS’ student enrollment is about 32% Hispanic, 27% white and 21% Black.

About 17% of people were from the Silver Spring area, while 12% were from Gaithersburg and 12% from Olney.

Wednesday’s meeting was the final large public event scheduled for the remainder of the boundary analysis. Consultants are also scheduled to hold small group meetings with “hard-to-reach communities” who have not participated in the community meetings.

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.

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

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