Customer Spotlight: Mountain View Whisman School District

Posted by Ron Van OrdenO

December 17, 2019

A data-backed boundary change process, supported by Hoonuit’s Enrollment Analytics solution, achieved buy-in from the Mountain View School District community.

As all superintendents and school administrators know, executing school district boundary changes is no easy task. In response to population growth and overcrowding, the Mountain View Whisman School District (MVWSD) recently had the opportunity to reopen an elementary school. Yet, like many district leaders, MVWSD administrators faced challenges due to a lack of transparency, expert guidance, and cohesion within the project. 

Fortunately, DecisionInsite, powered by Hoonuit, helped superintendent of schools Dr. Ayinde Rudolph and his team overcome their obstacles and successfully complete the boundary change project. One of the key benefits Hoonuit brought to the table was transparency within the process. For many school districts, a lack of visibility into relevant data and “what if” scenarios can alienate stakeholders and stall the project. In order to achieve buy-in from community members, Hoonuit ensured that everyone involved could understand the step-by-step process that went into each boundary change decision.  

MVWSD Faces Challenges From Stakeholders

Before Dr. Rudolph started at MVWSD, the district made two previous attempts at boundary changes. Unfortunately, both of these initiatives failed because they lacked the necessary transparency. The problem was that MVWSD had set up a strong framework for their project, but the district did not have accessible, data-driven insights to help build community and stakeholder support. 

The Boundary Adjustment Task Force (BATF) and Student Attendance Area Task Force (SAATF) were formed to determine if building a new school was the right course of action. Yet they had little information and few resources to work with. What’s worse, one of the former attempts to build a new school leaned heavily on community members, and, when it failed, many found it difficult to trust their school administrators.

Boundary changes can be emotionally-loaded for families, and without the community’s trust it is even harder to get these projects off the ground. Previous solutions were unable to adequately address concerns about socio-economic divides between elementary schools, and even risked the closure of certain schools due to a dip in enrollment.

Looking back on the experience, Dr. Rudolph realized that despite the important strides that were made, his team still needed direction in discovering the right course of action. Further, he determined that data visibility was essential for achieving cohesion within the project. So for the final attempt, MVWSD decided to connect with Hoonuit and invest in a transparent and deliberate process that would gain the community’s trust.

How Hoonuit Helped MVWSD Overcome Key Challenges

Determined to learn from their mistakes, MVWSD reached out to Hoonuit for help in 2016. First, MVWSD tackled the essential question at the core of the project: do we build a new school? Tony Ferruzo and his team of Hoonuit analysts helped MVWSD conclude that building a new elementary school was the right course of action for their district, and asked questions designed to help district stakeholders articulate their goals.

MVWSD had a few key requirements for the project: to keep military families from the airfield together, maintain contiguous boundaries, avoid construction near major intersections, and cap enrollment at around 450 students. Hoonuit advised the district on boundary change processes, helped set a realistic timeline, and highlighted all relevant school district policies and practices.

Then, Hoonuit helped Dr. Rudolph’s Enrollment Priorities Task Force (EPTF) gather enough information about their district to power data-driven insights and projection maps. In contrast to the demographer MVWSD had used in the past, Hoonuit offered MVWSD a clear methodology and community visibility. Hoonuit created slide presentations and data support, found new residential research, ran multiple boundary scenarios with geographic area projections and other relevant metrics, and visually represented this information in easy-to-read graphs.

Hoonuit’s support in this area freed up the EPTF to focus on the maps Ferruzo created and workshop different redistricting scenarios. Once the options had been whittled down to two, MVWSD put them up to a vote.

Finalizing the Plan

During the next phase of the project, Hoonuit helped MVWSD achieve the right balance of transparency, accountability, and autonomy.

  • Transparency: Our team helped Dr. Rudolph chair meetings with the EPTF to present school enrollment projections and other important data. All EPTF meetings were open to the public and community members were encouraged to give feedback.
  • Accountability: Every step of the process was documented either in print or online so that all “what if” questions could be answered without missing a beat.
  • Autonomy: When it came down to the final vote, we advised MVWSD to change their community involvement strategy. Community stakeholders were encouraged to express the pros and cons of each map instead of formally casting votes, ensuring that the final selection process was ultimately left up to the school administrative team.

In the end, the majority of those involved with the project — including members of the Mountain View Whisman Foundation and the PTA president — voted in favor of the new design. In 2019, the José Antonio Vargas Elementary School was opened and MVWSD’s attendance boundaries were successfully rearranged.

The Hoonuit Solution

Dr. Rudolph decided to build a new elementary school and redistrict the Mountain View Whisman School District in his first year as superintendent, which is no small feat.

According to Dr. Rudolph, he owes it all to Tony Ferruzo and the Hoonuit team. “They were very responsive to meeting our needs and getting things done as quickly as possible,” he notes. “I was most surprised by their responsiveness and expertise in the whole process, especially Tony’s. He kept giving insight because of his experience, and that was the really surprising part because he didn’t have to do that.”

With data-driven insights, community visibility, and expert guidance, Hoonuit helped MVWSD bounce back from two failed boundary change attempts with a project that met the district’s unique needs.

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