How Data Analytics is Helping Guide Strategic Decisions at Moses Lake School DistrictPosted on Mar 29, 2021 4:21:24 PM
Washington State's Moses Lake School District Superintendent, Dr. Joshua Meek, and his team leverage a variety of tools to help them make well-informed decisions. One tool in particular—5Maps—has not only provided them with critical location-based insights to inform a recent boundary change, but is informing other critical decisions to support their students.
Rebalancing Enrollment Following the Addition of a New School
Moses Lake is an 8,816-student district, with a student body comprised of approximately 50% minority students and 64% economically disadvantaged students. The district spans 400 square miles and has a large lake located at its center, which has historically provided logistical challenges when planning transportation and boundaries.
Due to increased enrollment, capital funding was approved for the district to build an additional elementary school, Groff Elementary, which will open in August 2021. To prepare for the new school, in January 2020 the district began the process of creating new attendance zones.
Helping Internal Stakeholders Understand the Vision
Effective boundary planning requires a methodical approach, as well as solid data. One of Moses Lake's first steps in the planning process was to engage their staff. Dr. Meek kicked off a "staff engagement tour" for all sixteen schools and provided a detailed presentation of the planning process the district would be employing, with the goal of encouraging openness to change and creating champions of the initiative. Dr. Meek was able to complete three of the meetings but was halted when COVID-19 shut down schools in March. Priorities were immediately reshuffled, but the process restarted remotely in early summer. Commented Dr. Meek, "Sometimes pushback can come from internal stakeholders. It is the Principals' and Superintendent's role to help staff understand the strategic need for the change, and the benefit of balancing all buildings."
Taking an Inclusive, Data-Based Approach
Moses Lake employed a very thoughtful approach to community engagement, seeking to take everyone's perspective into consideration. One of their next steps was to form a Boundary Planning Committee comprised of members from the community to assist with the mapping effort. The committee was given guidance by the School Board to ensure the boundary planning approach would be data-driven and follow a predetermined set of guidelines.
Several years prior to their boundary planning initiative, the district implemented 5Maps, a geovisual software tool from Forecast Analytics that provides location-based insights. This mapping tool became a critical component of their boundary planning process, enabling Moses Lake to visualize each individual student on a map and quickly create interactive scenarios to support student-centric decisions. "We had 5Maps in the background for many discussions so that we could show maps in real-time and bring the data up live to quickly and accurately answer impact and enrollment questions," explained Dr. Meek.
Selecting Communication Channels During a Pandemic
In terms of the community at-large, due to manpower limitations, the pandemic, and their timeframe, a focus was placed on online communication channels. For those without online access, telephone calls were used to reach them. "In boundary planning, you need to know from the get-go that you probably won't make everyone happy about everything. Utilizing data and establishing parameters/guidelines at the start is important," shared Dr. Meek.
When building a new school in the state of Washington, districts are required to do a traffic route study. The Moses Lake team was able to utilize 5Maps to comply with the traffic study requirements and ensure students' safety. The maps created via 5Maps provided the committee, the School Board, and Dr. Meek confidence that they were meeting their guidelines, serving their community with excellent options, and building plans that work well into the future. The initial new attendance zone plan was drafted by the Boundary Planning Committee in February 2020, with a finalization goal of April. Despite the upheaval created by COVID-19, the team moved forward and successfully placed the proposal in front of the School Board in August.
"Students and families are so much more than just the roads they live on—you need to understand the culture and the whole student. You need to understand all the filters in the SIS. It's critical that as a leader, you're designing attendance zones that are logical and that will scale for the future," shared Dr. Meek.
Helping Families Identify "Their School"
The release of the new boundaries was well received by the community, and the Moses Lake School Board was very complimentary of the district's data-driven approach. As part of the roll-out of the new boundaries, Moses Lake has used the online address look-up tool, SchoolSearch, which accompanies 5Maps. This self-service online address look-up tool makes it easy for families to enter their address and immediately see the school they will attend, eliminating confusion.
SchoolSearch was also modified in March 2020 when schools first shutdown, to become “MealSearch”. This allowed families quick access to determine meal distribution centers closest to their addresses.
The Additional Value of Location Analytics
Supporting Students During Remote Learning
Two years prior to COVID-19, Moses Lake had implemented a 1:1 device program. However, their district isn't completely covered by high-speed fiber. When the shift to remote learning occurred, they used 5Maps to identify any areas that didn't have adequate broadband coverage in order to support those students' learning needs.
Ensuring Title 1 Funding Compliance and Addressing Student Learning Loss
The Moses Lake team has plans to utilize 5Maps, geovisual analytics for many other strategic needs, such as ensuring they are meeting Title 1 funding steps for each student in support of the budgeting process. Stated Dr. Meek, "All districts in the U.S. have federal funds for specific groups of students. Having a location analytics tool like 5Maps makes it significantly easier to ensure we are following the guidelines required for Title 1 dollars, and accurately accounting for those funds. I am not sure how we could do it so accurately without 5Maps."
Moses Lake is also using 5Maps to assist with addressing the learning loss created by disruptions from COVID-19. The Moses Lake leadership team has generated a set of strategies regarding interventions, including the possible use of a touring "Tutoring Bus" that will travel to students during the summer. 5Maps has enabled them to determine potential routes and locations by examining areas of higher density of students in need of academic intervention.
Location insights continue to prove valuable for districts across the country in addressing major issues ranging from enrollment shifts to better meeting individual student needs. This has challenged district leaders in ways never before imagined. The many twists and turns have required smart planning, excellent communication, the right tools, and exceptional leadership. Moses Lake proved they have a winning combination of all four to successfully serve their community.
If you're interested in learning more about 5Maps or SchoolSearch, please contact us.