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Showcasing Your District: How Interactive, Self-Service Tools Are Changing the Game

Posted on Mar 10, 2021 3:19:14 PM

We have all heard the phrase, "You only have one chance to make a first impression." And yet how often, as school administrators, have you looked at the tools your district is providing—from your community’s perspective—to help them determine which school they will attend based on zoning?

Is your online tool interactive and easy to use? What impression does it leave about your district?

Your district's website is the first stop for most families and community members seeking information. Families expect the district website to clearly identify which school they might be assigned to, as well as the special programs and benefits associated with that building, particularly if they're new to the area and have young children..

Addressing School Choice

If school choice is an option, there are even more reasons for families to be able to explore all of the programmatic offerings for their children, quickly and easily. Providing families with an intuitive tool that makes it easy for them to find specific, accurate school details has become an expectation, yet so often districts are not taking full advantage of the technology available to them by displaying static PDF maps.

The past year, the pandemic caused many families to shift to different schools in an effort to find the right learning mode for their children, causing unexpected enrollment shifts. Charter and private schools have seen an increase in enrollment in many states, increasing the level of competition for public schools.

School information and selection tools, like Forecast5's SchoolSearch, provide districts with a critical means for marketing themselves to families. SchoolSearch enables families to search for local schools, programs, and offerings that meet their needs—from STEM programs to alternative high schools.

SchoolSearch Picture 1

Responding to a Crisis

The ability to customize the information they were sharing with their local community became particularly critical for districts last spring, as they worked to communicate emergency plans and share resources with their families. Districts such as Mounds View Public Schools in Minnesota, for example, created "MealSearch" sites to provide emergency meal distribution information to their community when schools closed last March due to COVID-19.

SchoolSearch Picture 2

SchoolSearch made it possible for them to easily, effectively communicate rapidly evolving information to their families during the crisis, while simultaneously lessening the burden on their front office to handle parent inquiries. These same principles would apply when dealing with severe weather or other disruptive situations.

When something has been done the same way for many years, we might not pause to reimagine it. However, there are costs to requiring families, realtors, and prospective students to call the front office to obtain school assignment details or, worse yet, speculate and get it wrong. Families today expect information at their fingertips and may not have the time to call to learn essential details.

For districts such as Miami-Dade County Public Schools, during their registration months, SchoolSearch eliminates thousands of phone calls to their front office by providing accurate, timely, self-service information to their community members.

Is a solution like SchoolSearch right for your district? Consider the following questions:

  1. Do you have a user-friendly, online site for your community to learn about your schools and zoning?
  2. Are the tools you offer ADA compliant?
  3. How accurate is the information on your site, and how frequently is it updated?
  4. Do your address tools also display school-level information on programs (AP, SPED, etc.), special tracks (STEM, theater arts), unique school features, enrollment numbers, transportation access, or other relevant details families are seeking?
  5. In the event of an upcoming boundary change, can you show what next year's boundaries will be on your site, and how that will affect assigned schools?

SchoolSearch is both customizable and flexible, so families can learn about everything a district offers and determine the best fit for their student's unique needs.

Is it time to re-examine the tools you provide your community so that they can make informed decisions about the schools they will attend? Now is an important time to ensure that each and every public school is effectively showcasing all that makes it special, to ensure families can make an informed decision.

If you're interested in learning more about SchoolSearch, please contact us.


Julie Fitzgerald is a Managing Director on the 5Maps team at Forecast5. Based in Minnesota, she has spent the last twenty years serving the ed-tech industry, and has focused exclusively on geovisual analytics for the past nine years.

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