Using a 'vision' to project the future
CISD's School Vision software helps district balance school sizes
New software assists in school planning
By Richard Zowie
Times Guardian Staff Writer
According to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau, Comal County is the 87th fastest growing county in America. In 2000 its population was 78,021. Three years later, the population jumped to 87,785-an increase of 12.5 percent.
With that, new subdivisions have been springing up throughout the area. Population booms can sometimes result in overcrowded schools. One of the ways that Comal Independent School District has worked to deal with problems of overcrowded schools is to build a new high school.
Another way CISD works to solve problems of school overcrowding at the secondary, middle and elementary level is through a computer program. Aptly called "School Vision", SV software helps schools to examine the demographics of their area so they can accordingly map out the jurisdictions of various schools and project what future population figures might be.
"[School Vision] helps us to be able to build the schools where the children are," said Nancy Cobb, CISD assistant superintendent for administration. "It lets us create neighborhood schools so that for parents who work, the closer they are to that school the more opportunity they'll have to be involved. Doing that helps reduce transportation costs. If we can reduce the time it takes to bus students to school, that puts them in a better frame of mind. And if there's an emergency we can get them home faster."
Specifically, the software allows the district to take every student and place them on an electronic map representing the area of the county they live in. They can then pull up county demographics such as socioeconomic, gender, race and area and use that when setting school boundaries.
"What's happened in the past is as we establish boundary lines, they've been established with the current enrollment in that school," Cobb explained. "But if those children are receiving in-district transfers or we're bussing them to a school, then we're not getting a clear picture of the representation of that area."
That is what makes SV a handy program for Cobb. It allows the district to examine the current populations along with forecasted populations. Since subdivisions don't all grow at the same rate, the software helps the district to pinpoint potential cases of school overcrowding. Cobb noted that children in Startzville have historically been bussed over to Bill Brown Elementary School. She added that if the district had had the data showing how many children had lived in Startzville, then a school would've been built there years ago.
"We need to be responsible for the dollars we spend when planning and building a new school," Cobb said.
The district learned about the software by doing research and talking with specific vendors and began acquiring the software last November and had the program running by late January. It cost $20,000 and, as Cobb put it, "Lots of man hours over the weekends."
Cobb feels that such a program is a good investment with what it can potentially help the district do.
"It gives the school board better information for more comprehensive decisions regarding schools," she said. "It really is for districts like ours that have lots of land being developed."