Emotions do run high, especially when you’re dealing with people’s children, but once we were able to show them the facts—the actual lay of the land—it cooled things down. We had one school, for instance, on the west side of our district whose new boundaries will encompass about 45 percent of our whole district’s area. People didn’t understand why that school had such a large area, but when we showed them the GIS maps and where all the students actually live, folks suddenly grasped that it wasn’t an issue.

Creative solutions inspired by changing demographics

Another issue we were able to address with GIS was the economic diversity of our schools. Muskogee is not a particularly dense town, so we don’t have a typical inner city. But we do have an older part of town that is a little rundown and pockets around our district that include low-income housing.

We didn’t want a situation where we had one low-income school and then all the other schools. As we looked at the data and tried to balance and diversify our schools, we hit on a solution we hope will work not just for our students but may help to revitalize a struggling part of town.

Based on the data, we chose to make one of the schools there a magnet school focused on project-based learning. It will change the dynamic of the school, and we’re hoping that will extend to the community beyond.

Informing transportation decisions

ONPASS® Pro is not a transportation planning tool, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that it offered powerful insights for our transportation team.

Using data to solve boundary challenges

We bus a lot of students at Muskogee, but it was eye-opening when the data revealed just how many students that actually was. With ONPASS Pro, we are able to look at more than simply where students live relative to schools. We can tie in metrics such as which students need before- or after-school care. Having data like that revealed that we needed to move one of the programs to a different site to serve more students and increase efficiency.

A community built on information

We work with the school board, of course, and they ultimately work for the public. But sometimes there’s still a disconnect, especially when we’re presenting scenarios that some members of the public do not view favorably.

Having a wealth of data at our fingertips, ready to be fired off in an email, detailed within a report, or displayed visually on a map, really helps to bridge that disconnect. Then everyone knows why things need to change and where the evidence says those changes need to happen.

When it comes to drawing new boundaries, the best way to begin is with a well-informed school board and a well-informed community. I’m proud to say—with the right tools—I was able to help that process go as well as it could in my district.

About the Author:

Eric Wells is the chief information officer for Muskogee Public Schools in Oklahoma. He can be reached at eric.wells@roughers.net.